I’ve had the honor of mentoring many people during my career as a consultant. Amanda was 23 when we worked at her company’s Kansas City manufacturing plant. Our mandate was to help a new plant leader turn the operation around.
The plant’s culture was autocratic. “My way or the highway.” Plant management and its two unions were in a continual battle. The operation was under-performing in nearly every category.
Our initial efforts focused on building business literacy and financial acumen among the 300+ employees. How could we make any progress on the plant floor if people didn’t understand the company’s basic business fundamentals–its customers, competitors, products and services, how we make money and what happens when we don’t?
We coaxed a few people to serve on teams designed to attack specific issues. Two weeks into the effort one team had a major breakthrough. We helped it cut cycle time on a critical process by more than 60 percent. That called for a celebration unlike any that had occurred in the plant. High fives and a steak fry for everyone! The celebration stimulated more enthusiasm for what we were there to do.
In a couple of months, the plant was starting to rock. Quality, cycle time and productivity were up. The number of accidents stood at zero.
Amanda and I were about to head to the airport one Friday afternoon, when I told her a little voice in my head was saying we should take one last walk around the plant floor. She asked why.
“I just want to see something before we leave,” I told her. She gave me a smile that said: “Jim’s up to something–again.”
After three or four minutes walking the floor I stopped, turned and looked at her. “So, Amanda, what do you see out here? What’s going on?”
“Something’s changed,” she answered. “It kind of gives me goose bumps. “People seem to be having fun and they weren’t when we first came here. I see more smiles on faces.”
Since I was there, in part, to teach Amanda why I do the things I do, I told her why I wanted to take one final walk through the plant.
“When we came into the plant this morning, I felt something — a gut feeling that what we are doing is really taking hold. I’ve felt this before in other engagements. It’s not just that the business results are improving. It’s something bigger, as though there is something in the air that wasn’t here yesterday or the day before.
“The people are improving the hard numbers. But this work isn’t just about the hard numbers. It’s about the hard and the soft. People are adding value. And, for the first time in forever, they’re feeling valued. When people feel valued, the hard and the soft numbers improve together. In this case the soft number is the number of smiles on faces that you saw. Our job now is to keep them there.”
It was a good weekend.
Key Take Away: The best sustainable change occurs when the hard and soft numbers are managed together.