Talk Their Talk

Dec. 21, 2004
A bit of down-home advice.

Invest in people. Top-management buy-in. Focus on the customer. Develop supplier relationships. Make continuous improvement. The script for manufacturing excellence can sometimes seem repetitious. But not at Lockheed Martin Utility Services in Paducah, Ky., where even the state of manufacturing before the plant's transformation is described by John R. Dew, manager of Mission Success, in his own unmistakable style. "We had hardening of the arteries, deterioration of the building bones, and we weren't excited about much," says Dew. Indeed, the 40-year-old factory was coasting off old long-term production orders and heading for closure. "Then we got our mission and vision down to street language that every Bubba could understand," says Dew. "We called it 'survive and thrive,' and it got our hearts pumping and our blood flowing. All our people began to change. We got off the porch and started running, and now we're out in front competing with nine other enrichment plants that are owned by the Russian, French, British, Dutch, German, and Japanese governments. "We found [that] Bubba can dance" -- especially when the concepts are explained to workers in language they can understand. For example, Paducah workers don't just compete, says Dew. They "get off the porch to run with the big dogs. Every day is a new challenge to get up and go run. If we stay on the porch for even one day, we will lose. You can't be No. 1 in any industry by continuing to do what you've done in the past." To improve manufacturing cycle time and to solve problems in a more timely fashion, the message from Dew is "get ready fast, aim fast, and shoot fast. We are learning to plan quickly. We form special teams to decide what needs to be done, and then we do it." To encourage ideas, Dew reminds workers that "the beating you give yourself hurts a lot less than the beating someone else will give you. "We used to be like the three monkeys. We heard no evil, saw no evil, and certainly never spoke about it! Now we actively encourage self-assessment and . . . encourage all of our people to report problems and make suggestions." The result: nearly 6,000 suggestions a year. Dew has one last piece of homespun advice for companies that want to both succeed and make that success lasting. "Success is great, just don't inhale it," he says. "We've told our people that the bull gets a little meaner to ride every time you tighten the strap" and that the plant has to be "a whole lot better next year than we are today."

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