By Sid Chadwick
“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there. Other people can talk about how to expand the destiny of mankind. I just want to talk about how to fix a motorcycle. I think that what I have to say has more lasting value.”…..Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974) – selling more than 5 million copies (after being rejected… by more than 100 publishers…!)…..The Writer’s Almanac, Garrison Keillor
So many innovations we are told….…are accidents.
For talent, your organization is competing with every organization within 25 miles of your location.
And much of that talent wants work - and project(s) – worth… their best efforts.
Many employees do not know much about their customers, or what their company produces that their customers need…. or how it’s used.
Customers in my experience like to tour facilities – of both their suppliers and their customers. Frequently, there’s a discussion – that leads to a suggestion or an insight to how a product or process can be improved, or used differently.
At the very least, supplier and customer visitor discussions develop a deeper appreciation for how their tour host – and their own organization - contribute to the greater community.
I still can’t remove from memory how a highly respected Plant Manager asked one of his Sales Reps if he could tour the customer’s plant that was using a proprietary, customized product the Plant Manager’s plant was producing. When asked why the request, he replied, “I suspect I can improve the design we’re being asked to produce.”
Another General Manager shared that when he installed a “Suggestions for Company Improvements” box - in their Lunchroom, he then – intentionally - acknowledged all suggestions - and their authors – at their Monthly Employee Meetings. As a testament to the power of developing “community” in a company, that box is never empty…! (And, he reports their company’s workflow and profitability continue to slowly improve – which is also reported - from a stream of modest suggestions – that continue to add-up…!)
In our Plant Manager Peer Group Conference Calls, we encourage all participants, after a change for improvement has occurred – to go back and closely review - again – the new process or end product.
It’s different. And likely as not, if studied closely – has another opportunity for improvement – not previously recognized…!
On an In-Plant Assignment for the U. of California state system, during a major recession, when a 350-employee In-Plant needed to be radically downsized – to meet reduced state budgets, I was visiting every 30 days. Toward the end of each visit, I would first review verbally, and then submit - between 35 and 50 written suggestions for improving workflow, communications, quality, and cutting costs.
After each visit, their onsite project consultant (who was a retired Vietnam Veteran U.S. Marine pilot - from N.C….!), would implement most of the suggestions.
When this process was in its 3rd cycle, he asked, “How can you uncover these new opportunities – on each visit?”
My response, “Never stop going back and looking – again - for a new opportunity to improve….it’s almost always there…!”
“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful….that’s what matters to me.”……………………..Steve Jobs