by Brittany Willes, Plastics Business
In his book “2 Second Lean: How to Grow People and Build a Lean Culture,” author Paul Akers encourages companies to develop a “culture of continuous improvement.” Akers champions several methods for building such a culture, the most important of which is implementing morning meetings. When successfully executed, morning meetings offer a chance for increased communication among all employees. Several companies have found that better communication through daily meetings has resulted in a culture shift of greater production efficiency and a more positive working environment.
Structuring the daily meeting
“As an automotive supplier, I’ve been involved in the Toyota Production System, which emphasizes lean production, for about 15 years,” said Kelly Goodsel, president and CEO of Viking Plastics, Corry, Pennsylvania. “However, with the tools employed with the Toyota Production System, it’s like teaching somebody how to use a hammer or a saw without then teaching them how to build a house.” Viking started holding what it refers to as “daily drumbeat meetings” in 2012 after attending Paul Akers’ presentation on 2 Second Lean at the MAPP Annual Benchmarking Conference. “We did some research on the 2 Second Lean approach, and we liked how simple it is,” Goodsel explained. “It also really gets at the culture we’re trying to build, which is a culture of continuous improvement.”
A significant part of maintaining a culture of continuous improvement stems from the increase in open discussion and dialogue among all of the employees. When it comes to morning meetings “everyone knows it is the expectation to attend and communicate,” stated Tim Capps, president of Par 4 Plastics, Marion, Kentucky. “Our team deserves excellent communication. If our team does not have time to communicate, we are not managing properly.”
As a general rule, daily meetings at Par 4 Plastics last less than 30 minutes. “Daily meetings are short and sweet, geared toward the daily activities of the business,” Capps affirmed. “I conduct meetings every day at 9 a.m., and they typically last 20 minutes. To respect everyone’s time, I end no later than 9:30. I start on time, expect everyone to be present and ready and I do not allow meetings to get sidetracked on any one subject.”
Adhering to the set schedule is especially important in light of the information to be covered each day. For example, each morning Capps and his team go over information related to quality, lean manufacturing and daily production data – such as production hours, scrap, efficiency, mold changes, etc. – as well as information regarding human resources/safety, machine maintenance, tooling, shipping, production control, material, sales and purchasing. As Capps said, the number one goal for each meeting is communication among employees and throughout the company. “We believe in transparency,” he said. “As I lead the meeting, I take notes in real time. All notes then are sent to all employees throughout the company and also transferred to our break room TV monitor.”
For companies, such as Viking Plastics, where employees work several different shifts, meetings are held at various times each day. Instead of a single morning meeting, Viking holds several 15 to 20 minute drumbeat meetings daily at 7 a.m., 8:30 a.m., 3 p.m. and 11 p.m. – one meeting for each shift change. At each meeting, the oncoming shift meets with the outgoing shift to discuss how things are running and any troubles the previous shift might have come across. Additionally, the daily agenda consists of reviewing the prior day’s sales volume, on-time delivery statistics, customer complaints and safety points/regulations. Employees also are notified of any customers who may be visiting the plant or new employees joining their teams.
Drumbeats also are used to educate and to celebrate. “People are our most important asset!” Goodsel proclaimed. In keeping with its culture of continuous improvements, Viking employees seek to accomplish three things every day: identify waste, fix/improve the waste and share those improvements. Daily drumbeats offer the perfect opportunity for employees to explore and share ideas for improvement. Just as machines require maintenance, set-up, inspections and upgrades, so do people. Spending 20 minutes communicating between shifts provides each employee with the information needed to better prepare for the workday ahead.
While daily meetings for companies like Par 4 and Viking follow set agendas which rarely change, some companies require more flexibility in their agendas. Vention Medical, headquartered in South Plainfield, New Jersey, has been hosting morning meetings for more than 10 years. “The structure and content changes from time to time, as needed. We re-evaluate the meeting every six months to make sure the format still is meeting our objectives,” explained Bryan Curry, director of operations. “The morning meeting typically is 15 minutes in duration and starts at exactly 8 a.m. Tardiness is not allowed, and the meeting will begin right on time without exception. This sets the tone for the discipline and execution expected for the rest of the day.”
As Curry explained, morning meetings at Vention focus on five core issues. “First, we review the production schedule, including what we need to accomplish that day, such as mold sets, start-ups, line changes, etc.,” he said. “Next, we cover special events or visits happening at the plant before addressing any orders that are approaching due dates or require special attention. Then, we go over engineering and validation work scheduled for the production floor. Last, but most important, we talk about priorities. How do all of the activities for the day fit into the big picture in terms of importance?” According to Curry, a successful morning meeting is when everyone walks away understanding what the urgent issues of the day are and what the plan is for meeting those objectives.
