A fierce pride of craftsmanship distinguishes the employees at Kennametal Incorporated's 1991 Best Plants award-winning Solon operation. They are not afraid to try new approaches or to go back to old methods when the new approaches don't work out.
Paul Cahan, director of operations, admits that some new practices actually resulted in greater benefits than Kennametal had anticipated. "One of the key benefits of our moving toward the work-cell method of production that we didn't initially appreciate is that [workers now see] the entire product made from start to finish in one area," he says. "Before, they would do one process and then pass it on. But in the cells, employees take ownership. It's their product, and they can influence how it turns out."
Instead of instructing employees on how to do a certain job, management stresses goals and then lets them find the best way to bring about improvements. Hanging above each manufacturing cell is a set of colorful graphs that display these goals as key performance indicators and specify how each work team has performed in the top-priority cost and quality measures.
Cahan stresses that Kennametal's team approach encourages employees to work smarter. By creating a system that is designed to track and expedite rush orders automatically, the chaos has been eliminated and efforts are directed at improving the system rather than fighting fires.
"The whole world-class thing comes down to how you treat and manage your employees," Cahan says. "If you systematically keep trying to resolve problems and treat your employees well, then they'll do the best work they can."