Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Chinese Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving

It is the holiday season here in the US. Thanksgiving will be celebrated on November 28th and then in the blink of an eye it will be Christmas and New Year’s Eve! It is a crazy busy time of the year for most people and retail businesses. Yet there is some seasonality in the consulting business. My consulting travel has slowed allowing me time to focus on other things. Other than two local presentations (The Lean Construction Institute and American Society for Quality) in November and December my calendar is clear. This has allowed me time to sit in front of my laptop and give focus to writing my next book. Progress is steady and rewarding. To keep the creative process going I decided to repost a blog I wrote two years ago rather than write something new. This blog post is seasonal and is the second most popular I have written based on the Blogger statistics. I hope you enjoy reading it for the first time or second time if you are a longtime supporter. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving if you live in the US and as always – stay safe.

I like most of you understand our standard of living has been artificially propped up with cheap goods from China. I accept the fact that much of what I buy in U.S. retail stores is made in China – I was in a Wal-Mart just yesterday. But I will not eat pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China as I celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.

Recently my wife purchased a can of pumpkin from our local independent grocer (IGA). I have for 30 years supported this store. About eight years ago a large local grocery chain built a new store about 1/2 mile from my home. I rarely visit that store because of my unwavering loyalty to my local independent grocer. That may change. Since the canned pumpkin had a brand label, Polar, that I was not familiar with, I read the back of the label. I was more than surprised to find out it was from China. I thought, OMG, we could have made our Thanksgiving pumpkin pie with pumpkin from China! How would the average Chinese person feel if they discovered that the traditional Spring Festival sweets served at their family celebration were made in Mexico? Some things are just wrong.
I have known for about two years that the fresh garlic from the same IGA is from China. I rarely buy it for it is never very fresh and lacks the flavor fresh garlic should have. I cannot understand why fresh garlic is sourced from the other side of the world! What happened to Gilroy, CA the garlic capital of the world? The self proclaimed pumpkin capital of the world is Morton, IL where Libby’s grows and produces canned pumpkin. It is only 138 miles from my local IGA to Morton, IL! China is over 10,000 miles away! Are the margins at the IGA stores so tight that they have to resort to sourcing fresh and canned food products, which are available regionally, from the other side of the world to save a few pennies? The management team at the Independent Grocers Association should understand that the customers who support the IGA stores are the farmers and produces of food products that populate small town America where most of the IGA stores are located. Makes you wonder if the IGA in Morton, IL carries canned pumpkin from China. If so the employees from the Libby’s plant might want to talk with the store manager.

I was again in my local IGA a few days ago and as I walking down an aisle I noticed some fruit preserves that were priced at half the price of every other brand. The brand was the same as the pumpkin - Polar brand. Food safety in the U.S. has had some problems as witnessed by numerous food recalls and the illnesses and even deaths from tainted fresh produce like spinach and cantaloupe. But, at least I know we have an agency that monitors and inspects our food products. I personally have no idea how that is accomplished in China. And please do not think I am some prejudiced flag waver. I love to cook and visit ethnic grocery stores including a large Asian grocery store where I often purchase products produced in China. Ethnic groceries are a real joy for they provide me with new and unique ingredients that challenge me to prepare new dishes I have never tried before. They offer specialty products I cannot source from a U.S. supplier. If my local IGA, which I have supported for 30 years, cannot support the farmers and producers of food from the U.S and continues to stock their shelves with both the Polar brand and their own private labeled products produced in China I will start spending my food money elsewhere. Garlic and canned pumpkin are not specialty products.

Now back to the can of pumpkin. After reading the pumpkin label I returned the can of pumpkin and asked for a refund. When asked what the problem was I simply stated that the pumpkin was from China. The clerk did not look up or react in any way to my comment. She simply completed the transaction and refunded my money. If you and I do not react someday we may all be eating Thanksgiving pumpkin pie made with pumpkin from China. That just doesn't seem right.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Teambuilding in Tuscany

My quest to change the world (or at least how the world views work place safety) by sharing my passion for safety culture change and employee engagement has provided me the opportunity to travel and see the world. About 10 months ago I received an email from an Italian involved in a consortium of companies. His role was safety related and he noted he had just finished reading my book – Lean Safety. We exchanged emails and I encouraged him to invite me to facilitate a Lean Safety workshop for his consortium member companies. Not long after our email exchange my wife and I were invited to spend two weeks in Tuscany by some great friends who were renting a villa for the month of September. I immediately recognized the opportunity for my idea of a work life balanced trip – a few days of work mixed with a few weeks of fun!

Some find travel grueling. I find it rewarding and energizing because it provides me the opportunity to touch people’s lives by sharing my passion. As an example, I just received an email from an attendee to one of my recent workshops in Sydney, Australia. She closed her email with this statement – “I am using my newfound skills and sharing them with anyone who will listen.” That’s the kind of feedback that makes my travel rewarding. Yet, I will admit if I am traveling alone my free time for evening meals and sightseeing is not nearly as much fun as when my wife accompanies me to share those experiences. Shared experiences to me are one of the great joys of life and our trip to Italy, to both meet with my business contact in Rome and spend two weeks in a Tuscan villa, was the zenith of shared experiences.

Work is a shared experience. People change jobs because they do not feel like they are part of the experience – they sense they are on the outside looking in. Lean leaders understand this and try to engage all employees in a customer focused team effort to improve and grow the business. Two weeks at the villa provided many examples for us lean leaders. Let me share a few.

