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For Better and Not for Worse

For Better and Not for Worse
Damian Scallon
  • On November 28, 2014

This article is a continuation of ’’Til Death You Do Part?‘, published in the Autumn 2014 issue of Outsource.

During the past month, our onsite team met and surveyed each of their customers in all departments of the automotive assembly plant to better define their needs and expectations from our inside-outsourcing service. We met each week to review, discuss, and debate customer responses – not with an eye towards right versus wrong, but with an eye towards a governing theme, a golden thread that ran through all issues.

It was nearly 9am, almost a month to the day of my previous meeting with Herb, the plant manager.  I sat in the conference room adjacent to his office awaiting our one-on-one meeting. I reflected back on how meetings like these used to make me extremely anxious, whereas today I found myself looking forward to the interaction. Over the many years I had found that guys like Herb were great mentors. All you had to do was let them in and begin learning. Sure, Herb could be tough, very tough, but he was tough because he cared for his plant, his product, and the people in his plant, including us, the service providers.

“How have you been?” Herb asked as he closed the door and offered a bottle of water.

“Actually, great,” I responded.  “The past few weeks were tough, but the gains we made by realising that a part of our service model required us to Re-Define the Need, our customer’s need, set in motion a flurry of excellent activities that energised our entire group.”

“Your team did an excellent job yesterday in the presentation of their plan, and I also give you credit for giving them the stage and not bombarding my conference room with a bunch of your corporate pals.”

“It made sense to me. They are the ones who have to deliver, and I know how you love those corporate guys.”

“The Strategic Operating Plan hit the mark, but what resonated most with me was your team’s discussion around the golden thread, your need to stop being reactive and to become preventive and, may I add, also predictive.”

Herb went on to underscore his key point that when we were originally hired we were given a list of activities to complete that were previously being ignored or not completed properly. He also underscored his gratitude for that work we did, but reiterated that was not what was needed today or tomorrow.

“Your team and your service need to become Outcome-Based, not Activity-Based.”

“Interesting way to put it,” I thought out loud.

“I think by instilling the idea of being Outcome-Based in the minds of your team, the required tasks and activities will take care of themselves.”

With that, Herb and I spent the next fifteen minutes reviewing the Strategic Operating Plan (SOP), especially the strategic drivers presented by our team the day before, giving Herb an opportunity to clarify his expectation on being Outcome-Based as opposed to Activity-Based.

Strategic Drivers

  • Safety – measures and activities designed to predict and prevent incidents, more so than current incident trends.
  • Engagement – measures and activities to evaluate the depth and quality of the engagement, more so than the number of suggestions submitted.
  • Delivery – measures and activities focused on improvement in efficiency, as opposed to measuring activities scheduled versus completed.
  • Waste – measures and activities focused on elimination of actives that have no impact on improved production.
  • Quality – measures and activities designed to correlate the frequency of activities with their impact on production quality and uptime.

Herb called out as I was walking through the door, “Just for the record, it appears we are not getting a divorce, but let me be clear, I do not take you for better or for worse. I take you for better or best.”

“Yeah, I know – not looking for a Hallmark card.”

“Nice to know we are on the same page. Touch base before you head out.”

“Will do.”  With that I sent out a text to convene the onsite management team for a working lunch.

Characteristic to all onsite management teams, everyone was anxious to hear the feedback from Herb, even though Herb and his plant management team had previously conveyed their support and appreciation for the SOP. Over the years, I admired this characteristic as one that keeps a team on edge and not as apt to fall asleep at the wheel.

As the team helped themselves to pizza, I wrote on the white board:

Outcome-Based        versus        Activity-Based

While we ate, we discussed what this meant, and I shared with the team how Herb reworded the strategic drivers in our SOP to convey the difference. The team fairly quickly began to internalise how this shift would begin to impact our delivery processes.

“How so?” I asked, standing up, marker in hand, to capture ideas on the white board.

“Straight up, our team members need to better understand the impact of their activities when they perform initial inspections.”

Another supervisor stated, “The entire layered inspection process will need to be overhauled.”

Holding up a hand, I said, “Okay, let’s go through this one piece at a time. It is safe to say we all agree and understand that if the purpose for our inside-outsourcing service has changed, our processes that deliver services must change to adapt. Agree?”

“Agreed,” the room responded.

I wrote on the white board the first step in our delivery process: Assemble and Assess. As I started to poll the group for ideas and comments, the site manager spoke up and stated, “Even the title of the step does not fit.”

“How so?” I inquired.

