Manufacturing Excellence: Employee Revolution in the 21st Century

June 30, 2009
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We cannot wait for managers to fix things for us. We should not wish for a better CEO to lead us to the magic land. We cannot expect our president to give us a vision and bail us out from the economic mess. It is time for us to wake up, see how deep a hole we are in, try to climb out and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Many of us are unemployed and believe it is not our fault. Many of us have been suffocated at work for unknown reasons. Workers have been blamed for poor quality and for job losses. For example, labor costs-union or nonunion-have been highlighted as a reason for the automotive industry’s demise. These thoughts are all wrong.

Who is responsible for our destiny? We are. What can we-everyone at all levels-do to help ourselves? In my assessment of quality management systems at dozens of companies, I find compliance in operations at about 70%, support functions about 40% and management less than 10%.

People in operations do well. Given poor designs and questionable leadership, we must take ownership of our own destiny. We cannot be at the mercy of leadership that manages numbers and has no clue how to lead.

What is the responsibility of today’s CEO? Everyone tells me that the CEO is responsible for increasing shareholder value. I don’t know many that do it well. There is a simple test. If a CEO, in his attempt to increase the shareholder value, sees employees as cost, adversary and dispensable, then only cost is reduced, and customers start deserting the company due to poor service as a result. This spiral continues until someone breaks it.

A good CEO values employees, fights for them and succeeds in increasing the business with employee help. The good news is that people can become the most important asset again, but we will have to retool ourselves. How can we demonstrate our value to the leadership?

We, the people in operations, are creating value but are considered to be cost. At the same time, we must accept that the rest of the world has caught up with the United States and is doing even better than us. The rest of the world has learned, gained experience and can innovate just like people in America, but with more precision and determination to succeed. America has been the benchmark for them. We have been their envy. The rest of the world wants to beat the champion.

Just like an athlete, we must commit to train ourselves hard, practice every day and improve our performance. We must go to the Internet and educate ourselves about what is going on in the rest of the world. Don’t simply watch American TV channels, read American newspapers or visit American Web sites. Instead, review newspapers and magazines of other countries (most have English versions), learn about other cultures for diverse ideas and read international business magazines. Even more, learn about new technologies, methods, companies and employment trends.

Become a true global citizen. It does not cost a lot of money. It does, however, require an investment of time. Once we know who are we competing with, we can reset our benchmarks to be the best again.

There is no other society in the world that is better equipped to compete than us. But, we must learn as much as we can without worrying about learning too much. Then, commit to beating the competition by self-improvement and excelling in everything we do.

To create new opportunities, allocate half an hour a day to think. It sounds easy, but it is the hardest thing to do. Then, practice doing things almost perfectly. Don’t let anyone let you “just do it.” Instead, prepare to do better than the best in the world. Remind yourself to get ready, aim and fire, or do the homework, set the target and act. Stop shooting in the dark.

We must be cautious using words that describe our performance as “acceptable,” “okay” and “good enough.” These are measures of poor performance in today’s global economy. Instead we must train our minds to achieve “perfection,” be “right on the money,” “great” and the “best.”

What does it take to achieve it? A revolution to change ourselves. To succeed, it takes everything. It takes hard work, requires knowledge to excel and a love for being the best.

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