• Leadership – The couple who rented the villa and invited us to stay rent free are leaders. They lead by example. They are givers – not takers. They do not have egos. They never ask if you need help but instead take the lead to get things done without ever being asked. They engage others by suggestion – not direction. They engage people in doing good for others just by their example. They are role models for me and could be for any leader. Do you lead by example? Do you engage your reports?
• Teamwork – Sharing a villa with 8-12 other people brought out the best in people. Everyone pitched in to help. While a meal of porcini risotto, asparagus risotto, fennel salad, caprese salad, chicken Provencal and fig/pear tarts was prepared by some the others lined up in the kitchen after the meal to quickly dispatch the stack of dishes. We then reconvened at the dinner table for some teambuilding. We shared grappa, lemoncello, dessert wine and stories of our daily adventures in the Tuscan hill towns and countryside. I felt as if I was part of an energized and focused team. That is what people seek in their workplace. Are you building a sense of teamwork in your workplace?
• Energy and Passion – Effective teams have an aura of shared energy and passion. I was given the unique opportunity to spend time at the villa with seven motivated, talented and very intelligent 20-somethings. They brought energy to our villa team. When asked questions about their professional lives they opened up and shared their passions, concerns and hopes for the future. I fed off of their passion. They are the kind of people I love to be around. People, who challenge your thinking, inspire you to think deeper and are open to learning from others. Our discussions were centered on ideas – not people. They energized all who were there. Do you energize those around you at work?
• Integrating New Team Members - Effective teams incorporate new members and make them feel welcome. During the month, and our two week stay, family and friends of our hosts arrived and departed. Some of the guests were on their first trip abroad to a country where English is not the first language. They were driven around and guided by more experienced travelers like Sandy and I. The reward for doing this was the opportunity to watch the joy and wonder on their faces as they experienced the Italian culture, landscape and history. If you have ever taken your children to Disney World you know what I mean. When Mickey or another Disney character appeared rather than look at them I was observing the look of wonder on my children’s faces. It was a magical and indeed the best view in the magic kingdom.

After a few days of being guided these new travelers gained confidence and grew in their ability to make their own decisions. We could then turn them loose and felt a sense of pride in our contribution to their growth. Lean leaders experience this same feeling as they challenge and grow their people. It is the most rewarding thing we can do as human beings - to develop and grow others. How do you integrate new team members into your organization? How are you growing and developing your reports?

Some miscellaneous observations -

• I de-bunked the no carb diet. I consumed pasta or pizza, and washed it down with great wines, at least once a day for two weeks and I gained no weight. I also walked about 4-8 miles per day over the hilly Tuscan terrain. I have always and will continue to believe eating everything in moderation, plus moderate exercise, to be a realistic method of weight control.
• The cost of fuel. Fuel prices are advertised in Euros per liter. Not very meaningful to those of us accustomed to the price per gallon model. After I pumped around $150 of diesel fuel into the VW car I had rented I understood fuel was very expensive for consumers in Italy. If we were paying around $8.00 a gallon in the US we would all walk more.
• Learn or re-learn to act like a child. I laughed uncontrollably each and every day at the villa. The shared experiences and close contact with my villa team led to these outbursts of laughter. Each evening we gathered near the pool, the highest point at the villa, sipped wine, and waited for and watched the sunset. Our wine fueled laughter was as dominant as the serious discussions each and every night. As adults, especially adults at work, we are way too serious. Lighten up and laugh like a child once in a while. It was good for me and it will be good for you.
• Reading is fun. I had not read a book cover to cover in a few years. A few weeks before our departure I purchased a book and spent an hour or so each afternoon reading. The villa was located in the countryside where there is little if any external noise. Sitting outside with a book, a glass of wine, a bowl of delicious bright green olives like I had never tasted and complete silence was meditative. And it was a shared experience. My host, an avid reader, was just feet away experiencing the same environment yet lost in a different story. We had a shared, silent experience almost every day. He re-taught me the joy and escapism of reading.

I will be attending the AME International Lean Conference in Toronto, on October 21-25. On Monday, October 21, I will facilitate a full day Lean Safety workshop. Each year I look forward to re-connecting with my many AME friends at this event. I hope to see you there. Stay safe.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Safety Gemba Walks - Down Under

I once again visited Australia to facilitate Lean Safety workshops. Since the first workshop host site was in Brisbane I booked a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth direct to Brisbane - a new personal best for my longest flight ever. It was a 15 hour and 55 minute flight preceded by my flight from Chicago to Dallas and a 2 hour layover. That is one long commute to work! Why do I do it? Simply because I want to change the world - or at least how the world views workplace safety and that requires me to travel. Travel today, because you have to deal with airlines is problematic. Yet there are certainly differences in airlines and how they view and treat their customers. Those of you who have a history of reading my blog posts already know how I feel about American Airlines. They are such an easy target for a lean guy like me. They again disappointed me but I will spare you the details. In contrast to the ongoing self-inflicted suffering and pain caused by flying American Airlines I had a different experience on a Qantas domestic flight from Brisbane to Sydney that lasted a little over an hour. I was fed a meal and offered free drinks which included beer and wine. Contrast that with the American where you can purchase a snack and a drink. But even more noticeable was the fact that the Qantas employees acted like they cared about me as a customer. Qantas, like American, has had some financial difficulties over the last few years. The day before I departed I read a news story about Qantas returning to profitability. American is still struggling in bankruptcy and hoping to merge with US Air (I heard someone say “Useless Air”). What American needs is leadership. Leadership that understands the customer has to come first for without customers you don’t have a business.

Speaking of customer service I also want to give mention to three hotel chains at which I stayed while in Australia. At a Novetel, ParkRoyal and Westin hotel I was charged a minimum of $20 Aus/day for Wi-Fi access to the internet while in my room. Even though I was reimbursed for these charges I felt as if I was being taken advantage of. Contrast that with McDonalds. Walk into any McDonald’s restaurant in Australia and you have access to free Wi-Fi. They view free WiFi access as a way to attract customers while large hotel chains view access to Wi-Fi as a way to rip-off their customers. No matter how good they were in many other ways, what I will always remember is being taken advantage of by the Novotel, ParkRoyal and Westin hotels. Everyone in the world, before booking a hotel room, should ask if there is a cost for Wi-Fi access. When we hear $20/day we should laugh loudly, and hang up.

