Stop Sabotaging Your Company

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Maximize your use of tribal knowledge

My phone wasn’t working, so I got in touch with my phone-line provider. Two technicians came to my house expecting to fix my line, but they worked for more than an hour until they admitted they had no idea how to correct the problem. These technicians were maybe 25 years old. I heard one of them say, “Let’s call Hank.”

“Who’s Hank?” I asked.

“Hank knows everything about phone lines because he’s worked here for over 35 years, and he’s gonna retire this year,” said one of the technicians.

Hank described the problem and the solution to the technicians, and my phone line was repaired shortly thereafter. “We’re kinda nervous about our job when Hank retires because we don’t know as much as he does,” said the technicians. This happened in 2009.

Where was your lean/quality focus in 2009 during the economic downturn? Did you witness your organization doing little to retain its tribal knowledge from people like Hank, only to end up with a skills gap in 2015?

Where is your lean focus now? It’s not enough for you to focus on correction, overproduction, motion, material handling, waiting, inventory, and processing without also addressing the skills gap. To grow market share, production, and revenue in 2015, you will need to stop sabotaging your organization by being fashionably lean, yet ignoring ways to maximize and capitalize on your workforce, especially with people like Hank.

Your supply chain includes people, time, equipment, space, and money, all dedicated to moving a product or service from supplier to customer. If you don’t fill the skills gap, that becomes a missing link in your supply chain—a bottleneck choking off your pace for process improvements, defect prevention, and reduction of variation and waste.

Joe Genc is a tool engineer with 56 years of shop-floor experience, including 25 years as an educator. At age 70, Genc is working to close the skills gap at Berry Plastics and in his industry as a moldmaking instructor for the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA). Both are using Genc’s extensive knowledge to train younger workers.

Who are your 20-percenters?

Perhaps 80 percent of your workforce skills are owned by 20 percent of your workforce. But do you know who those 20 percent are and how to maximize and capitalize on their knowledge?

To fill the skills gap, you must first consider your workforce as an asset, not a liability. Calculate the valuation of your workforce in earnings and financial asset returns, instead of labeling your workforce an expense. Ask two questions about each employee: “What future earnings can Bob bring to my organization?” and “How can I better utilize Mary?” Your answers will help you to achieve marginal benefit from your workforce, which means your organization will net a greater return on investment from each employee.

Marginal benefit is a micro-economic term used to describe how to increase people, time, equipment, space, and money in a company without adding any cost to the bottom line. One aspect of marginal benefit is about leveraging the 20 percent of your workforce—training them, upgrading their skills, and utilizing their knowledge to the fullest to benefit your organization. Genc is a perfect example of how Berry Plastics leveraged an employee’s tribal knowledge both on the job and in the classroom to build and strengthen the talent pipeline for more growth at the company (and in the plastics industry in general).

Has your gap analysis identified areas where your workforce is performing below the standards expected by your customers, industry, and management? Are these shortcomings compromising the competitiveness of your organization? Wasting tribal knowledge is damaging to your organization’s success.

Instead of waiting for schools to fill the skills gap, many companies are creating their own training programs utilizing their in-house trainers and subject matter experts (SMEs) as instructors. These programs include job shadowing, apprenticeships, internships, mentoring, and more.

How it works

If your organization is running at a 70-percent capacity utilization rate, it has room to increase production up to 100 percent without increasing costs. In other words, your production is underutilized. Correct? In the same way, you can also underutilize the tribal knowledge of your workforce.

You will need to champion marginal benefit by learning more about your 80/20 workforce. First, identify your trainers and/or SMEs (people like Joe Genc) and capitalize on their tribal knowledge to determine where they can have the greatest effect at your organization.

Answer these capacity-utilization questions about your trainers and SMEs to determine how you will achieve 100-percent output levels from your workforce:

  1. Who are my trainers/SMEs? Hank, the phone technician, and Joe, the tool engineer
  2. How are my trainers/SMEs capitalized and utilized? Both Hank and Joe, as instructors
  3. How are my trainers/SMEs integrated in lean and other training? On the job
  4. How are my trainers/SMEs improving operating performance? By developing people
  5. How are my trainers/SMEs trained? By following a train-the-trainer system

Give your trainers and SMEs a system to follow for a consistent standard work. Richard White, manager at Honda New Model and Quality Planning, shared his thoughts on this. “Experience alone does not make a good trainer or SME,” he says. “Individuals must be trained and qualified to achieve standard work from their learners.”

White also identified some common pitfalls with experienced trainers/SMEs who have no formal training system. They:

  • Forget what it’s like to learn the job
  • Have too many assumptions
  • Gloss over details
  • Have poor communication skills
  • Teach from memory and not the standard
  • Lack the desire to teach or train

Training mustn’t include inconsistent, offhand, approximations

Too many trainers and SMEs randomly train on the job without training objectives or a document that outlines the standard work to follow. Without a formal training system for trainers to follow, the safest, highest quality and most efficient way to perform a standard task or process is compromised. Ask yourself:

  1. Do your trainers/SMEs use a formal training system?
  2. Do your trainers/SMEs know how to prepare, present, practice, and follow-up?
  3. Do your trainers/SMEs know the best training methods to use?
  4. Do your trainers/SMEs know how to train on the job?
  5. Do your trainers/SMEs know how to train in the classroom?
  6. Do your trainers/SMEs know how to explain a concept and teach lean practices?
  7. Do your trainers/SMEs know how to handle frustrated learners?

A four-step method

A formal training system for your trainers and SMEs should include a four-step training methodology:

  1. Preparation: Identify the gaps in current standard work and improvements for standard work.
  2. Presentation: Explain and demonstrate the standard work required.
  3. Practice: Use a variety of training methods for employees to meet standard work required.
  4. Evaluation: Determine improvements of standard work from employees.

Identify your trainers and SMEs and certify them to follow a formal training system.

In summary, you must forge a partnership with human resources and your workforce to fill the skills gap. It is no longer simply the human resource department’s responsibility. You must now formulate lean/quality strategies that capitalize and maximize the 20 percent of your workforce to build products and services that customers demand.

Where is your focus?

Take a final moment to answer the questions below to determine where your focus is, and then make a commitment to filling the skills gap in 2015:

  • Do you know the 20-percent tribal knowledge workforce?
  • Are you utilizing the 80-percent tribal knowledge at 100-percent capacity?
  • Are your trainers/SMEs certified to a training system?

Go back to the basics. Contact your human resource group today to learn more about your workforce’s competencies, expertise, education, and experience so you can align your 2015 lean initiatives to maximize and capitalize on the knowledge from your workforce.

This article was originally published on Quality Digest 2-23-15

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