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Manufacturing & Culture Change: Q&A with an Expert

4 minute read

David Kaissling, a Catena Solutions consultant, has an extensive background in supply chain and manufacturing, having led breakthrough performance at major CPG companies over 40 years including Procter & Gamble, Clorox, Conagra Foods, Shearer’s Foods, and more.

David is an expert in culture change and building high-performance organizations. He focuses on delivering results by fostering winning teams, simplifying complex problems, and empowering employees to grow and thrive through win-win approaches. David has led manufacturing teams to achieve incredible results including raising OEE from the 50s to mid-70% and improving customer service from the low 70s to 99.5%.

We sat down with David for a Q&A on culture challenges in manufacturing environments. Read on for his recommendations to companies on addressing the labor shortage and encouraging employees to embrace new technology.

In your experience, why do manufacturing initiatives fail?

Initiatives fail when you fail to engage the hearts and minds of people during the transformation. If you force change on employees, they’ll do what they have to do to get by, but they’re not going to be excited about it at the end of the day. As soon as you look away, it’ll fall apart.

But if you approach change in a way where you’re doing it with people and for them, their life will get better and subsequently the company’s results will get better. To me, it makes a world of a difference when you engage the organization. I’m a firm believer that through involvement comes enrollment. You can’t shove anything at people—you’ve got to engage with them and come up with solutions together. Ultimately, that’s how you ensure culture change that sticks.

What are the biggest challenges of culture change in a manufacturing environment?

There are two big challenges. One challenge carries about 80% of the weight and the other carries 20%.

The biggest one—the 80%—is trust. Think about yourself and your organization. If you trust your leader, then you trust your organization and believe they care about you.

Then think about your investment day in and day out. It’s going to be very different when you have trust versus if you don’t have any trust. If the trust isn’t there, employees will get done what they need to, but that’s about it. If trust is there and you work for people who care about you and you care about your leaders and the organization, that’s when incredible results will happen.

The other 20% is ensuring proven best practices and methods. Focus on eliminating things that cause frustrations on the floor and establish good systems. This means maintenance systems, training and qualifications systems, and stable manufacturing processes and daily operations.

What methods have worked for you in your career that you think more companies should implement?

The most important method is engaging people. Create a clear vision and strategy, make sure everybody understands it, and keep measuring yourself and reporting it so everyone can see what’s important. My experience is that people want leadership—they want to follow and succeed and be part of a team.

Also, I try to make manufacturing a bit of a game. If you can encourage the sport of manufacturing, you can compete line to line or plant to plant and provide recognition that employees love to see.

Providing recognition, encouraging wins, and teaching employees what to do to solve their problems can go a long way. A lot of the time, companies go after cost cutting measures first. But cost should be the outcome of doing the right thing and making life better for your people.

There’s a lot of news around the manufacturing labor shortage. Why do you think it’s such a big problem?

Labor costs are always the biggest cost. The worse an organization runs, the harder it is to maintain people. If workers come into work and things are running terribly and they’re fighting machines and processes all shift long, they’re going to be watching the clock and waiting for their shift to end so they can go home.

I’ve had the privilege of working with organizations where we’ve gotten lines to 92% OEE for two years sustained. In this scenario, the life of the technician on the floor was looking for improvement opportunities to make things better because the line was running smoothly. The technician didn’t have to stand at the line waiting for a problem because the line was reliable enough. The technician could work on improving changeovers or splices and advancing their knowledge to get them to the next level of performance in their career.

In a world like this, where operations are running smoothly, employee retention isn’t as big of a problem because people like coming to work to grow and add value. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case for manufacturing organizations, so organizations need to improve their performance in order to retain employees.

What’s been the attitude you’ve seen around employees adopting new automation technologies?

At the end of the day, people are willing to work with new machines if it makes their lives better and they’re not putting themselves or their friends at risk. It’s important that companies ensure employees know their job is secure and that the new technology will help them gain new skills and advance their career.

However, as people gain new skills around automation, workers may feel as if they aren’t paid enough. Organizations need to have a plan for that issue, or there could be attrition when people think they’re not compensated for the new skills they had to learn to work with automation technology.

Any final advice for manufacturing companies navigating culture change and transformation?

I’ve seen companies spend 15 years getting to a certain level of performance and then rapidly adjusting their strategy so what they spent 15 years building disappears in six months. There’s a line of thinking at some organizations that improvements are self-sustaining.

My experience is absolutely nothing is self-sustaining. Every initiative and person needs continued nurturing and development. It’s the same mindset with trust. It takes many years to build and seconds to break it.

Looking for help with manufacturing workforce initiatives?

Catena Solutions supports food and beverage organizations, leveraging our expertise to drive growth, optimize operations, and navigate industry challenges.

We can help with strategy and execution around your company’s manufacturing, workforce, and supply chain challenges. Contact us to learn more.

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