Speaking of customers I received some very positive feedback from my workshop attendees. Both workshops followed my now standard format of presentation material and small group exercises on day one and safety gemba walks on day two. The workshop attendees are split into small kaizen teams and sent to specific areas of a facility to observe people at work. They engage the workers in discussions about how to make work safer and easier. As they identify opportunities they record them on an opportunity log. By early afternoon the teams are preparing a report out presentation for the site management team. The team presentations, which close out the workshop activities, are always a highlight for me. As the teams present it validates that they understand the Lean Safety concepts and are going to go back to work and make a safety difference. Therefore they will support my goal of changing the world.

One attendee, the day after the workshop, sent an email to his supervisor who had also attended. I have modified the wording slightly but the message is crystal clear.

Thank you for the opportunity to attend the Lean Safety Conference conducted by Robert Hafey. This was a real eye opener for it has definitely changed my mindset, scope, and further potential interactions with staff. This course highlighted and provided the tools for “Going to the Gemba and Kaizen Blitzing” and gave us all the fundamental basics and understanding of how we can improve at a site level. This course has solidified our potential and current systems of improvement, recently incorporated by our internal continuous Improvement program.

Our objectives on day two was to simply observe the workplace practices and engage the staff – with our focus on ergonomics. This, from my perspective, gave us the key formula for cultural change, increased productivity and formulating safe work practices.

This formula, employee engagement + ergonomic improvement = reduction in cycle time + increased production + positive culture.

As in any change or questioning of current practises, we were met with resistance, yet this was overcome by explaining the “method of our madness” and how we were there to make their particular jobs easier. Once the barriers were broken down, it became easier to assess and put forward the opportunities for improvement.

Lean Safety, just like Lean, is a simple concept to understand. Both are difficult to implement for both require a business culture change. That means managers must initiate employee engagement at all levels. Lean Safety is the easiest entry point to initiate employee engagement. The above feedback confirms my point.

Based on this success story and others from the last three years of conducting Lean Safety gemba walks I have begun to write a follow-up book to my first - Lean Safety. It will contain case studies from my travels and visits to facilities around the world. If you would like your company to be a case study example give me a call to schedule a safety gemba walk. Stay safe.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

California Dreaming

I just returned from a trip to California where I facilitated a 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a manufacturing facility in Paso Robles. Two days of work and eight days of fun provided a nice work-life balance. As a lean thinker whenever and wherever I travel I find there are lean lessons to be learned from the travel experiences. Let’s start at Four Barrels coffee shop in the Mission District of San Francisco.

It is commonly understood that to assess a business’ lean success you must assess the culture of the business – how people think, act and interact. You could literally hear, smell and feel the culture at Four Barrels. As a child of the sixties may I dare say this place had a good vibe? The music was from their vinyl collection and as a barista informed me they play vinyl “all day, every day”. The valued and friendly staff, which were paid a living wage and had health benefits, served coffee drinks made with the freshest of coffee. Within 20 feet of the service counter was an old, leather belt driven, small batch coffee roaster. An operator stood watch, making small adjustment and constantly pulling samples from the roaster to check for color and aroma. It was artisanal work. I contrasted this to my experience at a Starbucks coffee roasting facility in Nevada, where I facilitated a workshop last February. There the roasting process was fully automated and processed millions of pounds of coffee annually. At Four Barrels they roasted enough for today and not much more. Four Barrels offered no free WIFI and their customers sat, enjoyed their drinks, and talked. I so enjoyed it there that my wife and I visited four times in our two days in the Mission District. It is very easy for me to assess a business culture. The vibe you feel from the employees you interact with quickly tells you if they are valued or if they are considered an expense. Respect for people, one of the pillars of the Toyota Production System, is the key to the cultural success required on everyone’s lean journey. The employees at Four Barrels were respected and therefore enthusiastic, inquisitive, productive and fun to be around. Four Barrels was so deck!

My next learning experience was provided by my wife when she booked our lodging in San Francisco. She used Air B&B to find us a room. B&Bs were always a small, niche player in the room rental marketplace. But as lean thinkers understand “change is the only constant” and Air B&B is a competitor the large hotel chains (you know the ones that will always charge for WIFI in your room) probably didn’t see coming. The internet provides each and every one of us the opportunity to market and sell products and in this case it is our spare bedroom. Rather than the trickle down economy the internet opens the door to the “go and get it” economy. Here is a link to a NY Times article written by Thomas L. Friedman about the impact of this business model which is a paradigm shift event in the room rental business. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/21/opinion/sunday/friedman-welcome-to-the-sharing-economy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 . We booked a bedroom in the Mission district for half the price of a large hotel chain room. It was a great location, close to a BART stop, which allowed us to easily explore the city. Our hosts, a hipster couple,

A definition and video link from the web -
Hipster - One who possesses tastes, social attitudes, and opinions deemed cool by the cool. (Note: it is no longer recommended that one use the term "cool"; a Hipster would instead say "deck.") The Hipster walks among the masses in daily life but is not a part of them and shuns or reduces to kitsch anything held dear by the mainstream. A Hipster ideally possesses no more than 2% body fat.


were probably covering their monthly mortgage payment by renting out two spare bedrooms. In the Mission District, along with the hipsters, were some reminders (old hippies) of the 60’s hippie culture. It was an interesting mix of the old and new and a reminder that as lean thinkers we need to help others understand and except change as the normal condition. Each generation challenges the prior one with new styles of dress, music, hair styles, etc. I think that is a good thing for it continues to drive change. At my age, and based on my body fat percentage, I will never be called a hipster nor will I be wearing skinny jeans - but I do exhibit some of hipster traits.

