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Strategies for Metal Cutting Companies Juggling Multiple Improvement Efforts

August 15, 2015 / , , , , , , , , ,


As manufacturing leaders aim for continuous improvement, they typically find themselves juggling multiple initiatives at once to reach the performance and quality level expected in today’s market. It isn’t uncommon for a shop to simultaneously implement a lean practice like 5S while also bumping up its productivity goals. Or, as revealed in a case study on high production metal-cutting companies from the LENOX Institute of Technology, managers may be overseeing ongoing initiatives like ISO 9001 certification, training, and preventative maintenance.

While these best practices are typically worth the effort, the challenge is making sure each is managed well enough to actually be effective. If not handled correctly, employees and even management can end up overwhelmed and uninspired, which typically adds up to little or no results.

According to an article from Plant Engineering, the problem is that most managers have not been properly trained on how to manage multiple improvement efforts. Instead of leading, many turn into micromanagers that have their hands in every initiative, making it hard for supervisors and employees to “buy into” or take ownership of whatever is being asked of them. As Muriel Maignan Wilkins, coauthor of Own the Room and managing partner of Paravis Partners, recently told the Harvard Business Review: “Micromanaging dents your team’s morale by establishing a tone of mistrust—and it limits your team’s capacity to grow.”

To help managers navigate today’s continuous improvement landscape, the following is a condensed list of Plant Engineering’s “dos” and “don’ts” for managing multiple improvement initiatives:

1. Delegate. While managers and supervisors should sponsor teams to make sure they have what they need to accomplish their work, the reality is that the managers and supervisors need to let go and get out of the way so the teams can get their work done. Your job is to remove roadblocks, provide resources, and report progress.

2. Stop having meetings about meetings. Team progress reports can all be accomplished through electronic communication in the form of team notes that can be sent in an email. If you’re having meetings about meetings, you are headed in the wrong direction and wasting people’s time.

3. It’s all about the business case. Every effort should have a business case, and as a manager, you need to request the business case for every new initiative or directive that comes from corporate.

4. Set behavior-based goals and rewards. Working in a safe and environmentally responsible way is about behaviors and rewarding the right behaviors is what helps to improve performance in these areas. Reward things like near misses reported or mistakes discovered in a lockout/tagout procedure and the performance of safety audits. Odds are you will notice not only an improvement in performance, but your people will clearly see that Employee Health, Safety, and Environment are truly the top priority.

5. Stay out of the way! Nothing will slow the wheels of improvement faster than a manager who believes he/she has to be involved in everything. Simply demand a business case from each team; if there is a business case for mitigating or eliminating the problem, then give them the green light to go to work. Reinforce them for meeting on a regular basis, for showing that they are using a structured approach to solving problems, and for providing open communications.

Is your shop juggling multiple improvement efforts? What strategies are you using to ensure they all receive equal attention and profitable results?