Giving employees more autonomy to grow a business

Growing individuals helps grow businesses, yet often companies lack the communication between top management and the shop floor. Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks to business leaders to find out the importance of empowering employees.

Lean manufacturing is more than focussing on minimising waste while maintaining high productivity levels. It’s about employee empowerment – allowing workers to have a say in their company’s processes and being accountable for certain aspects of that process. This is a clear message that ran through the discussions led by Lean experts at the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Leading Through Excellence and Innovation Conference in Melbourne.

Speakers from Australia and around the world gave their take on Lean manufacturing – sharing their experiences as managers and the hurdles they have encountered along the way to improving sectors within the companies they work for.

Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company director of manufacturing, Billy Taylor, gave an insight into his experiences of running operations in the United States. He gave examples of allowing employees to hold more responsibility no matter what role they’re in.

“It’s about creating an environment where your team will take action,” said Taylor.

He said often the people on the shop floor who know what’s happening aren’t the ones that are asked. In order to learn more about a business as a manager, Taylor reiterates the importance of communicating with all sectors and people at all levels in a business.

“You can lose an entire plant by not saying hello. Make people visible to make them valuable.

“Leadership is also about having the courage to say when you are wrong,” he said.

Taylor gave one example of a Goodyear tire plant that wasn’t performing as well as the others.

New processes were implemented, such as installing boards in the factory that showed when staff were meeting their targets and when they weren’t. This was done to hold them accountable, but to also celebrate the wins.

Because the tyres are handmade, each employee leaves a label on each tyre they build. When this was implemented, employees expressed pride and a responsibility in the work they were doing, Taylor explained. “We need to make it obvious what people own. If they don’t have ownership the people don’t know what they are doing,” he said.

Taylor explained that when people are given more ownership their productivity lifts.

AME National Treasurer Barry McCarthy said that KPIs need to evolve as business grows and develops. These goals need to be changing at all levels, from top management, to middle management, to the shop floor, he said. “If the company doesn’t change their KPIs, there’s nothing changing in their processes.”

McCarthy talked about having clear goals and coaching managers to be able to communicate these visions with their teams while supporting them to achieve these.

“Any time process comes into play, you should be coaching at the different levels. Results can’t come with stress – they should come with ease. We should be training our managers and leaders to coach people all the time.”

McCarthy explained that goals should challenge employees, but they need to be within their skillset and strengths, so it is achievable. “They’ve also got to have a five-year plan and we’ve got to try to coach them to achieve that five-year plan. You never want to set them up for failure. You want to understand their capabilities.

“You can then start to find out how you can place people to fill particular roles,” said McCarthy.

Boeing Phantom Works chief of staff, Jamie Gooding, said it is important to give employees regular feedback. “It’s so basic, yet how often do we fail to tell people how they are doing?

“We all want that feedback. We all want to know how we are going. We need to give credit where it’s due.”

Gooding explained that often people don’t like giving others feedback, despite wanting feedback themselves, and when feedback is given, it’s often in a team environment rather than letting individuals know.

By communicating with employees, Gooding reiterates McCarthy’s point that managers can find out where employees are best suited to benefit their needs and to grow the company. “Make best use of each person’s ability. Make use of your team’s ability and make sure that what each person brings measures up to the team.”

Gooding gives an example of a time that he identified each person’s strengths and implemented simple changes to improve personal performance as well as productivity within the company.

“What I wanted to do was help people learn and develop,” he said.

The Leading Through Excellence and Innovation Conference featured many more themes around Lean manufacturing, such as taking advantage of technology to introduce Lean strategies, and helping first-time managers learn as well as teach Lean within their companies.

The conference was held on May 7-8.