10 years ago this company had been a typical manufacturing plant. Management and office side on one side of the fence, factory workers on the other, and not much love lost between the two. If you dared walk through the production area (concrete is extremely dirty work), you'd have met workers with vacant stares, slumped shoulders and a ‘stuff you' attitude. You would also have met lots of supervisors, because in those days at the workers definitely needed supervising.
Walk through that company these days, and you'll see a very different sight. Firstly you will notice the tidiness, then you'll notice the energy and finally you'll observe small groups of workers huddled together talking, discussing, working manufacturing problems out.
If the owner had seen these huddles of workmen 10 years ago, he would have assumed (and probably been right), that there was a whole lot of skiving going on.
If you then look closer, you'll notice that each team has a noticeboard containing unusual things - the team's vision statement (created by them), their goals, their ground rules (also created by them), and, surprise, surprise, their projects in hand (projects that they have put forward; that they are managing, that on completion, they will present to management). But the biggest thing you will notice is that there isn't a single supervisor to be seen. They don't have supervisors any longer at this company. The factory workers now manage themselves.
Can anyone do this? And if so, how do you start? Where do you start?
As an observer and one-time consultant to the olrganisation, I believe the owner started with 3 things:
- A decision that there had to be a better way
- The willingness to ask for and invest in help from external ‘change' consultants
- A decision never to let the process fall off the tracks no matter how many challenges there were along the way
And then he added three more things:
- Involvement of the workers themselves
- Constant, open and honest, two-way communication at all levels of the organisation
- Involvement with the union
So back to the presentation. After the invited guests had finished lunch, the production manager went into the outer office and brought in 2 of the shop floor guys - still in their overalls.
A hush fell on the room because we weren't quite sure what was going to happen next.
What happened next was that these two workers, for whom English is their second language, proceeded to run a powerpoint presentation covering three steps in the concrete process a group of workers had identified as areas for improvement. They had even done some rough costings for us.
How about that.
So my belief is that if concrete workers, for whom English is their second language, can learn how to become part of the business thinking of their organisation, then surely anyone can.