“Some of the issues we face are because our processes now misalign with customer needs.”


“Would it not be makes sense for our first step to read, Assemble, Align and Assess?”

“Thoughts?” I threw out to the team while considering what a huge “aha” this insight was for the site manager.

Quickly the team saw the “genius” of the add, and with some applause to our site manager we moved on.

1) Assemble, Align and Assess – Delivery Processes.

While I wrote the second step on the white board – Schedule and Standardise – I asked the team what impact the change in purpose would have on this step.

2) Schedule and Standardise

“Huge changes,” said our general assembly area manager.

“Elaborate” I responded.

The area manager explained that our schedule was used to schedule tasks that were work activities. We did not schedule activities such as team-building, safety observation tours, and many of the other activities that would be required for us to be Outcome-Based. He also pointed out that our work standards were only used to document and train our teams on performing actual work tasks and not the stuff needed to be Outcome-Based.

“What stuff?” I inquired.

“Should we not have a standard for problem solving so all our teams are trained to solve problems using the same techniques?”

The room murmured their support as he went on. “If our teams need to help reduce waste, should we not have a standard on how to create a continuous improvement suggestion, as well as a standard for how to perform a good safety observation?”

“Can’t argue with your logic.  Makes perfect sense to me,” I stated, while capturing his ideas on the white board.

The team was getting really energised as “light bulbs” lit with ideas on how, with some strategic adjustments to our delivery processes, we could realign with our customer’s new purpose.

3) Deliver to Standard

As I wrote down the third step, I realised the room was already in discussion, and a general theme was finding its way to the surface. In order for our teams to Deliver to Standard and continually raise the bar on the standard, our teams needed to interact more with our customers and get involved with customer projects. The second theme was our teams needed to feel empowered, and be given resource time to make changes to the standards. To do that, our teams needed to be more exposed to our performance indicators.

4) Layered Inspection.

The discussion moved seamlessly into the next step, and as I printed it on the white board a supervisor in charge of our grounds operations spoke up.

“Our attitude towards inspection will need to change.”

The room went very quiet. He went on to explain. “We inspect with an eye towards pass or fail at each level of the inspection process, as opposed to using the interaction to coach and stimulate ideas for improvement and waste reduction.”  It took a few uncomfortable seconds for the point to sink in, but one by one the room started to respond with ideas on how each inspection and team member interaction could be altered to solicit ideas for improvement, while implanting the importance of the activity and empowering each team member to take ownership of their standardised work.

5) Counter Measure

“You mean fire fighting?” our logistics manager threw out.

“Fire fighting?”  I responded, feeling puzzled.

“We only really get into counter measures, like we are now, when the you know what hits the fan.”

The room quickly jumped on this point with full agreement, and the logistics manager spoke back up. “Counter measure needs to become something of a reflex for us, something we are constantly doing, big or small, but above all we need to empower everyone to suggest and implement counter measures.”

“Including our hourly team members?” the site manger asked, suspiciously.

“Especially the hourly team members,” the logistics manager shot back. “How hard would it be to post key performance indicators, in a more reader friendly format I might add, in the break room, allowing team members to understand what’s going on, and allowing us the opportunity to invite them to develop a solution?”

You could have heard a pin drop if it not for the hum of the ventilation so apparent in these meeting spaces. The words spoken by the logistics manager brought our Delivery Process full circle, with a need to schedule time with our team to regularly review our performance indicators and to standardise a user-friendly format to present information to our teams so they could be empowered to make change and perform counter measures.

Our onsite management team all needed to get back to their day-to-day responsibilities, so we agreed the team would continue to use working lunches on all shifts to solicit ideas for change, and produce designs for change as well as implementation schedules to review with the plant management by the end of the month.

“What about our reports to the customer?” the logistics manager shouted as we were all gathering our garbage from tables. “They will also need to change and become aligned to communicate with our customers in all departments.”

“Excellent add,” the site manager responded, grabbing the marker to capture the point on the white board.

Rapping on the door jamb of Herb’s office, I said, “I’m heading out.”

“Good day?” Herb asked.

“Excellent day.”

“Why?” he asked, looking intently at me.

“That little shift from Activity-based to Outcome-based transformed how we see the business, and how we need to realign our processes to meet this new need and new purpose.”

“That is good news. When can we discuss the changes?”

“Our team is going to interact with your team and pull it all together by the end of the month.”

“Sounds good, but you know there is probably one more big step?”

“The People piece?” I asked.

“You got it.  And remember – for better or best.  See you next month.”

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