After our two days in San Francisco we rented a car and drove south to Paso Robles – a city that is fast becoming the epicenter of a new California wine growing region. It is here that I facilitated a two-day Lean Safety workshop. The event was hosted by a medical device component manufacturer in a newly built facility. The attendees, about 20, were as usual a mix of safety and operational professionals. After dinner, on the first day of the workshop, I received an email from one of the attendees. He was the type of student all instructors love. He was mentally wrestling with the material from day one and had attempted to create a table that contrasted conventional, or a compliance based safety mindset, against the lean safety mindset. In his first attempt it appeared he thought you must move beyond compliance safety and focus you organization on lean safety. After some back and forth dialogue he better understood that compliance safety will always be a requirement. But compliance based safety thinking, like using discipline to create fear and intimidation in the workplace in an attempt to drive safety compliance, must change if you are to move your safety culture forward and create a continuous improvement, or lean, safety culture. Lean or safety culture change efforts are both trust building exercises. Conventional compliance safety improvement programs like BBS (Behavior Based Safety) kill trust because they assume up front that the individual is the problem. Lean safety thinkers focus on the process problems and engage the employees in safety improvement. So businesses have a choice – stay the course and manage safety as a top down directive compliance only program. Or they can maintain elements of their current program to ensure compliance and at the same time eliminate discipline and engage their employees in proactive safety improvement efforts.

Life is a series of choices. You can buy your cup of coffee from a large corporate outlet or an independent coffee roaster. You can book your lodging at a large corporate hotel or an underground B&B. You can stay in Paso Robles when it is 100 degrees or drive 30 minutes to the coast where it is 62 degrees (we did). Dreaming of change, in California or anywhere else, is meaningless without action. Real change only occurs when you make the tough choices. You earn trust by giving it. Draw a line in the sand – remove the discipline process from your safety program and imagine, dream if you will, about the culture of trust you can build.

I will be traveling to Australia (Sydney and Brisbane) the first week of September. Contact me if you would like to meet during my visit. Stay safe.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Working for the Man

Up until 3-1/2 years ago I had always worked for someone else. “Working for the man” had its pluses and minuses. The most obvious benefit is a steady income which is important when you are raising a family and paying off a home mortgage. On the downside are both a limited, or narrow, opportunity for personal growth plus the many common elements of a corporate culture, like the numerous and sometimes seemingly endless stream of meetings, that gobble up your time. In addition there are all of the HR rules, regulations and forms one had to comply with and complete. And last but not least are the reporting relationships and the company politics that are part of every job when you are working for the man. Then at the start of 2010 I became the man. I formed my own limited liability company. I am the only employee. I do the marketing, systems work, accounting, material development, travel planning, workshop presentations, keynotes and anything else the business requires. It was liberating and unbelievably exciting to not only set my own path but to be successful on the journey. I truly am having the time of my life. Then about six weeks ago I received a call from “the man.”

The man, in this case, was the University of Illinois Business Innovations Services (UIUC-BIS) organization. After finding me on the web they called to ask if I could visit their office for an introductory meeting. After two meetings I was offered a part time position as a lean consultant. To be honest I was reluctant to accept the position for I really enjoyed my independence. Working for yourself will always beat working for the man. But finally I said I would give it a try. Our working arrangement was based on a hand shake agreement and I was assured there would be no meetings to attend. Not bad I thought! Then I received an email asking me to log into the University of Illinois HR database to complete the required employment forms. After a few frustrating attempts I was questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for the man again. Yet something made me persevere. That was the promise of new opportunities to engage people and help them believe in themselves.

The day after the handshake I was given the names of contacts at two client companies. At the first I facilitated two 2-day Lean Safety workshops. I have facilitated enough of these events to know they will always be wildly successful. Attendee’s eyes are opened to a new way of viewing and improving employee safety while at the same time reducing the cycle time of their business processes. Feedback from the client site was all positive and one of the attendees sent a message stating,”there is a lot of good "Buzz" around the office regarding the training session - some really great results.” I left knowing the workshop attendees, with my guidance, had made work easier and safer for the employees working in the production areas. I also fully understood that the work processes that were improved was not the primary benefit of my four days spent there – it was the minds that were changed. I was confident the attendees would continue to observe and improve the work processes after I departed.

The second client was a smaller company with just over 50 employees. The current leaders were very interested in changing the culture of the business using the lean philosophy. They had, on their own, started with a 5-S effort that resulted in limited success. During my initial site visit we developed a training plan that would span 9 days. Over the 9 days the attendees would be exposed to 5-S, set-up reduction, plant/cell layout, process mapping, workflow improvement, kaizen events and of course the opportunity to make work safer and easier for themselves and their co-workers.

If you haven’t been in a manufacturing facility in the last ten years you may not know that Hispanics, just as they are in the US population, are becoming the majority. I often reflect on the fact that we are all children, or descendants, of immigrants. Each of us can search our family tree and be transported back to a time when our forefathers left some distant land and came to America for the promise of a better life. Many of them, just like the Hispanics today, worked in factories. Because language is an issue for all immigrants they prove their worth by working very hard. As the years pass and both their language skills increase and their work knowledge grows they are given leadership opportunities. This description describes four of the five trainees I worked with over the nine training days.

On day one they appeared to be a little nervous and unsure about what was in store for them. Rightly so for over the next 8 days I pushed not only them, but the leaders of the business, to think differently. They responded and grew in their confidence to the point that on the last day they were ready to conduct a report out to management on their training activities. Together we gave an overview and then they described the opportunities for improvement that had been identified and implemented. They did a wonderful job and were beaming with confidence when it ended. We shared lunch, I had a meetings with the business owners in which we talked about next steps and I then departed for home feeling like I had made a difference. That belief was validated the next day when I received an email thank you from one of the business owners. It read, “We have had many trainers come to our company though out the years but never have we had someone that cared the way you do. You have made a difference in everyone that was in the training, not only here at work, but in their (personal) life.”

