Words of Wisdom and Inspiration for the aspiring entrepreneur from Frank Covich, Founder of the National Association of Independent Business Brokers (NAIBB)
by Frank Covich
The Lost Time Room
Today’s article is about critical thinking and how in larger organizations the decision-making process can be very difficult and lead to delays on progress, savings and improvement in all areas of corporate dealings. I know that the new business startup entrepreneur can benefit from reminders about methods of organization building, team building and problem-solving.
This story is about a very large mid-west manufacturing facility that hired our consulting firm to try and improve manufacturing production through cost-saving studies, training of supervisors and other projects related to working with senior management and all levels of staff.
This was a company that produced hydraulic systems for tractors and all types of lift equipment. It had over 400 employees and had been in business for over 25 years. Since it was in a remote area of Ohio, it had to employ the people in the area, and many were just not educated and skilled in the areas of critical thinking. A day in the life on the manufacturing floor was full of lots of chaos, inventory of parts shortages, production stoppages and again extreme labor non-production lost time. Within the organization there existed many levels of supervision that just could not make decisions, and the inability to react to suggestions and reasonable changes just took too long. Many great ideas to improve operations never got into play.
The Lost Time Room
The new president was pressured to do something, as with dwindling profits they could surely go out of business. It was the new president’s job to turn things around, so he brought in help. He hired my firm, IMR (Institute of Management Resources).
I was assigned to the project, and as we looked at some of the big production issues. I created what I called the Lost Time Room, right next to the president’s office.
In the lost time room we put on a wall a paper with each of the names of every key manager and supervisor. It had a pyramid of 27 people with the president at the top. We gathered the management in one place and told them that we were going to seek suggestions and document process problems, and that each statement would come into the Lost Time Room.
We talked to the union, and the company had a meeting with every person attending. The president and I told the employees, “Please help the company. We are losing money, and we have to save everyone’s job.” I took the direct and honest approach.
We gave every employee a pad of paper and said, “Give us your ideas, and we will look at every one. We will use your thoughts on why things break down, where we need improvement in parts supplying.” We committed to review every suggestion in any area of business. We asked every employee to help get the ideas to the lost time room.
Our project theme was that we were team building and problem solving for the good of all.
Within days of our program announcement the suggestions came into a drop box in the lost time room, and a coordinator was assigned to determine who on the wall of management needed to address each issue. We also said in a careful way that if the improvement decision had to go to the president, then just maybe he did not need you supervising. He gave all senior management the authority to fix, and it was a mandate.
As the project progressed we found one great suggestion that I also experienced years later in another company. The operator said, “I constantly have to walk all across the shop floor to get rags to clean my production pieces for tolerance checks.” He had to turn his machine off and wasted time in doing so, as every time he shut down it affected his momentum and pace. This had been going on for years. We took that statement, gave it to a staff supervisor and said, “Fix it.” The next day every machine had extra bags of shop rags, and every machine started to produce more.
Another great idea came from a set-up person whose job it was to get supply parts to the machine operators. Each machine had a tiny staging table next to the machine. His idea was simple. Put a bigger table by the machine so the parts feeder, as he was called, could put more parts by the machine, thus enabling it to go for hours. This was a huge improvement in that he did not need to come to the machine every ten minutes to feed the hoses and other parts to the machine or assembly operator. New tables were put at 30 key places, and we reduced the need for several parts feeders in this department, thus saving time and allowing some of the parts feeders to be reassigned to a more productive job. The machines could now run at full capacity, making the job easier and increasing production.
What we did over the course of three months is that we completely changed the performance of the shop and business. We created an environment of awareness and helped employees become part of the solution as opposed to beings victims of a flawed system. We helped supervisors learn to make decisions and to become supportive of their employees. We created awareness to keep machine spare parts ordered correctly, and we improved product production changes and retooling processes.
The lost time room became a meeting place for supervisors to check in each day to see what was under their name. No one wanted the president to see tags sitting under their name. We had some suggestions offered that only the president could solve, and now there was a way to show him.
As this project completed its course the company turned around. We made great friends while creating a grand problem-solving system that worked. I used the concepts of the Lost Time Room in many of my consulting assignments. They were always well received and worked.
As you start your new business think about how you want people to make suggestions and have a suggestion protocol. Reward great ideas with praise. People love to be appreciated. In the company discussed here, one very nice entry-level shipping room employee who saw a problem and reported it was praised for bringing it to his manager. He became a hero to the company and his fellow employees. Companies need profits, and cutting costs is one key way to keep your company running smoother and ensure it stays in business. This company produced hundreds of heroes, and a very smart president saved everyone by seeking help.
The Lost Time room is a way of life in big and successful organizations.
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All the best,