Industryweek 14093 Qualaitytools

What Drives Wedges Between Management and Workers?

Jan. 28, 2014
A vast majority of the employees want to do a good job, want to feel proud of their work and their company. The question is: Do we give them a chance to succeed?

From Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s 14 Points: Eliminate slogans, exhortations, and targets for the work force asking for zero defects and new levels of productivity. Such exhortations only create adversarial relationships, as the bulk of the causes of low quality and low productivity belong to the system and thus lie beyond the power of the work force.

In order for lean and Six Sigma to be successful, workers at all levels must be engaged and supportive. This requires a certain level of trust to exist between management and the workers. However, in some companies, a rift forms that can be difficult to bridge.

Few of these companies have abusive managers or purposefully treat their employees with disdain. However, the rift remains and may even be growing larger. There are several potential reasons for the creation and expansion of this wedge between management and workers. One of these reasons is covered by Dr. Ed Deming in his 14 points (See point listed above).

In surveys, most company leaders tend to put this point in the “not applicable” category and really have no idea why it is even on the list. However, Dr. Deming spoke often about this point and listed it as one of his biggest pet peeves.

The following example may help shed light on why this point may be hampering your improvement efforts:

Carl unlocked the back door of the plant and precisely at 5:45 a.m., opened the panel to the circuit breaker box and flipped the switches to provide power to the lights and machines. He prided himself on precision, which might explain why he enjoyed his job as a machinist. Well, he enjoyed his job until about three years ago when things began to change. A new management team had come on board, and they seemed to be focused on short-term profits. Carl understood the need to make a profit but there did not seem to be any concern for the long-term viability of the company. Oh well, two years and 15 days until retirement. He just hoped the company would stay in business that long.

Carl headed over to the machining center where he had been assigned and noticed that three more bins of rejected parts were sitting in the area awaiting quality disposition. “Looks like the second shift had a rough night,” thought Carl. “Not surprising, given all of the problems around here.” After locking out the machine, he opened the doors to inspect the cutting tools. There was noticeable wear on the inserts, and he decided to replace them.

“Hey Carl,” said his supervisor as he walked toward the machining center. “How are things this morning?”

“Not bad,” replied Carl. “Looks like second shift had a rough night.”

“Yeah, I may have to recommend that the operator be fired if he does not get his act together,” said the supervisor. “Hey, what are you doing with the cutting tools?”

“Looks like the inserts need to be changed,” said Carl. “They are pretty worn out, and I am thinking that may be why the second-shift guys had problems.”

“You know our policy on changing out the inserts,” said the supervisor. “We have to get approval from the plant manager since they started to cut way back on our expenses. I really don’t feel like bothering him right now so put the cutting tools back and do what you can to make them work. Oh, and be sure to attend the all-employee meeting later this morning. I believe they are launching some sort of new quality initiative.”

Carl shook his head as his supervisor walked away, and he started to put the cutting tools back into their holders. The other night, he'd decided to look up online how much one of these inserts cost the company. “Eighteen bucks,” thought Carl. “I am saving the company $18 by not changing these inserts.” He knew that one scrap part off his machine cost the company close to $100.

One of the quality inspectors walked up just as Carl was about to start up the machine. “Good morning Carl,” said the inspector.

“Hey Jim, are you here to look through the rejected bins of parts?”

“No, we will get to those later. I just came from our incoming inspection area, and we just received another shipment of material from that new supplier. I don’t know how much money we saved, but the stuff we are now getting is just awful.”

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Carl. “I have to shut the machine down on a regular basis to unjam parts. Sometimes I have to run several additional passes due to the differences in hardness in the material.”

“The supplier is certified and this is all we have on hand, so we are told we need to try and make this junk work,” said Jim. “I have no idea how the parts passed their inspection.”

"Oh, while you are here,” said Carl, “I am having problems with my gauges and need someone to take a look at them.”

“Weren’t they calibrated a couple of months ago?” asked Jim.

“Yeah, but that is not the problem,” said Carl. “Remember several years ago when we did repeatability and reproducibility studies on our measuring system? Well, I think it might be time to do one of those again. When I measure a part several times, I can get different outcomes. Also, when I measure the parts that were passed by the second- shift guys, I get different results and probably would have rejected some of them.”

Next Week or Next Monthy, Maybe

“Hmm. Well, maybe I could get someone on that sometime next week,” said Jim. “Or maybe next month. I don’t really know for sure when. Ever since they cut back on our resources, we have not had time to do much other than disposition rejected parts.”