What has been common in both of my careers, as a corporate (working for the man) employee and working as an independent consultant, has been the opportunity to touch the lives of people. Since my goal is to change the world, or at least how the world views safety in workplaces, this new work opportunity opened a new path that allows me to touch and engage even more people.

My next public workshop is an AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) sponsored event in Paso Robles, Ca. It will be hosted by Specialty Silicone Fabricators on July 24 – 25, 2013. You can visit the AME website www.ame.org for registration information. Stay safe.

“Working for the Man” is a song written and performed by Roy Orbison. http://www.royorbison.com/working-for-the-man/

Saturday, April 20, 2013

When Saying “Sorry” Becomes Meaningless to Your Customers

I have not written a blog post for a few weeks. I see other bloggers posting weekly. They often just cut and paste, or link to, material that they find relevant and feel their readers might find interesting. I personally have to be inspired to write. I require a topic that gets me, and I hope my readers, excited. Tonight I am sitting at the Pittsburgh Airport, where I have been for over 24 hours. I left Chicago on late Tuesday afternoon for a consulting engagement scheduled for Wednesday. But before I recap my consulting activity I need to vent about my recent experience with American Airlines (AA) – the airline that has remade itself. On their website it says, new planes, new look! Rather than repaint their planes they should have considered improving their customer service processes. In the last 24 hours I have heard either, I am sorry, we are sorry or we apologize from AA so many times it became meaningless.

It began on Tuesday when I arrived at O’Hare airport in Chicago. Upon entering the terminal I immediately noticed extremely long lines in the AA customer service area. I proceeded to the self-check in kiosks and printed my boarding pass. When I arrived at the gate I observed some commotion at the desk and overheard that the AA computers were down. After waiting at the gate well past the original departure time we were told to proceed to another gate. By then the AA staff revealed that the entire AA reservation system was down and they were waiting for the Dallas headquarters to fax paperwork required by the pilots. I can only assume it was their flight plans. In total we waited for at least three hours and were finally boarded only to wait for another hour as they took their time to load luggage, beverages, etc. Yet every cloud does have a silver lining. I know you will find this impossible to believe but AA gave me a bag of nuts for free! That’s right for FREE! I was so overwhelmed with their generosity I was ready to, but didn’t, forgive them for their incompetence. How can a major airline have both their main and back-up reservation systems down at the same time? And why, oh why, did they not have their staff trained to use some sort of manual process? On Wednesday, I received an email from the president of AA apologizing for the inconvenience and, you won’t believe this either, to tell me I was going to be given 5,000 air miles! I became very concerned that AA, the airline that just came out of bankruptcy, was going right back into court to file for bankruptcy if they keep recklessly giving away peanuts and air miles. Eventually I did arrive in Pittsburgh about four hours late. My gracious client host waited until I arrived so that I could join him and his staff for dinner. I thought my travel problems were over.

Early Wednesday morning I had the opportunity to give an overview of Lean Safety to seven managers from an Industrial Distribution Company at their Pittsburgh headquarters. Following the overview I entertained their questions and we then traveled to their local distribution location where I lead them on a safety gemba walk. They, like all safety gemba walk participants, learned to see safety differently. The work performed by their shop floor employees was now viewed in a different way. These leaders now recognized all of the opportunities to make work safer and easier. And by supporting and facilitating the necessary work process changes they would be repaid with reduced injury risks, improved productivity and most importantly the trust of their workforce. It was a rewarding experience for all of us. At the end of the day my contact drove me to the airport where we had a drink and talked about the next steps in the business change process. We finished our conversation, he headed home and I proceeded toward airport security. Almost immediately I received the first of at least ten emails from AA that either cancelled or delayed my flights for the next 24 hours.

The reason for the initial cancelled flight and subsequent changes was a weather system that passed through Chicago dumping three inches of rain which flooded roadways and delayed hundreds of flights. Shortly after the cancellation email I received a second email notifying me that I had been rescheduled for a 6:00 am flight the next morning. Then later that evening after I had checked into an airport hotel I was notified the 6:00 am flight was cancelled and I was moved to a 2:40 pm flight. The 2:40 flight was then delayed until 3:15. The 3:15 flight was then delayed until 4:45. The 4:45 flight was then delayed until 5:15 and then 5:45. By then I was really hopeful. Our plane arrived and everyone at the gate believed we would board and depart for Chicago soon. The two pilots boarded the plane and when I looked out of the terminal window I saw them in the cockpit going through their pre-flight routine. Then a gate announcement notified us that we were only waiting on the flight attendants before we could board and depart. Twenty minutes later we were told we were still waiting on the flight attendants and they were in the airport! Twenty minutes later we were again informed we were waiting on the flight attendants. While the AA gate clerk who had been making the announcements left to go to the plane almost every passenger in the boarding area received a text message, email or phone call telling them the flight was cancelled. When the gate clerk returned she was informed by about 20 people the flight was cancelled. She looked and was surprised and stunned. She immediately started to pass out cards with the AA reservation number on them and we were told to call that number and reschedule our flights. We were not informed why the flight had been cancelled or if we would receive vouchers for a night’s lodging since this was the last scheduled AA flight that night. Since I have Platinum status I called the Platinum help desk number. The reservation clerk informed me that the earliest flight she could get me on was a 4:10 flight the next day – providing me the opportunity to spend another 24 hours at the Pittsburgh airport. I asked if she could book me a flight on another airline. She said she would try United Airlines and put me on hold. I was on hold for at least 20 minutes and when she did return she said she could not get through to United. Since the help desk was unhelpful I said I would help myself. I walked to the Southwest Airlines reservation desk where there was no line and a helpful clerk waiting. I asked if he could get me to Chicago. Yes, we have a 9:15 flight tonight was the answer. I booked the flight and went to find a drink that contained alcohol. While drinking my beer I called AA to ask for a refund for the cancelled flight. The first reservation clerk had computer screen problems and after 10 minutes said she would have to transfer me to another clerk. A few minutes later she said she could not transfer me and I would have to hang up and call back. I did and made the same request plus I asked to talk with a reservation’s supervisor when the refund transaction was completed. I was put on hold for about 15 minutes while the refund was completed. I was then told I would be transferred to the supervisor but was instead disconnected. I took a deep breath and a long drink of beer.

