Many executives complain that their shop floor management, once introduced, is not picking up the pace that was hoped for. Or that employee participation is not what you want. Why is that and what can you do about it?
Streamlining processes and making them more cost-effective is part of the history of development for the entire life of a company or organization. Each advance in technology, each change in the cost structure or customer requirements justifies new activities to improve processes, streamline processes, eliminate waste of time, money, materials, etc. in processes. Most companies start by getting down to business with expert advice and a choice of tools, approaches and project plans. Employees and managers are trained, a lot of boards are put up, KPIs (key performance indicators and metrics) are defined and want to be tracked. The aim is to achieve the best possible target figures and progress in terms of avoiding waste, smoothing processes and reducing costs. And then the same thing happens so often: as soon as the initiators and sponsors turn around, the whole thing more or less falls asleep in a twilight sleep. The hanging boards become obsolete, wither and work continues as usual. Why does it go wrong so often?
1. Expectations are too high at the beginning
Unfortunately, the introduction of shop floor management under pressure does not bring the same results as when it occurs in the wake. What does that mean? Due to the urgent need to reduce costs, there is hardly any possibility of step-by-step development and co-learning of managers and employees. Rapid improvement is expected immediately from the tracking of data such as production or administration speed, material usage and order fulfillment. But what is forgotten is that shop floor management is not simply a sum of tools such as measurement, KPI tracking and visualization. It’s a culture change! In the best case, it changes the culture of communication, the culture of cooperation, the culture of error, the culture of performance measurement and evaluation and much more. And that requires careful planning, observation, supervision and above all: time! Pressure, especially time and expectations, kills successful shop floor management. The pull of the will to change and improve is the real fertilizer!
2. BECAUSE EMPLOYEES SEE NO BENEFITS FOR THEMSELVES
True involvement in shop floor management only happens if everyone involved sees a gain in it. This can range from an extension of the radius of action, from the possibility of trying out new methods, from the permission to express one’s own ideas, to contribute and test them and last but not least to the appreciation of the experience, even the bad ones, as a learning experience, a whole range of gains, that really motivates. The trick is to name, convey and make visible this profit and not just the overall profit of the company or organization. Experience has shown that shop floor management, which is only used selectively in companies and organizations, does not develop as quickly and vigorously as when an entire organization decides on this type of cooperation, performance measurement, information transfer and communication type for process improvement. Then everyone is in the same boat and rowing towards the same overall goals. Cross-divisional and cross-departmental topics are also easier to discuss and work on when introduced as a whole, and employees feel that they are “tackling things together”, a common striving for improvement. It gives meaning, a sense of belonging and cohesion.
3. THE WRONG KPIs ARE FOLLOWED AT THE WRONG TIME
How often do I experience it in production companies, for example, that key figures are “fed” with data that is not really realistic, just to be able to track a higher-level KPI? There’s nothing wrong with starting with assumptions or machine data from the operating instructions to initiate development. But, for example, a “just a thumbs-up” estimate of work processes directly on the shop floor, which then flows into higher-level KPIs for comparison, can lead to severe distortions in the evaluations and you end up discussing things at the “wrong end” for months. If the technical conditions do not yet provide real, digital recording, why not simply have employees document real process flows with mere pen and paper for a period of time x and then average process time deviations over this period and analyze them later in more detail? At the beginning it helps that employees familiarize themselves with the process analysis by following simple processes themselves, even if it is in a simple booklet. It’s not modern, it’s not digital either, but it’s personal and effective. As long as you are clear that you have calculated the overriding key figure, e.g. the degree of utilization of a system, on the basis of rudimentary, “self-made” measurements or estimates and are therefore not taking it at face value, everything is fine for the time being. The organization learns and can thus also digitize process measurement and evaluation in a targeted manner together with the employees, were necessary and sensible. This gives employees the opportunity to grow with the KPI system.
4. THE WRONG METRICS ARE DISPLAYED
Often enough I experience that employees are confronted with impressive overall KPIs that have no meaning for them in the process or from which they cannot even recognize their own influence. Shop floor management is a self-growing culture. If employees are overwhelmed right from the start with higher-level KPIs such as OEE, they will naturally switch off internally. If employees are first allowed to learn to track their own KPIs, get practice and experiment with them, then they have the opportunity to gradually deal with the company-relevant KPIs bit by bit and to understand the meaning behind them. This can be, for example, cleanliness or the space available or the arrangement of materials as an available KPI, as well as satisfaction after a working week. When employees work together to find out how the team can take action, such as increasing satisfaction, ideas that contribute to the overall result come about all by themselves. After a few weeks of dealing with “small” KPIs, it is not that difficult to grow into contributions to production or administration-related KPIs.
5. THE RADII OF ACTION ARE NOT CLEARLY DEFINED
Employees who have the feeling that they are facing another control authority in the shop floor meeting or in the introduction of shop floor management boards will hardly contribute enthusiastically. Curiosity, commitment and motivation can only develop unhindered if a radius of action is opened up that allows ideas, experiences, knowledge and courage to be brought in without the risk of restrictions, oppression, disregard or sanctions. Why not simply discuss the limits of their radius of action in shop floor management with employees in terms of quality assurance, regulations, legislation, occupational safety and otherwise allow them to try out their own ideas, documented on the board of course, to make them visible and measurable using exercise KPIs to feel your way around using the try-and-error principle, instead of just having the “permission” to make entries on the shop floor board and there only in the prescribed forms. For example, having your own forms developed creates collaborative thinking! Clearly defined radii of action not only indicate limits, but also emphasize the freedom for experimentation. The reverse approach is a key to making co-workers think, calculate and create!
6. THE LEADERHIP IS NOT APPROPRIATE
Hanging everything pre-packaged on the wall and demanding registration and contribution is not leadership, but command and control by criticism and praise. Odd, traditional and neither motivating nor developing. Shop floor management is above all a culture change towards targeted, focused, but also development-promoting communication and information transfer. KPIs can only be sustainably improved if employees also develop with them. A truism. The management does not have to prescribe, instruct, preside and control, but rather lead the way, leave room for learning and patiently accompany the employees out of their comfort or fear zone, beyond their knowledge limits into their learning and experimentation zone. In 2023, you can no longer seriously “order” employees to go along with you by delegating power, but encourage it through the coaching management style. For example, in professional but focused, goal-oriented, beneficial dialogues at eye level, which includes paying attention to the inner state of the employees. This is easy to learn and is now part of the repertoire of successful managers on the shop floor.
Then the co-workers become the enthusiastic participants and those who feel responsible for the process improvement that you want and shop floor management brings the desired results faster, in any case permanently, precisely, successfully and sustainably motivating!
If you want to get your shop floor management to flourish in production and administration, you are welcome to book my seminars, for example: Boostering Shop Floor Management!