Involvement of the Workforce

group of people talking

The word involvement as it relates to business growth and development is simply employee participation on improvement teams. But simply participating on a team may not be enough to actually generate significant improvement.

Many companies pride themselves on how well they “involve” their workforce in their improvement efforts. In fact, if you go into many companies, you’ll probably see a wall of pictures and other accolades that support the contention that “our people are involved.”

And while this “gallery of involvement” is impressive, it may not be a true depiction of an involved company. Are the right people being included in improvement teams and how involved are the actual subject matter experts (SMEs)?

To take a deeper dive into uncovering SMEs, consider the following case study.

I recently consulted with a manufacturing company in the Aviation MRO (i.e. Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) industry that was a contractor to the Department of Defense (DoD). This company, by contract, was required to supply a pre-determined number of aircraft every day, and if they didn’t, they were assessed a significant financial penalty, based on the number of aircraft that they failed to deliver. This company was struggling to meet demand, and the results were getting worse. So much so, the corporate office replaced their Site Leader, in hopes of turning the company around.

In addition to the financial losses for missed aircraft availability, the company was paying a huge amount of money for mandatory maintenance overtime in an attempt to “right the ship” so to speak. One of the consequences of this overtime (in place for months prior to my arrival) was extremely low workforce morale. The more overtime the maintenance workforce was required to work, the lower the morale became. Needless to say, absenteeism was high as a result of this constant overtime.

Arriving onsite, I met with the new Site Leader to discuss his issues, and it became clear very quickly that he was frustrated. And while the outgoing leader’s management style was command and control (i.e. do it my way!!), this new leader believed in listening and was open to fresh new ideas.

When I asked him if he was ready to involve his people, he replied that they already were involved. When I asked who his subject matter experts were, he proceeded to give me a list of technical people (i.e. Engineers, Supervisors, etc.) on site.

“So, these are the people that physically maintain the aircraft?” I asked.

“Well no, but they are the experts,” He responded.

“No they aren’t,” I replied with a smile as I began to explain my version of employee involvement…Active Listening.

I explained to him that the true subject matter experts are the people that maintain the aircraft. The Mechanics, the Avionics Technicians, the Quality Assurance (QA) folks, the Maintenance Control people, the flight-line workers and Logistics workers.

I explained to the new Site Leader that if he wanted to rapidly turn around his results, the first thing he needed to do was form a team comprised of only the SMEs. This team needed to be made up of all of the maintenance-related disciplines, but that membership needed to be completely voluntary, and wherever possible, it needed to be the informal leaders of the workforce.

I then explained the central concept of Active Listening, which is that the managers would not just listen to the core team’s ideas but act on them. As long as their ideas and solutions didn’t violate any safety policies, customer, or company policies, or contractual obligations, then their improvement ideas must be implemented exactly as stated by this core team. I further explained that this would be difficult, if not impossible, for some of his managers and supervisors to do, but that it was absolutely necessary for success.

Although skeptical that this approach would work and apprehensive that time may be wasted on this approach, the Site Leader agreed and committed to supporting the initiative.

Several days later, our first core team meeting took place. In this first meeting, the existing maintenance process was mapped out so that everyone understood exactly how the current process was working. This proved to be a valuable learning experience for some of the team members, because they got to see first-hand how their work impacted the MRO flow of aircraft through the maintenance process and hangar.

I then presented the basics of the Theory of Constraints (TOC) to this core team.

Without exception, everyone understood this concept. As a team, we then identified the system constraint to be all necessary actions (e.g. approvals, parts availability, etc.) that needed to be completed before the actual maintenance work could begin on the aircraft

Two key initiatives came from the meetings:

  • Prior to this team’s involvement, approvals were being batched and sent to the approval person. It was discovered that this was a primary cause for delays. This team decided to attack this problem using single-piece-flow meaning that as soon as the document was ready to be approved, it was dispatched to the person responsible for approval.
  • Another improvement action taken by this team was the concept of full-kitting. Full-kitting is the practice of making sure all needed parts, tools, paperwork, etc. must be available before any maintenance work begins on the aircraft. Ensuring the everything needed was available would certainly increase efficiency.

Using active listening techniques to overcome the constraints, the team implemented their ideas and were back on track; surpassing what they had been delivering prior to the down-turn and securing their DOD contract.

[1] Bob Sproull & Bruce Nelson, Epiphanized – A Novel on Unifying Theory of Constraints, Lean and Six Sigma, 2015, Taylor and Francis Group

This series of posts is taken from mine and Bruce Nelson’s book, [1] Epiphanized 2nd Edition.

Bob Sproul

About the Author

Bob Sproul helps businesses across the manufacturing spectrum improve their operations for more than 40 years.