There has to be some learning in this for all of us. The AA staff I interacted with were all good people trying to do a good job. They were frustrated, just like me, at their inability to take care of their customers. I believe, and try to convince all who attend my workshops that the process is the problem – not the people. Management is responsible for a business’s processes and the culture of the business. Obviously, based on the experiences described above, the unclear, poor or non-existent communication processes me and the AA staff experienced are symptoms of poor management. The culture of AA is a reflection of its management just as the brief passing shadow of a plane is the likeness of a plane flying above. I observed frustration, bewilderment, sadness, resignation and acceptance on the faces and in the voices of the AA staff I interacted with. I told most of them I was angry and upset – but not with them. They know their company is in trouble and only management, if they provide the leadership, can convince them and me that AA is a business that cares about its customers. Our trust has been lost and they must earn it back. Not with peanuts and air miles – but with honest, quality, caring customer service.

My next 2-day public Lean Safety workshop will be held in San Antonio in mid-May. It will be sponsored by AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) and hosted by M2Global. Contact me or visit the AME website if you would like more information on the event. Stay safe.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Eliminate Discipline from Safety Programs

Almost every safety program is based solely on compliance to OSHA or some other regulatory agency. Compliance based safety programs, and many safety professionals and managers, rely on discipline to enforce, and reinforce, compliance to the rules. Companies that use discipline routinely have a parent child work culture. Top down directive actions drive the activities within the business and people are afraid to take actions on their own. Managers make statements like, “we need to send a strong message to all of our employees,” when deciding on the severity of the discipline being considered for a safety rule violation. If a management team is happy with a mediocre business, and a safety program based on compliance alone, they can and should continue to drive fear through the workplace by using discipline. But if they are trying to build a world class organization they must drive fear from the workplace. Great leaders understand that building trust is the key to business improvement. They also understand every action they take either builds or tears down the level of trust. Discipline is a trust killer.

In my workshops I ask if anyone, as an adult, has tripped and fallen to the ground. When I ask those who have raised their hands, what was the first thing you did after falling, they laugh and agree it was to look to see if anyone had seen them fall. If indeed they were observed falling they also agreed the second response was to call out, “I am okay.” When queried as to why this was their reaction to falling they make statements like, “I was embarrassed.” Individuals who are injured on the job also are embarrassed and suffer physical pain. I believe that is enough. Making then feel worse, or making an example of them, by issuing discipline is of no value to a business today. Rather than issuing discipline, and killing trust, build trust by engaging the injured in defining and implementing work process changes that will prevent the possibility of someone being injured while performing the same task in the future. Make accident investigation meetings continuous improvement meetings. Focus on the “what” and “why”, and not the “who”. This new intentional response to injuries will start to create an adult workplace because trust is extended by management with the hope of earning it in return.

Discipline is woven into the fabric of compliance based safety programs and used as a tool by those who manage them. Insurance carriers even ask their clients to provide discipline records as a way of ensuring a company is serious about safety! This is a very contentious subject in the compliance based safety community and I have had some emotional responses when I suggest we should stop using discipline. What I understand, and what they may not, is that a safety culture cannot be improved if discipline is used – period. My goal is to change how the world views safety. I want everyone to understand that safety can be a continuous improvement activity and people cannot be living in fear if you want them to participate with their hearts and minds. Stay safe.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A Safety Walk Versus a Lean Safety Gemba Walk

Safety walks are an integral part of most safety programs. Just search the internet for “safety walk” and you will find many free downloadable forms that you can use to conduct a traditional safety walk. What do I mean by traditional? Traditional safety programs are all compliance based programs. Regulatory agencies (OSHA in the US) define and enforce rules meant to protect workers. Businesses in turn make an effort, by using a variety of methods, to comply. Safety walks, which are really safety audits, have been used for decades. An individual, or group of individuals, walks through a facility and audits the current state condition against the OSHA standards. The auditors focus their attention on “things.” If you read through the safety walk audit forms on the internet or the one used in most any business you will find words like, stairs, extinguishers, machines, guards, switches, signs, racks, aisles, etc. In addition to internally driven safety walks a company’s insurance carrier may ask to visit the site and conduct a safety audit. Their walk through will mirror the one described above. All of these compliance driven safety walks focus everyone’s attention on “things” and fail to look at the people doing the work. If the individuals are observed at all it is only to ensure compliance. For example, are they wearing their PPE (personal protective equipment)? This type of safety walk may help maintain compliance but they do nothing to move the safety culture of your business forward. They actually keep you safety program anchored in the past.

For the last three years I have been leading lean safety gemba walks. Gemba, a Japanese word, is part of the lean community vernacular. It means the shop floor or where the work is done. The word lean has become synonymous with continuous improvement. So a lean safety gemba walk is a walk on the shop floor that focuses on the continuous improvement of safety. The walks have ranged from one-on-one events with senior leaders to guiding large groups of workshop attendees on a journey that changes how they view safety. Lean safety gemba walks have nothing to do with compliance. Rather than focus on “things” the sole focus are the people doing the work. By watching the actions required to complete work tasks it is easy to identify improvement opportunities that will make the work safer and easier. When conducted in a respectful manner, by a skilled facilitator, these safety gemba walks have a dramatic impact on the safety culture of a business. They engage managers and hourly staff in the continuous improvement of safety. Employees now have a chance to make a difference in their safety culture rather than just be compliant with the rules.

