One day, The Wiremold Company’s Vice President of Operations was invited to speak at a conference about our experience with Single Minute Exchange of Die (SMED). Although he had many examples that he could discuss, he chose to speak about the changeover of large progressive dies in one of our punch presses. Over a period of a couple of years, as the result of a series of kaizen events, the changeover time on this press was reduced from 2-2 ½ hours to 1 minute.
The approach that he took was to make a video of the one-minute changeover and bring it, along with the two setup operators in the video, with him to the conference. Both of these men were members of our IBEW labor union and had never presented to an audience before. Needless to say, they were more than a bit nervous. At the conference, which was filled with operations and engineering executives, the VP described what use to take place during the old two-plus hour change-over. He then showed the video of the one-minute change-over while the two setup operators did a voice-over describing what they were doing.
At the end of the video there was complete silence. After a minute or so one of the executives in the audience raised his hand and said “but Carlos, you seemed to be working awfully hard.” After a slight pause Carlos replied, “Yes, but for only one minute.”
This executive, in his own way, was saying the same thing as the storied GM executive who, while touring NUMMI, said, “if only I could have people like yours”, implying that he could never get “his” people to work like the people at this famed success story. The reality was that all of the NUMMI people had previously been GM people in the same plant…before GM shut it down. The real problem was that he, as a manager, did not know how to unleash their knowledge and involvement in identifying and solving problems.
In The Toyota Way, Jeff Liker states “The absolute core of the Toyota philosophy is that the culture must support the people doing the work” (emphasis his). One of the two pillars of The Toyota Production system is “Respect for People”. Fujio Cho, Toyota’s chairman, described respect for people as:
- Give him or her the job as their own…give them responsibility and challenge them
- Let them think; Let them try…don’t assume that they can’t think, don’t try to think for them, respect their competence
- Help him or her see…give them the tools they need to see
- Force Reflection…help them learn from what they see and what they try…let them stop and see what the lesson is
If you are like the executive that marveled at how “hard” Carlos and his co-worker were working…for one minute…or like the GM executive that blamed his problems on his “people”, then you need to go look in a mirror. As President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.”