I spent last week at the 2010 AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) International Conference in Baltimore. Workshops, plant tours, keynote and value stream presentations filled the days of the just over 2,000 attendees. I have been an AME volunteer for about 15 years in this not-for-profit organization that focuses on continuous improvement. It is a role model organization for volunteerism. Year after year a new volunteer team plans, develops and delivers the largest and best lean conference anywhere in the world. For the last three years I have had the pleasure to facilitate the practitioner to practitioner discussions in the Idea Exchange Café. Topics are listed on the conference agenda and from 15 – 60 attendees showed up to participate in each of the six sessions. My role is to guide them through this shared learning exercise.
Since lean success is possible if employees are engaged in the change process and guaranteed to fail if they are not I often hear some very touching human interest stories in the café. This year was no exception.
On Tuesday morning the café opened for the first session. The topic was “Methods used to engage employees in continuous improvement”. Two of the attendees were from the continent of Africa. They were part of an African contingent of around 40 people from a variety of companies attending the conference. One of them, Dickson, seemed a bit nervous. He seemed restrained by something from fully engaging in the discussions that were taking place. When he finally opened up the reason became very clear. He felt uncomfortable because he, a maintenance mechanic in a grain mill that processed grain for both human and animal consumption, had been selected to go to “America.” He noted that his co-workers were in awe of this once in a lifetime experience he had been provided by his employer. Dickson proceeded to tell us about the lean implementation underway in his plant and the role he played. Because he had displayed an interest and a passion for lean he had been selected to be a lean coordinator and was now sitting in a session in America sharing his experiences. This was an experience he could not have imagined in his wildest dreams. Anyone who could have observed the expression of pride on his face as he talked about his plant, and the change processes he supported, would have had the opportunity to truly understand what lean is all about. It is not about cost savings – it is about growing the people in your facility so that everyone can make a difference. It is a universal belief that everyone, just like Dickson, wants to make a difference. Dickson reaffirmed that fact for me. Lean thinkers have the opportunity to touch people and make a difference in their lives – that is why I love what I do.