Monday, October 29, 2012

Notes from the Road

Lately travel has gotten in the way of writing blog posts. To be honest I guess that is just an excuse for I am often on airplanes either day dreaming or watching movies when I could be writing. So here I sit having just boarded an American Airlines flight to Shanghai with my I-pad on my lap. With a 14 hour flight ahead of me I certainly have time to begin to write.

Let's start with Australia. My second trip down under took place in the late August early September timeframe. It was early spring in Australia and the weather was sunny and cool, or fresh, as they say in England. My time was spent facilitating two 2-day Lean Safety workshops and visiting 3 additional manufacturing sites. My host, the SIRF Roundtable organization, had organized the events in the Melbourne and Sydney areas. The second day of both workshops was held at manufacturing facilities. In Melbourne it was Olex Cable and in Sydney it was a Mars food plant. Holding day two of the workshops in a production facility, where the workshop attendees can apply what they learned on day one, is invaluable. For example, an attendee from Wilson Transformer Company, who was so excited after day two, went back to work the following week and immediately formed a safety kaizen team. She contacted me via Linked-In a few days later to let me know they had conducted a safety kaizen event and everything went as planned. There is nothing more rewarding than to have a workshop attendee take the Lean Safety concepts to heart and then go back to their place of work and make a safety difference.

My next stop was Aspen, Colorado. I was invited to participate in a visioning session as a volunteer of the AME (association for manufacturing excellence) organization. Leadership representatives from AME along with leaders from the meeting host company, Barry Wehmiller, met to define an updated vision for AME. AME is a volunteer organization that promotes organizational excellence. Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry Wehmiller, was our host for the 2-1/2 day event. Bob is a unique passionate leader who believes in and practices people centric leadership. In his mind the people who work for Barry Wehmiller are more important than his customers. He wants to change the world by changing how leaders view the people in the organizations they lead. I encourage you to go to You-Tube where you can view this passionate leader speaking at a Tedx conference held at Scott AFB. Yesterday at the end of a 2-day Shop Floor Continuous Improvement workshop I facilitated in Shanghai I showed this video to the attendees. It certainly produced some puzzled looks on the faces of the Chinese managers in attendance. The concept of servant leadership was as foreign as pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving yet I am sure they found value in what Bob had to say. People centric leadership combined with organizational excellence can create a manufacturing renaissance not just in the US but all over the world.

The day after I returned from Aspen I departed for Calgary, Alberta, Canada. The local ASQ (American Society for Quality) had invited me to facilitate a 2-day Lean Safety workshop. Day one was held in a local hotel and on day two we headed to Kudu Industries. Kudu products support the booming oil business in Canada and the world. The workshop attendees were split into safety kaizen teams and sent to two different work-centers to observe people at work. By doing so they learned to see safety differently and together identified numerous opportunities to improve safety by making work easier and safer. An attendee from Shell Oil Company, who was a lean expert, noted that he has always been able to see lean, or cycle time opportunities for improvement, but he now had a new way to view improvement opportunities. That is the type of feedback I love to hear. He now clearly understood you can get lean by focusing on safety.

I had a week at home before heading to Chicago for the largest lean conference in the world - around 2,000 people attended. As the volunteer marketing chair for the AME 2012 conference I had been working with an unbelievable group of volunteers for the last two years planning the event. In addition to helping to plan the event I also facilitated a full day workshop on Monday and six sessions in the Idea Exchange CafĂ© mid-week. It was a great week of connecting with old and new friends. The 2013 conference will be held in Toronto – I hope to see you there.

Then after one night at home to pack I boarded the flight for Shanghai mentioned above. At this moment I am sitting in a hotel meeting room continuing to work on my blog while the workshop attendees are gathered around flip charts working on an exercise. This is the second day of the Lean Safety workshop. Earlier in the week I taught a two day course titled, Shop Floor Continuous Improvement. The key message delivered in both workshops is the requirement to engage the workforce. Changing a workplace culture to one where continuous improvement is embedded in every aspect of the business, or changing the safety culture from one where only safety compliance is addressed to one where people focus on the continuous improvement of safety, requires the same difficult work. It requires leadership to build trust while at the same time challenging how people think, act and interact. Getting them to think differently and then getting out of their way.

Facilitating workshops in China is a challenge because of the language barrier. I can speak two words in Chinese, hello and thank-you, and they speak some English. I present in English and if I talk too long or too fast their eyes will glaze over in the afternoon. Therefore, I have adjusted my presentation methods so that there are many exercises that they can work on together while speaking in their native language. All in all it is a wonderful experience teaching such eager and intelligent students. In my own small way, through them, I am having a safety impact in China. Like Bob Chapman my goal is to change the world - by changing how leaders and workers view workplace safety.

My travels will next take me to Mason City, Iowa in early November where I will spend three days with member companies of a lean consortium organized and facilitated by the NIACC (Northern Iowa Area Community College). Day one will be a workshop and the following two days will be spent visiting individual companies to conduct Lean Safety gemba walks. Then in late November I will travel to Donetsk, Ukraine to keynote at a safety conference and facilitate a three hour workshop for operations leaders from a mining and metals company called Metinvest. With 117,000 employees and work environments that consist of mines and mills I am sure safety improvement opportunities are plentiful. When I return home from the Ukraine it will be December and my plans will be narrow and precisely focused - celebrating the holiday season with family and friends. Stay safe.