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Ecolab Makes a Lean Change

Creating a lean culture requires a sustained process and consistent message.

Peter Dyer can identify the “day of change” at Ecolab’s Garland, Texas, manufacturing plant precisely. It was Oct. 27, 2011 – the day the company’s new vice president of operations visited the Texas plant and participated in a gemba walk. 

That vice president was shocked, both by the plant’s financials as well as by its appearance, says Dyer, who was Garland’s plant manager on that “day of change.” The corporate executive gave the Garland plant, one of eight Ecolab plants in North America, a year to turn things around.

“We were in crisis,” Dyer said. Morale was low at the Garland plant, which was Ecolab’s poorest performer, Dyer said. And while the facility had tried to implement “all the right things,” it had failed to sustain improvements gained through kaizen events, SMED (single minute exchange of die) or 5S.

Indeed, Garland had launched 5S three times with little sustained success, according to Dyer, who had joined the Texas plant from an Ecolab facility in Canada.

Nevertheless, the “day of change” was impetus to try again – not to implement 5S but to infuse lean into the very culture of Ecolab’s Garland plant.

Change Requires a Sustained Process

Dyer shared the Garland plant’s lean-transformation beginnings during the ASQ world conference held in May. He was joined by consultant Denis Devos, Devos Associates, who Dyer said provided the facility with some much-needed expertise in lean and change management.

The Garland plant makes detergent blocks for commercial dishwashers, as well as industrial cleaners.

In part their message was one that has been shared before: Creating a lean culture requires a sustained process and consistent message, not simply a workshop  -- or even a series of workshops. And while the change may begin with the plant manager, it requires commitment from the entire workforce.

Dyer and Devos bolstered that message with specifics efforts undertaken at the Garland plant. They shared the early skepticism exhibited by the workforce, many of whom had “seen it all before” and questioned what would be different in the latest effort to introduce lean.

One difference was the introduction of clear measurable objectives, Dyer said. For example, Garland developed five key measurables based on the facility’s change priorities. Among those five keys: Reduce accidents from 12 to zero and increase delivery from 79% to 98%.

The leadership team also developed a vision for the facility, bolstered by seven values. Among the values: “I have the courage to challenge the norm, provide innovation and eliminate waste.”

“I strongly recommend you write them out and post them,” Dyer said. “Make them a focal point.”

Dyer said early and quick wins were important to overcoming a skeptical workforce and driving engagement -- as was selecting improvement efforts that supported the plant’s five key measurable goals. He said it was important also that employees develop solutions, even if reaching the solutions took longer.

“It is worth it to get buy in,” Dyer said.

No less important is accountability, the presenters said. Indeed,  Devos stated that any time he has seen trouble in an organization “there is a lack of accountability in the culture.”

At Garland, the emphasis on accountability translated to making expectations clear and then holding people accountable for results. That was bolstered by “relentless rewarding of proper behaviors” via public recognition and gift cards, for example.

First-Year Results

How did Ecolab’s Garland, Texas, plant conclude the first year of its change management process? Its five key measurable goals were met in part, if not in full. However, significant progress was made on most of them. For example:

  • The safety goal was to reduce accidents to zero. They were reduced from 12 to four.
  • The facility met its goal to increase delivery from 79% to 98% and in several months exceeded 99%.
  • The goal to reduce material losses from 1.56% to 1.2% was nearly reached. The team achieved a 20% improvement to 1.26%.
  • The plant met its cost targets.
  • A goal to reduce scrap/salvage by 40% was not achieved.The goal required the installation of new process equipment.

The presenters also outlined several steps they say contributed to Garland's achievements. They included:

  • Start with the leadership team.
  • Leverage a sense of urgency for change.
  • Establish rules and expectations for an accountable organization.
  • Introduce lean concepts.
  • Don't teach lean tools for their own sake. At Garland, Dyer said the focus was on teaching the lean tools that would best help the plant achieve its five key measurable goals.
  • Create and constantly audit standard work.


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