After being recognized in 1990 by the Shingo Prize, my plant became an overnight hot spot for benchmarking. Hardly a week went by when there was not a visit from a distinguished visitor, Fortune 500 company, professional organization or college class. Initially we accepted the visits because of the good publicity for the company; good news sells products.
But very quickly we discovered that the process of sharing our continuous improvement story had a powerful effect on our employee and management commitment to Lean. This was not an outcome that I had anticipated. Sharing with visitors encouraged us to learn more; quoting a Latin proverb, “Docendo discimus,” the best way to learn is to teach. Anticipating a tour, employees were motivated to polish their efforts; to find one more before-and- after anecdote about changeovers or mistake-proofing or kanban or some clever idea they had implemented to make the job easier. Front line workers, many of whom had never previously been asked about their work, spoke eloquently about reducing waste and creating value. It was exciting for them to share knowledge and to be recognized for their grasps of topics that still eluded many of our visitors. “The engagement of your employees is an inspiration to me,” noted a visitor from a well-known automotive manufacture. “So many good ideas; how did this happen?” There was no single answer to that question.
One day, after a double-decker bus carrying students and faculty from a well-known business school pulled out of our parking lot, an employee from our welding department commented, “You know, Bruce, it’s fun having these tours and being able to tell our story to visitors, but how about holding a tour for our own employees?” He continued. “I’ve been building parts for our assembly department for many years, but have never really seen how those parts are used.”
The efficacy of this idea hit me instantly. It was an enormous missed opportunity. Shortly thereafter, the first of many employee tours was scheduled. Long before the terms “value stream” or Yokoten ever became part of the Lean lexicon, we were practicing and gaining the benefits. In the process, departmental boundaries were blurred and many more ideas stimulated and shared from the opportunity to see the whole rather than just the parts. A long-time employee commented to me after an employee tour. “We’re ‘Tours R Us.’ It’s a good thing.”
What are you doing to remove the silos and stimulate idea sharing in your organization? Let me hear from you.
BTW – Don’t miss the opportunity to connect with your Lean community and share ideas about involving all of your employees in continuous improvement. Our 15th Annual Northeast Lean Conference is all about engaging your entire workforce to create value for your customers. We hope you will join us October 23-24 at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford. Listen to this important message from the Old Lean Dude to learn more.