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.