Every day better, hard!? Deel II

Results research on securing results and continuous improvement within operations


Gwynt conducted research in 2018 on securing results in improvement processes. Nearly 20 COOs in the (food) industry participated in the study. In late 2018, Gwynt organized a session for COOs to discuss the survey findings and provide further depth.

The main outcome was that assurance is achieved through a combination of hard factors (tools, templates, standards, procedures and KPIs) and soft factors (leadership, ownership, culture and behavior). Soft factors are perceived to be more important than hard factors. Securing continuous improvement seems to have important parallels to the practice of elite sports by athletes. They have a clear goal in mind and in the combination of passion, talent and discipline try to achieve their ambition. Discipline is ultimately more relevant and challenging in this regard than passion and talent. The COO or site manager has an important role in maintaining focus and creating a rhythm. He or she will have to propagate with regularity, actively and consciously and at all levels of the organization, the necessity and adherence to continuous improvement, training employees and improving standards.

Continuous improvement and soft elements

As we discussed in Part I of this Whitepaper series, continuous improvement has its origins in the 1970s, both on the production floor and in other business processes. Many executives are familiar with methodologies such as Total Quality Management, Lean, Six Sigma, WCOM and TPM. Many of these methodologies focus primarily on the hard factors such as standards, tools and KPIs. The soft elements, however, often prove to make a fundamental difference in sustaining change but, depending on the methodology, too often remain underexposed.

From our earlier research(see the Whitepaper “Every day better, hard!?), the chart below shows which soft elements (orange) and hard elements (blue), according to survey participants, are the most important success factors in an improvement program.

During improvement projects, we therefore pay a lot of attention to training and coaching employees. However, the pressure on production is constantly increasing. So where do you find the time to pay attention as a production manager to personal training for employees? What goes without saying for elite athletes is much less obvious for production workers, even though top performance is expected of the team every day. If training or a trainer (read COO) is omitted, it becomes difficult to secure continuous improvement and is likely to regress in terms of results.

Combining passion, talent and discipline to achieve ambitious goals

To get a top sports mentality in the workplace among all managers and employees, it is important to create a common goal from the strategy. This objective will first have to be established at the company level and then translated to the plant level. It is important at the plant level to clearly communicate the usefulness and necessity to all employees within the plant. Then, from the ambition of the plant, the objective can be translated with the employees into an efficiency objective specific to a production cell/production line. In this way, a production worker on the floor understands how he or she contributes to the plant’s ambition by improving efficiency on their own line. With this, continuous improvement is not something for only the employee on the shop floor, but is carried by the entire management.

Family businesses in particular have the unique opportunity to formulate an authentic “purpose” based on family values. Here, the purpose links (family) values and often a social purpose to the business strategy. An authentic purpose provides a solid foundation for employees, suppliers and customers to contribute to strategy and business goals. Then one can ask about the personal purpose of all employees and their contribution to the company-purpose. This personal purpose is often actuated by a passion that employees possess for the profession they practice. Understanding this passion and empowering employees to their fullest potential will help them take ownership and foster a proactive culture.

In many manufacturing companies, there is limited consideration of the specific talents of individual employees. There is also limited linkage between talent and required competencies of specific roles in the company. However, experience shows that good managers and team leaders are able to recognize talents and give employees specific roles. Should a troubleshooting engineer be primarily technically savvy or also have communication skills to take the operators’ level of knowledge to the next level? Are there mechanics who may not be as technically strong, but are good at supervising operators? It is important for a manager to be on the shop floor a lot to recognize specific talents of employees.

Discipline is a final essential driver for securing continuous improvement. By creating routines and rhythms (“heartbeat”), people learn to perform planned work instead of moving to the delusion of the day. Also, tracking KPIs and daily starts ensure that there is a clear plan at the beginning of the day to make sure you stay on track. In this discipline, it is again important to provide employees with short-term feedback and personal communication. In doing so, employees should be addressed and encouraged through sincere attention.

Self-directed teams on the production floor can be a golden combination in which competencies such as leadership, ownership, talent, discipline, technical knowledge and analytical ability come together to get the most out of the line. This form of ownership and combining different talents in a team ensures that people are driven to live through continuous improvement every day. In this way, continuous improvement becomes the “new way of working” and does not feel as if it is something extra.

At the end of the day, don’t forget to celebrate your successes as a team. Gives sincere appreciation to teams, not only in achieving a specific goal, but also, for example, when a team has collectively solved a difficult situation.

Gwynt focuses primarily on entrepreneurial (family) businesses

The challenges outlined above are perhaps even greater for family or DGA businesses than for non-family businesses. A characteristic of family businesses is that employees are generally long associated with the company and that business operations are often intuitive and strongly customer-oriented. This is generally a strength, but when it comes to learning to change and securing change, this strength can suddenly become a hindrance as well. Our experience shows that making changes in family businesses is sometimes more difficult and arduous than in non-family businesses, but that the drive and will to sustain the changes is greater than in non-family businesses.