I recently facilitated a 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a plant in Rockford, IL. My workshops include PowerPoint slides, lectures, small group exercises and of course time on the shop floor. On the workshop feedback form, the attendees were asked which portion of the workshop was most meaningful. Almost every respondent noted the lean safety gemba walk as the highlight of the workshop. This is because all of the theory and exercises they were exposed to on day one came to life when they were able to apply their new knowledge on the gemba walk held on day two. One respondent noted the workshop taught “engagement and doing versus talking, planning and hoping.” If you are hoping to improve safety in your plant in 2013 you can focus solely on compliance to the rules and watch your safety culture stagnate. Or, you can focus on compliance and begin to engage your workforce in proactive safety improvement activities. Contact me if you want to dramatically impact your safety culture.

Next week I will be in Minden, NV and San Diego, CA. If you want to connect to talk about Lean Safety just let me know. Stay safe.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What is your passion?

If you don’t have one – finding one should be an objective. But first let’s continue with the “what were they thinking” segment of my blog posts. What was Citi, the credit card company, thinking when decided to route customer calls to a call center in the Philippines? Or more precisely, why would they route calls to a call center that has no ability to change or update information in the database in which they enter customer information? As you may have guessed I usually write this section about frustrating, stupid, un-lean processes. My woes began when I was enticed by an offer from Citi and American Airlines to accept the offer of a new business owner credit card to obtain the “free” miles included in the offer. I will not bore you with all of the activities and conversations that took place but after 1-1/2 hours on the phone, which included two calls to the Philippines and two to the East coast, I gained approval for the new credit card. I understand and accept call centers in faraway lands as a fact of life in our global economy but not giving someone, anyone, in that call center the ability to take care of the customer by allowing them to access and change data in the system they use daily is just stupid. After experiences like this, spending an hour and a half on the phone, I again remember nothing is really free. Now back to a different form of passion – one that engages you.

Being on the leading edge of the baby-boomer generation I am witnessing many friends and acquaintances retire. In January, I emailed a business associate and his Microsoft Outlook “out of the office” generated response noted, “I will be out of the office FOREVER.” The question he and others have to answer is what are you going to do with forever? No matter what your age having something you are passionate about allows you to add value and feel good about yourself. Just as life has cycles so do our passions – they can come and go or last a lifetime. For many, their work is a lifelong passion. When they stop working they seem lost. Relationships with co-workers along with the sense of value they brought to the world ends abruptly. They struggle to find a new way to make a difference in the world. At times they blame others for their state of confusion and relationships suffer. However passion is personal. It is a self discovery process that is ours alone and it can be a painful process until we make the discovery.

Traditional retirement activities like sports, outdoor activities, and travel (not to be confused with tourism) fill some of my days. I am thankful I live in the Chicago area where I do not have to play golf for 5 months of the year. After all I only play to stay humble! Outdoor activities like hiking help keep me fit and are important for that reason alone. Travel, which provides uncertainty and unanticipated interactions with new people, places, and cultures, can be a real joy. But I knew before I left my full time position those types of activities would not allow me to feel like I was still engaged and making a difference in the world. Therefore, I never intended to “retire” in the historical sense of the word. It has been three years since I stopped working full time and started my new career as a part-time consultant and they have been three of the best years of my life. Having passion for the continuous improvement of safety allows me to share it with others and in return build new and lasting relationships. Often when beginning a workshop I will ask the attendees to introduce themselves – name, company, position and one thing they have a passion for outside of work. When a respondent does indeed have a passion for something I love to watch their eyes and body language as they describe whatever it is. I see in them me when I talk about my new career or one of my other passions.

What does this have to do with lean? True lean leaders challenge and grow people (engagement). They provide their reports the gift of time (empowerment) to improve the business. This has a secondary effect. It allows their reports to grow as individuals. Empowerment leads to engagement and when people are engaged they find passion. A business full of passionate people is a competitive weapon. Each of us has a responsibility to empower and grow those that surround us in life. To watch spouses, children, coworkers, friends and reports grow as individuals and develop their own individual passions in life is one of the joys of life. I hope you have many passions and are inspiring others to find theirs. Stay safe!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Secret Path to Employee Engagement

What were they thinking? Before I reveal the secret path to employee engagement I have a new topic for the “What were they thinking” section of my blog post. What were they thinking when the developed the cheap plastic bags used in almost every grocery store in the US? I can speculate that their objective was to reduce the cost of a bag but I am certain what they were “not thinking” about was the impact on the environment. The other day I turned left onto a road that had an open field on one side and a large Dominick’s grocery store on the opposite side. The field had at least 50 empty plastic bags strewn across its surface. They were hung up on the remnants of last year’s soybean stalks blowing in the wind like symbolic flags of a country that cares more about profits than the environment. Contrast that to the Island of Maui. My wife and I escaped the Chicago weather by spending some time there after the Christmas holiday season. We did not see any discarded plastic bags hanging on tree limbs, fences or the foliage for cheap plastic bags are illegal. An ordinance was passed in 2008 and took effect in January of 2011. I believe the rest of our country should follow Maui’s lead and starting today each of us should begin to carry our own bags to the grocery store. Interesting how the unintended consequences, of what was at one point in time a good idea; can quickly destroy the benefit of the original idea. What do you think?

