It didn't take him long to realize that JKM Manufacturing employees had been working in a micro-managed and stove-piped environment so long that they had lost their initiative and sense of purpose. Employees wouldn't even give their opinions when asked much less take responsibility. Quality problems were rampant and productivity was abysmal.
Fast-forward two years to 2010 and General Manager Lex Scroggins hears screaming and yelling coming from another room in the plant. He runs to see what's happening and discovers a group of production workers celebrating. The group met its goal for the week and can't hold back the excitement.
JKM is producing as much as before but with a third of the former staff. Quality has skyrocketed. Employee turnover is virtually non-existent.
What changed? Both Chad and Lex chalk it up to a changed culture. "They're the same people we had before. The only thing that has changed is how people operate," Lex explains.
Here's how it happened.
A couple of years earlier, the drill for employees was keep to yourself, do what you're told, and let someone else worry about the results. When production workers were selected to work with a cross-functional team of experts to redesign a major work process from scratch, they knew their new leaders were serious about involving them and sharing accountability. Their experience confirmed it. Now they don't wait to be asked their opinions. They know it's okay to disagree and challenge ideas when they're trying to help the business.
Employees used to work on a single product day after day. When someone was sick, nobody could step in and help out. Through cross training, employees have become able to support each other creating greater flexibility in the system and improving their overall understanding of the business.
Production employees who used to be in the dark about what their products were used for now know something about the finished products their parts go into. Goals are discussed and set. Results are tracked and visible to employees. And, whenever someone feels a tinge of inspiration for how to improve the process, ideas are quickly captured on butcher paper stretched across the wall.
Transparency is now the standard. Previously, people avoided answering the phones whenever there was a quality problem. Now, if there's a problem, employees don't hesitate to communicate even reaching out to customers to work out problems before customers discover them to mitigate impact on customers' businesses.
Non-management employees are even involved in pre-hire interviews making sure they get the talent they need to support their goals. The practice supports the we're-all-in-it-together culture that engenders personal commitment for the success of the entire group.
A lot has changed at JKM: leadership practices, training, employee understanding of the business, and personal motivation. But, according to Chad and Lex, what's changed most is the culture -- that for employees it's no longer just a job, it's fun.
Trying it on for fit:
Search your community for remarkable turnaround stories like JKM. Sometimes they show up in local Best Employer lists. More often, people in these companies quietly go about their business and are only found by poking around the business community. Visit their facilities and ask to meet with them in order to learn how they did it. Ask them how they engage the workforce in a way that helps employees become passionate about achieving their production goals.
Send an email and let me know what you learn from your experiences. I would love to hear from you!