The human side of the performance equation

Nancy Gipson, Jackson plant manager, Pringles

A few years ago, Procter & Gamble’s Pringles plant in Jackson, Tenn., had an enviable reputation. The plant produced and distributed all of Pringles’ products in North and South America and the Asia-Pacific Region. The plant had received P&G’s highest certification, awarded for superior discipline and best work processes and practices. Its performance in all aspects of the business – production, delivery, service, quality and safety – was spectacular. In short, the plant was a shining star in the P&G family, performing at a world-class level.

It would have been easy to rest on their laurels. But for Nancy Gipson, plant manager, great wasn’t good enough. She was convinced they could do even better. She took action to further lean the plant’s best practice standard operating procedures.

As part of her efforts to further lean the operations, Gipson conducted a safety assessment. She came to the realization that not all safety incidents were being reported, because employees didn’t want to jeopardize the plant’s prized certification.

This realization was sobering to Gipson and the plant leadership team. Although the safety numbers were very impressive, Gipson wanted to improve them even more based on the assessment implications. And she wanted to ensure that no incident would ever go unreported again.

Upon closer review, the safety work processes were found to be solid and as lean as they could be without investing a ton of money for minimal returns. So Gipson turned her attention to the plant’s culture and individual behavioral practices. She found inconsistencies and tremendous variation within the workforce when it came to how they performed the safety processes on a day-to-day basis.

With Bright Side’s help, led by partner Chad Cook, Gipson and her colleagues came to understand that even the best processes rely on individual discretion and decision-making. In other words, work processes have a fundamental human component that increases variability and risk of failure. To significantly reduce lean process variability, Gipson and her team didn’t need to focus on the tasks being performed; they needed to focus on the human factor.

In order to ensure that the human or behavioral aspect was better integrated with work processes, Bright Side and P&G focused on three strategic behaviors:

1.   Transparency. The focus here was on creating a climate of trust where people could feel free to tell the truth, since reliable data about safety depends on people reporting what is really happening. At the same time, employees were helped to understand that safety holds a higher priority than productivity in the eyes of leadership. Maximizing production is not more important than safety when it comes to making decisions on the floor.

2.   Shared leadership and accountability. Safety is the responsibility of all employees. Employees were engaged to take responsibility and be accountable for their own individual safety and the safety of others over and above just following the safety processes.

3.   Business, self-rationalization. Employees were encouraged to actively engage their brains when making decisions rather than robotically following processes. The outcome is that they keep themselves and others safe while achieving the business plans and outcomes.

By intentionally modeling these behaviors, leaders proved that they believed in, were committed to and were taking the behaviors of safety seriously. Employees could see and hear in their behaviors that leadership was sincere about these changes, and that led to greater trust on all sides. With consistent and constant leadership, these behaviors took hold on the floor and throughout the plant.

The long-term impact has been exactly what Gipson originally sought: the plant has become an even greater model of success in its safety processes and beyond. The plant is measurably safer, has reduced costs, increased efficiency, reduced turnover, expanded production and improved quality. Employees, their families and leadership feel secure that people who work in the plant will leave work as healthy as when they arrived. On a recent tour, an exec from outside P&G remarked, “I have been to many facilities in the food industry, and you set the standard for any I have ever visited.” The plant is now expanding their behavioral strategies to intentionally encompass every work process in the facility.

Our work with Pringles demonstrates what Bright Side endorses and delivers: to significantly improve performance and get a magnified return on investment, organizations need to find the balance between both the task and behavioral aspects of getting work accomplished. Many companies mistakenly believe that focusing exclusively on tasks is the solution for everything. They think they can infinitely improve processes and competencies by working harder. But the reality is that once you have removed most of the waste from a system or process, you get minimal benefit from continuing to focus on tiny gains in task improvement. A lean task focus has its limits.

The REAL, leverage-able opportunity for improvement then comes from a conscious and intentional focus on the human/behavioral side of getting work done, as the Pringles case study illustrates. It’s only when companies really commit to exploring and improving leadership engagement focused on strategic behaviors (actions, words, beliefs and assumptions) that productivity, consistency and effectiveness rise off the charts.

If you are already on the journey to lean your organization, don’t neglect the human/behavioral component. Expand your thinking to add the behavioral side of the performance equation to your current lean tools and processes.

Donna Rae Smith has forged a career, enterprise and an applied discipline on the practice of teaching leaders to be masters of change.  She is the founder and CEO of Bright Side Inc., a transformational change catalyst company with an emphasis on the behavior-side of change.  For more than two decades, Donna Rae Smith and the Bright Side team have been recognized as innovators in executing behavioral strategies coalesced with business strategies to accelerate and sustain business results. Bright Side®, The Behavioral Strategy Company, has partnered with over 250 of the world’s most influential companies.  For more information, please visit www.bright-side.com or contact Donna Rae Smith at [email protected]

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