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Years ago as a young manager I was introduced to the concept of company hierarchy, shown as a pyramid. The big guy at the top, a few leading executives just below, on down to the large number of workers who kept product flowing. Then it happened. I got a front row seat at a full day with Tom Peters, author of 'In Search of Excellence'. Peters passionately suggested that the road to excellence is to invert that pyramid. Huh?
As part of the Total Quality Management vanguard, he and his cohorts suggested that we should view our front line workers as super critical, the top of the pyramid, and that the role of leaders is to listen to them, empower them, respect and even serve them. Through joyful, fully engaged front line employees will come customers who are raving fans, he said. At the time this was revolutionary. It made perfect sense. Yet over time many of us have lost our focus on the true needs of “back end production”. We have tried to solve the labor problem by throwing another dollar an hour on our pay, which is not the solution. People do not work for money alone.
Of course, the total cost of labor is not captured in hourly wages. The cost of turnover is immense, including search, screening, orientation and training, and knowledge loss. When Rocket Industrial commits to helping you Package with Less Cost, it includes less turnover, less injury, and less total labor cost.
Recently I spent 16 years in retail distribution. Our front-line people had the lowest paying jobs in town. We had well over 100% turnover, and there was no real career path or hope for advancement. It was very hard to fill open positions, and next to impossible to staff up for our peaks. The term “dead end” comes to mind. The culture was a lot more about executive bonuses than job satisfaction or measurable excellence.
In his book 'The Dream Manager', Matthew Kelly describes a manager at a small company facing a similar workforce crisis. Repetitive tasks, little sense of fulfillment, horrendous turnover. The manager began spending more time with the front line, getting to know them personally. He discovered that each person had some aspiration deep within. He called it their dream. He began to help them clarify and work toward their dreams. An amazing thing happened. People realized somebody cared, acquired a spring in their step, a greater sense of fulfillment. Turnover receded. I would encourage you to read the whole story.
In packaging, we ask people to do a lot of repetitive things, lift a lot of weight, work hard without a lot of variabilities. In addition to the drudgery, it can result in injury, from repeat motion syndrome, bad ergonomics, and other causes. Here are just a few examples:
• Continually packing boxes by hand with the same motion can quickly lead to a back injury. Back injury is the number one cause of absenteeism in manufacturing. The average workers' comp settlement is $21,800. Automatic case packers help eliminate this problem, improve load stability, and accelerate throughput. - See how an automated packing solution helped a manufacturer reduce labor costs by 33%.
• Stretch-wrapping pallets by hand is a task workers loath, walking backward without tripping, applying pressure to get minimal stretch from the film. A stretch wrapping machine eliminates this unpleasant task, gets up to 300% stretch from film, and pays for itself in most cases in far less than a year. - Calculate the material usage and cost of your wrapping operations. Use our Stretch Film Efficiency Calculator to see the difference optimal pre-stretched stretch wrap can make.
• Steel banding under tension is dangerous and a real drag to work with. Poly banding has adequate strength for most applications without the injury risk and hassle of steel.
• Transferring weight all day from a low to a high position, or vice versa, puts great strain on the body. A spring-loaded pallet lift or power lift table can make moving boxes of products a lot more palatable.
These are just a few of many possibilities to make your packaging operation more efficient, and a Great Place to Work. If the executive team that makes financial decisions had to work in packaging for a few days, do you think these sorts of changes would get more attention? Like, immediately.
A Rocket Industrial engineer would love to do a walk-through with you to explore how your department could become an even greater place to work. Rocket recently received our fifth-year certification as a Great Place to Work by the Great Place to Work Institute. It surprises some that our packaging distributorship is BRC certified and staffs a quality department with Six Sigma Black Belt certification, offering support to customers way beyond packaging supplies and equipment.
Sometimes I feel we are looking for the secret sauce in all the wrong places. Imagine what could happen if you knew the dreams of each member of your team and if they saw you working toward eliminating the friction points in their work environment. Imagine the strength of a partnership based on this mutual challenge: “I will work to continuously improve the engineering of this department, to make your job less stressful and more rewarding. And I would challenge you to help us become the most collaborative, most productive, and most goal-oriented packaging team in our industry.”
Finding and nurturing talent is manufacturing’s greatest challenge. True, Covid-19 has temporarily impacted our labor challenges, but pre-Covid labor challenges will return. Be ready, invert the pyramid, and challenge us to help make your department a Great Place to Work!