Early in 1989, Corning Incorporated moved its specialty cellular ceramics (SCC) business from a warehouse to a brand-new facility of its own. The move reflected not only an optimism about the future of that business, but also a conviction that profitability and human dignity can be combined.
The concept adopted by SCC was relatively simple: Explain the basic goals and requirements, then give the workers the freedom to decide how the goals can best be met. Among other things, this 1990 Best Plants award winner abandoned the use of shift supervisors. Instead, it relies heavily on teams and team decision making to keep the plant running smoothly. In fact, workers helped to design the new plant, including the layout of the process, the type of cafeteria, and the team structure itself.
In addition, SCC adopted a cross-training policy that allowed the number of job classifications to be reduced to just four, providing a high level of flexibility. During a shift, workers rotate from job to job. And, SCC located business support functions such as sales and marketing in the plant as part of a "customer service cluster" to streamline communications and improve response to customers.
From a business perspective, the most significant results have been the work teams' contributions to quality improvement, productivity, and customer service. Quality levels, which are measured in terms of customer rejects, have improved dramatically. And, the business is able to meet requested customer delivery dates 98.5 percent of the time.