Walter Garvin vice presidentLean Six Sigma Jabil

Taking the Long View of Lean: Q&A

May 5, 2015
It doesn’t matter how many Black Belts a company has— leaders need to make an active effort to transform employees at all levels.

Employee engagement is an ongoing challenge of lean, and Walter Garvin, Jabil’s vice president of Lean Six Sigma, talked at the Best Plants 2015 Conference about how companies can create lean programs that engage employees at all levels. He also talked about how change within a company demands strong character and a willingness to sacrifice self-glory to benefit others (Phase 3 behavior).

Jabil, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., is the third-largest contract manufacturer in the world.

Why is it important for companies to implement lean across the entire organization and what are some challenges to doing that?

I think we’re in an evolutionary period, and we don’t have the resources to be competitive if we don’t take a different approach. It’s not enough to get a whole bunch of Black Belts out there to do these projects. We need to do more.

At Jabil, what we like to say is that it takes transformation of tools, people and a culture for that long-term sustainable transformation. One of the problems that I see about transformation in general within many companies is that it’s tool-based. If transformation was a matter of teaching tools to transform your business and keep your company growing and sustainable for the long haul, we could change this and we could be teaching you those tools and that’d be great. But you think about it. We’re adding more and more complexity [in industry]. It’s not just a matter of adding more lean masters and master black belts to handle that complexity. The number of opportunities is too great. We need to create a sustainable culture; we need to involve everyone in the organization. That will help us become more viable and relevant and continue to grow and proposer and add value to our communities and our society as a whole.

Can you share a few tips for consistently implementing a lean program throughout all levels of a company?

Senior management needs to be committed. Sometimes it’s tough. They can’t bend to the wind. They have to be resolute, “This is what we’re going to do” and be committed, and visibly show that from time to time.

It’s important to recognize the employees. You can teach them. That motivates them. But you also want to recognize them and keep that going.

So what’s important to senior management and the fact that you’re rewarding and recognizing employees for their efforts is really fundamental. So we want to raise people up to that Phase 3 behavior.

What would be an example of a reward?

People do that in different ways. With a global company in Asia, some of those people like to have big to-dos. But in Europe not so much. One of the things we know about the nature of human nature is that everybody likes to be appreciated. But how you show that appreciation can vary, depending on the location or intent. Some of our locations give away little gift coupons. They have a best product award every month. Not everyone does that. If that works for them, that’s great. We’re not prescriptive on that. We just say, “Recognize people.”

Sometimes just saying, “Thank you.”  If you’re a senior manager and you go down to the shop floor, and you did something good, and that plant manager comes down and says, “Laura, thank you,”  you know what Laura is going to say at the dinner table that night? “The plant manager came down and thanked me for my effort.”

We have a global competition that we started in 2009, we call it Deliver Best Practices. It gives the opportunity to reward and recognize every one in the company for their contributions. This is done at a plant level, at a regional level, and then everyone comes to our headquarters in St. Petersburg in October, and the executive committee presents the big award. 

About the Author

Laura Putre | Senior Editor, IndustryWeek

I work with IndustryWeek's contributors and report on leadership and the automotive industry as they relate to manufacturing. Got a story idea? Reach out to me at [email protected]


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