Now onto the big reveal! The secret path to employee engagement is to focus each and every employee on the continuous improvement of safety. I know you already have a safety program - but the focus of that program is safety compliance – compliance to OSHA’s or some other regulatory agencies regulations. Last week I conducted a Lean Safety workshop at a facility in Rockford, Illinois. My task, as defined by the managers who hired me, was to begin to turn their safety culture toward one where employees were engaged in coaching each other in safety improvement. Coaching rather than policing each other is a big change in safety thinking for most companies. That is because compliance based safety is a top down directive activity that leaves those responsible looking and often feeling like police officers. Safety compliance is predicated on a parent child relationship and too often relies on discipline, or at least fear, to drive compliance throughout the organization. Have you ever heard someone say, “We need to send a strong message to all of our employees!” when discussing the type and duration of discipline for a safety violation? That statement can easily be translated into “We need to drive fear throughout the workplace to make sure everyone is compliant with the safety regulations.” One of W. Edward Deming’s 14 management points is “to drive fear out of the workplace.” Every action management takes either builds or tears down the level of trust. How can any management team possible hope to change the safety culture in a business if they use fear as a tool to drive safety compliance? So instead, why not harness the creative energy of all employees by leading them in a cultural changing trust building activity to make safety improvement as important as safety compliance is to the business.

Safety improvement activities, like those defined in the workshop in Rockford, engage people in proactive safety improvement driven by the desire to improve safety – nothing else. Each attendee committed to one of three tasks at the end of the workshop day. They could:

1. Conduct multiple lean safety gemba walk during which they would engage and coach another worker to define opportunities to make the work of that individual safer and easier.
2. Commit to practice a pre-defined safety standard work practice that would demonstrate to all their safety commitment.
3. Meet with others and define a suggestion to fundamentally change the current safety program.

When I return in mid-February each workshop attendee will do a report out on their activities and the outcome of those activities. It will be the start of a safety culture change - the secret path to employee engagement and continuous improvement.

I will be facilitating an AME sponsored public 2-day Lean Safety workshop at a Starbuck’s coffee roasting facility in Minden, Nevada the last week of February. If you want to learn more about lean safety and engaging you staff in safety improvement visit the AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) website to register. http://www.ame.org/events/lean-safety-0
I hope to see some of you there. Stay safe!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

How will you view safety in 2013?

Your safety program is mostly likely a compliance based program. Requirements set forth by OSHA and other safety regulators have defined the safety focus for most businesses - to comply with the regulations intended to keep those in harm’s way safe while on the job. My mission for the last three years, since the publication of Lean Safety, has been to change how people think about safety. My background as a lean champion freed me from the traditional view that a safety program is only a vehicle used to deliver compliance. My view is that you can also use your safety program to engage employees in the continuous improvement of safety, a proactive effort to reduce injury risk, and by doing that you can advance your lean efforts.
In 2012 I was given the opportunity to present the Lean Safety story to many people. My opportunities to touch people and change their view of safety ranged from organized events like workshops and conference keynotes to chance meetings on the golf course. If you know me, you know it is hard for me not to share my passion for I believe I can change how the world views workplace safety. In an attempt to change your thinking in 2013 I thought I would share a few comments from some of those I influenced in 2012.

In March and again in May I visited the UK to conduct 2-day Lean Safety workshops. Following are two comments from attendees.

“During your seminar, what I took away in particular was that if you observed the way people work (lean safety kaizen event), then this would lead to an improvement of not only safety, but also improvements in the process itself leading to lower costs and more effective operations”.

“From my point of view it was an extremely worthwhile exercise and certainly I got a lot from it personally and also some great improvement opportunities for the business”.

A week after a two-day Lean Safety event in Portland, Oregon a site lean champion noted:

“We had another safety kaizen this week in our paint and pack department and we used the tools taught during the workshop. The week prior (to the workshop), people were questioning why we were holding an event in the department. This week, we had to extend the event an extra day in order to complete all of the action items. We are learning how to see safety opportunities”.

A survey question from the same event (What is your biggest take away from this Executive Forum?) provided these responses:
• We can use our current monthly safety team walk to focus on a continuous improvement event for a specific area (deep vs. broad).
• Operator involvement is critical. Improving safety will more than likely improve the process.
• How to make safety and Lean come together.
• Don't blame the person, blame the process.

Late September I traveled to Australia where 2-day workshops were held in the Melbourne and Sydney areas. A survey question (What was your key learning?) resulted in these responses at the Sydney event.
• Make time to go look and see rather than react to an accident.
• Tools that can help to engage the workforce in thinking Lean Safety.
• Teamwork – go to the shop floor and invite others to share the safety journey.
• Tools to engage the workforce in safety improvement.
• Lots of tricks and tools to use when I return to work. Engage people!! Kaizen!!
• A structured process to target and remove potential injuries.
• Safety is a way of engaging workers in the lean culture.
• Putting safety first in improvement (efforts) rather than always focusing on productivity
• Use the operator’s knowledge on the (lean) journey.
• The power of engaging the workforce in identifying and implementing solutions.
• That I need to get the operators more involved and set aside time (for improvement efforts).

Responses from the Melbourne event survey question, what was the most effective part of the workshop, were:
• Focus on teamwork, engagement, respect and motivation
• Engagement and practical exercises
• Teamwork – lots of ideas!
• Applying lean to safety
• Shop floor observations
• Learning more about lean and how to be a better coach
• Going to the factory floor and actually seeing what can be improved
• Being in the workplace, working with people
• Practical part in the factory
• Being out on the floor, because it converts theory to practical application

Events were also held in Shanghai, China, Donetsk, Ukraine, Port Hope, Ontario, Mason, City, Iowa, Calgary, Alberta, Elmhurst, IL, and Chicago, IL. The feedback from the attendees is always as above. People learn to see safety differently and they leave with an understanding that their lean and safety success is dependent on engaging their workforce. I hope our paths cross in one of the Lean Safety events planned in 2013. Stay safe!