Look Like a Leader

What distinguishes the best-performing shops? Here are my impressions.


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In an earlier commentary, I argued that shops seeking to benchmark performance shouldn’t focus on the averages of other shops. A better focus is the range of variation around the averages. I cited a report on productivity that measured a phenomenon I have seen anecdotally—namely, manufacturers performing similar work for similar customers can show dramatic variation in efficiency and organizational effectiveness. Enough manufacturers achieve performance far ahead of their peers that merely being ahead of average is not necessarily a consolation. The measure of performance shops should aim for is to be close to—or among—the leaders.

What does that look like? Numerical performance metrics are coming soon in our annual “Top Shops” issue. Meanwhile, here are some further anecdotal observations. I believe the shops I see continually moving ahead, the ones that seem to weather adversity well, tend to have certain behaviors in common. To my eye, your shop looks like one of those leading shops if you routinely do the following:
1. Take the value of people seriously. Give employees the resources they need—tools, information, permission—to do their jobs as well as they can. This generally means giving employees all the resources necessary to avoid or overcome the seemingly small delays that actually waste significant time and corrode morale.
2. Spend well before spending high. The most advanced equipment isn’t always best, because any capability that isn’t directly useful to the application is a distraction. However, within the bounds of the capabilities that are needed for the job, strive to keep the modernness of equipment high. Don’t challenge employees to make due with old technology; challenge them to realize the potential of technology that is current.
3. Be deliberate about looking for waste. Waste comes from uncertainty. It comes from every point at which the outcome of an operation is unknown, or an employee has to pause to wonder what to do next. Anticipate the questions and provide for the answers in advance. Then, challenge employees to find even better answers. (See point 1.)
4. Plug in to customers. Another way to say this might be: Develop specialties so customers in certain niches see your shop as the obvious choice. Get to a point where prototype work isn’t a bother, because you’ve picked customers well enough to know the production work will come, and they’ve picked suppliers well enough to know that you will be the source.
5. Care about culture. Employees can see themselves as doing a job or devoting themselves to something worthwhile. There are various aspects to encouraging the latter view. Honesty is one, because people won’t devote themselves if they feel they have to protect themselves first. Another aspect is the corollary to point 1: Help employees take the value of the enterprise seriously. Communicate the company’s successes and its objectives, and teach employees how their roles contribute to both.
As I say, these are impressions. For conclusions about shops based on numerical data, watch for the findings of our latest Top Shops survey of machining facilities throughout our audience, to be published in Modern Machine Shop's July 2012 issue and posted here