No such thing as over-communication
In addition to having a more flexible agenda, Vention also holds an afternoon meeting. “We have found that follow up and accountability are important for our organization,” said Curry.”When we set objectives, goals and priorities at the morning meeting, we follow that up with an afternoon meeting at 4:30 p.m. The same employees in attendance at the morning meeting review what the departments committed to accomplishing and what actually was accomplished. We review priorities, and each department is held accountable for executing the plan that was established in the morning meeting.”
“The goal is primarily communication. As simple as it sounds, we have found that, for our organization, there is no such thing as over-communication,” Curry asserted. Capps echoed similar sentiments when he reflected on the benefits of hosting daily meetings. For Par 4 Plastics, the morning meeting has become “critical to all aspects of our business,” Capps said. “I never hear of someone saying we over-communicate. Our business constantly is changing, so we must communicate with each other in real time. Email, text messages and phone calls certainly are necessary, but they will never take the place of face-to-face communication.”
“The level of interaction, employee engagement and relationships that are built in a 15- to 20-minute daily meeting is incredible,” noted Goodsel. “It breaks down barriers between employees and management, between departments, even between shifts – and that makes people more comfortable doing their job on a daily basis.”
Communication is essential for empowering employees to work together to build and maintain a culture of continuous improvement. As Capps noted, “Management doesn’t solve the daily problems. We communicate with our teams, and they are responsible for addressing the issues.”
Viking also uses its daily drumbeats as a way of encouraging employees to work together to solve problems. Despite its brief duration, drumbeat meetings typically include a training exercise of some kind. This might be a “topic of the day” discussion, an informational presentation or a Q&A session. “We might throw out the question of why 1st shift does things differently than 2nd,” Goodsel explained. “Out of that comes discussions across shifts about what causes frustration from one shift to the next. It encourages employees to work things out amongst themselves instead of waiting for management to get involved. Empowering people to work with each other to figure out the problem and to fix it themselves does two things. First, it usually ends up being a more efficient answer because the people actually doing the work are solving the problem instead of management, who may or may not know what’s going on. Second, by empowering people to solve problems together, that transfer of power becomes an encouraging and motivating situation for the employees. They feel much more involved and engaged, and it encourages them to solve the next problem. They get to have more of a say in things.”
Vention Medical likewise seeks to empower its employees by using meetings to encourage individuals rather than managers. One representative from the different functional areas (not a manager) is required to attend morning meetings. For example, the Quality Manager may attend the morning meeting, but the Quality Inspector is required to be there. “We do not want a bunch of managers meeting and then trying to disseminate information to the people who actually will be executing the tasks,” Curry said. “We want the individuals themselves participating in the meeting. As long as one member from each functional area is represented, other attendees are optional.”
Avoiding culture by default
As every manager and employee know, excellent communication does not happen all at once. It requires dedicated time and effort from all those committed to improvement, which is why daily meetings often become a crucial aspect of a company’s culture. For instance, prior to implementing daily drumbeat meetings, Viking Plastic had what Goodsel referred to as a “culture by default.”
“There wasn’t a real purpose or guiding tone,” Goodsel explained. Without a structure around the culture, different approaches and interpretations abounded throughout the organization, essentially allowing employees to go off in their own directions. The company was successful, but it was very unstructured. “Think of cows going across a field,” Goodsel said. “They all go their separate ways and eventually end up in the barn together, but it’s a lot more work.” Now, as a result of the daily drumbeat meetings, the company culture has shifted. “Now we’re more like a group of geese who all line up,” Goodsel commented. “It is a much more structured and productive environment.”
Clearly, daily meetings are a great way to increase communication and shift company culture to one of improvement and greater efficiency. However, one can hardly expect to start seeing such positive results overnight. Improvement requires constant effort by all employees.
“There are things we have to constantly work on,” Curry stated. “For instance, when we’re in a meeting and someone says ‘let me look into that,’ sometimes that information fails to get communicated back to the floor and priorities are not adjusted.”
Keeping the lines of communication open and flowing is a never-ending task that falls to all employees. While it can be difficult at first to change a company’s accepted or historical culture, the benefits largely outweigh the challenges when employees feel included and valued for their contributions.
“Management needs to approach it from a position of respect for the individual. Part of the challenge occurs when people ask ‘why’ – we don’t always have the right answer or an easy answer,” Goodsel acknowledged. “It’s important to let people know that this is a journey. We don’t have an exact map, and we’re going to make some wrong turns. When we do make those wrong turns, everyone has to contribute to getting us all going in the right direction.”