Plant supervisors at US Synthetic Corp. in Orem, Utah, don't have to ask permission from upper management to implement employee suggestions.

The $160 million manufacturer of diamond drill bits decided in 2005 when it began implementing lean manufacturing to put improvement initiatives in the hands of the workers who were most familiar with plant operations, says Rob Galloway, US Synthetic's CEO.

Previously, US Synthetic would conduct company meetings where employees had the opportunity to offer their input. Typically a half-dozen or so recommendations would be implemented each year with upper-level approval. "What we realized is there was so much more opportunity than that. We looked at the key employees who could help us learn faster and implement improvements faster. They were those front-line supervisors and those team leads because they see the process continually, they see opportunities to improve continually, and they can make wise decisions to help every employee implement suggestions for improvement," Galloway says.

US Synthetic enlisted the help of the Training Within Industry (TWI) Institute to get supervisors up to speed. TWI was developed in the United States during WWII to train replacements of manufacturing workers fighting overseas. TWI experts visit the US Synthetic facility and teach the company's supervisors how to coach skills development.

US Synthetic Corp. has implemented a supervisor training program that empowers leaders to drive change without executive approval.

Courses include core values such as building trust and the four stages of team development known as "forming, storming, norming and performing." Management also is involved in the training by providing action plan reviews where supervisors have an opportunity to talk about what they're learning and how they're applying it. The company now implements about 5,000 employee suggestions per year thanks to the increased involvement by supervisors, says Galloway.

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