“Well, maybe things will be changing. I understand there is a big meeting today to launch a new quality program,” said Carl.

“First I have heard about a meeting today,” said the inspector. “I better go find out what is going on. See you later, Carl.”

Carl ran the machine the best he could but had already filled another bin of rejects when he was told to shut everything down in order to attend the all-employee meeting. He headed to the company auditorium and sat with the other company machinists in the back row. The lights dimmed as the chief operating officer, plant manager and quality manager began the meeting.

“As many of you know,” said the COO, “we have had some real problems with our quality metrics over the past several months. So, I have asked our quality manager to launch a new initiative to promote zero defects!”

The quality manager pulled on a cord that opened a curtain revealing a huge banner with the words “BE A QUALITY HERO!” There was a smattering of applause from the audience.

“Yes! I hope this new slogan will motivate all of our employees to reach great heights of quality improvement!”

Carl raised his hand. “Will we put together the old problem-solving teams?”

“Thank you, Carl for asking such a thought-provoking question. As you know, we are way behind on orders so I don’t think there will be time for quality teams this time around,” said the quality manager.

Carl raised his hand again. “Yes, Carl?” the quality manager said with some irritation in his voice.

“Will we be investing in new gauges or new materials or new tools?”

“Well, no,” said the quality manager, looking a bit embarrassed. “Our budget has been shot due to all of the rejects we are experiencing. So, we decided to take this new approach.”

Carl headed back to his machine after the meeting was over and noticed that a new poster was up on the wall by his work bench.


Carl shook his head in disgust. “I guess all of the poor quality is my fault,” thought Carl. He finished out his shift and went to clock out for the day. “Only two years and 14 more days until retirement,” Carl thought as he walked out the back door.

Every Company has a Carl

There are many employees like Carl working in our businesses at all levels and within every function. Men and women who want to do the right thing and supply a quality product or service, on time and within budgeted cost. However, company’s leaders don’t always provide them the tools, equipment, gauges, materials and support they need to get to the root cause of problems and permanently improve the process.

We have come a long way since the days of Dr. Deming. However, sometimes it feels like we spend too much time training and supporting a select few vs. working to get all employees on board. There are several steps that can be done quickly to begin removing the wedge between management and workers.

Solicit and discuss improvement ideas on a regular basis. This can be a 10-minute start-of-shift meeting, a flip chart set up in the area to capture ideas and a “Problem Log” that allows employees to capture problems with the process or system.

Get input from employees when working on new improvement ideas to help garner buy-in. Sometimes, the ideas the workers come up with may be different and even slightly worse that what the engineers propose. However, we all tend to work hard to successfully implement an idea that we helped create.

Provide effective training to employees at all levels and functions not just the engineers in manufacturing. All functions must participate in order for the improvements to be sustainable. For example, the finance people need to help the team capture the opportunities and benefits, and the sales team needs to understand capacity constraints (See Understanding the Demand/Capacity Curve). Be sure to find training providers that will help people understand the concepts of lean and Six Sigma by simplifying the explanations and engaging the participants (For example, Dr. Deming used a funnel to drop marbles on paper to demonstrate variation).

Seek out people like Carl who can help champion the improvements. Employees who show a willingness to speak up and a desire to improve can help form the nucleus of successful improvement teams.

Note from John Dyer: In his “Red Bead” exercise, Dr. Deming would ask for several volunteers to come up and do a task that was nearly impossible to do without producing some rejects. He criticized them for their poor quality performance even though everyone knew that the volunteers had no real impact. Then, after sufficiently making them all feel bad, he would say, “The company leaders have decided to help you improve your performance. We decided to invest a sizeable amount of money into buying quality posters!” He then showed several posters on the screen as the audience laughed and applauded. This had a profound impact on my view of the way companies treat their workers. What are the messages we send to our employees with our actions? Do we blame the process or system when things go wrong, or do we quickly jump to the conclusion that it is an employee’s fault?

In my experience, a vast majority of the employees want to do a good job, want to feel proud of their work and their company. The question is: Do we give them a chance to succeed?

John Dyer is president of the JD&A – Process Innovation Co. and has 28 years of experience in the field of improving processes. He started his career with General Electric and then worked for Ingersoll-Rand before starting his own consulting company. Dyer can be reached at (704)658-0049 and [email protected]. Linked In Profile:

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