Wanted: Hands, Heads and Hearts

November 09, 2012
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller
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“We don’t pay you to think.”  

That’s what Larry, veteran UAW machinist, heard from his supervisor 40 years ago when he tried to express an idea about how to improve the assembly process.

Things are much different these days for Larry, a mandrel assembler at our Paper Converting Machine Company company in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Every day, Larry and his colleagues are encouraged not only to think, but are inspired to contribute their gifts and talents.

We’ve paid people for their hands for years, and they would have given us their heads and hearts for free if we’d only asked.

We acquired the struggling PCMC in 2005. At the time, its largest customer had encouraged the previous owners to move its manufacturing component overseas to a lower labor cost market. We refused, convinced we could make this not only a viable business, but a vibrant one—a great American manufacturing company–and we could do it in Green Bay.

There was just one problem: the company culture was dismal. Weary from the struggle to keep the business afloat, the leadership team of this once great organization was beaten down, team members were disengaged, an us vs. them mentality was the pervading culture.

Throughout parts of our organization we had begun to adopt Lean practices, the Toyota Production System philosophy of eliminating waste and improving efficiency. We felt Lean would help create sustainability at PCMC but that, in its traditional form, would not help transform the dismal culture into a collaborative, empowering, fulfilling one. We needed to marry Lean tools with our own vision of people-centric leadership.

We created the Living Legacy of Leadership (also called L3), our own brand of Lean manufacturing. Using a more humanistic approach to Lean, we focus first on improving our team members’ daily work life and long-term fulfillment with the byproducts being reduced waste and improved overall performance.

At PCMC, it meant establishing the shared vision of creating a great American manufacturing company with all team members—shop, office, management. We organized an L3 Team inside the company which, for the first time, put machine operators and managers side by side to engage in dialogues to improve process and culture. In other words, we engaged their heads and hearts, as well as their hands, to create the future of PCMC.

Larry remembers a kaizen event in his area of the machine shop that made him realize L3’s impact. “It was the first time in 40-plus years anyone asked me how I felt. And they listened to me,” he recalls. “We were treated with dignity and respect. There were no stupid questions. Everyone’s opinion was valued equally.”

Engage all three—their hands, their heads, but especially their hearts. Maximize your team members’ human potential, not just their physical potential. It will reap benefits for the company but, more importantly, it will reap rewards—short-term, long-term, in their jobs, in their homes—for your team members.

In the end, we saved 850 jobs in Green Bay, we retained the customer, and PCMC enjoyed a $50 million turnaround in profitability that first year alone.  And Larry? He’s still with us– because his job offers meaning and fulfillment. That alone is a great American success story.

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Need help in applying principles of Truly Human Leadership in your organization? Chapman & Co. Leadership Institute is Barry-Wehmiller's leadership consulting firm that partners with other companies to create strategic visions, engage employees, improve corporate culture and develop outstanding leaders through leadership training, assessments and workshops.

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