Sep 26 2016

14 Brave Souls

14 Employees Take White Belt Tarining

Last month 14 brave souls turned off their machines, put away their tools and went into the classroom to get their “White Belt” certification. If our employees are truly committed to lean manufacturing, the white belt certification is their first step towards becoming a lean expert.  Intentionally, we do not compensate any of our employees for the training.  They chose to get the certification because they know it is the right thing to do for our customers.  I am incredibly proud of them.

Every year we survey our customers and the results amaze me. Customers love our quality, but what they really want is great customer service.  When we probe them on what great customer service means, we get different answers.  “I need someone to return my phone calls quickly, “ is one type of reply.  Others say it differently, “What can you do to get me the parts more quickly?”  The comment that sticks with me 5 years later is “What can you do today to get me parts better, faster, cheaper?”

For the past 10 years, we don’t have anyone asking for ISO9001, but our sheet metal customers all want “better, faster, cheaper”. Lean manufacturing is the only way we know to do this without cutting our employees’ wages or buying older equipment.  Our employees know this too.  They know if they don’t invest in themselves, and the company, to improve every day, our customers will move the business to another sheet metal manufacturer that has improved.  This has already happened to them.

Back in 2010, our company had a great run with a customer that resulted in huge profit sharing bonuses for every employee working for ETM. People started making plans for those bonuses to come every year.  In 2011, we launched an effort to help cost reduce our big customer’s product and we were successful – reducing product cost by almost 50% and cutting packaging costs by more than 50%.  The result was another year of record breaking bonuses.  But then we got lazy.

In 2012, our customer was faced with strong competitive pressure and we had not invested enough in training to help them fight their battle. Reluctantly, our customer had to shift most of the business to a Midwest fabricator and the large bonuses did not repeat that year.  That was a hard lesson to learn for all of our employees.  We can be a victim to competitive forces or we can help control them.  By taking the initiative to improve themselves and our operation, ETM can be the competitive force that drives business (and jobs and overtime) toward our employees, not away from it.

Our lean efforts are paying off. This year alone, we have 3 new customers from outside our typical territory that are paying a premium in shipping because our lean product costs and efficient delivery are worth that premium.  Our next step is to invest in “Yellow Belt” certification and then again for “Green Belt” certification and finally in “Black Belt” certification.  Can you image what a team of black belts could do to improve your competitive advantage?  They can.

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