Jeffrey Kendall grows Liberty Tire Recycling through best practices Featured

7:00pm EDT December 26, 2010

Liberty Tire Recycling was rolling when it came to growth. More than 100 acquisitions took place in the last 15 years, and as the tire recycling company grew, CEO Jeffrey Kendall wanted to make sure it also became a great company.

“We decided to draw a picture of what a great company would look like,” Kendall says. “Then we said, ‘All right, how do we get from here to there? How do we get from being an OK company that is a consolidation of a lot of mom-and-pops to a great company, where we’re proud of every single thing we do?’”

By identifying and implementing your company’s best practices, you position your employees, your operations and your company for future success.

“The process is one of always improving, always getting better, always looking at each step in your process and wondering how you can do it better,” Kendall says.

To make the process effective, you have to involve your employees.

Kendall made it clear when they started the process last year that listening to the company’s 1,400 employees at Liberty Tire Recycling’s 28 plants was essential.

“Instead of just us sending a team around, having them figure out the best way to do X, and then telling everybody to do it that way, we’re involving everybody in the process in determining which are the best ways,” Kendall says.

Rally management

Kendall knew the process wouldn’t get off the ground unless the general managers of the plants thought it was a good idea.

Undertaking a project as large as defining best practices starts with getting management’s buy-in. When speaking to managers, try to link your idea to the possible benefits of the program.

For example, Kendall’s general managers are compensated based on the performance of their plant, so they’re interested in finding ways to make their plants run better.

“You have to be upfront with them,” Kendall says. “You have to tell them it’s important, why it’s important and how we’re going to do it. Get some input from them. They may want to do it a different way, but you still achieve the same end result. Lay out where you’re heading and why you want to go there. As long as it’s a good idea, they’re usually on board.”

Before starting the process, Kendall put his vice president of operations, Peter Ellis, in charge of the initiative.

Large projects need a leader. You need someone who can focus on the process and is familiar with the day-to-day work you’re examining, someone who can track the project’s many details and someone who can clearly communicate with you.

If lean manufacturing or defining best practices is new to you, you might consider bringing in a consultant. The team of about a half-dozen people who traveled from plant to plant partaking in the exercises was made up of Liberty Tire Recycling staff and members of an outside consulting firm with expertise in the topic.

Involve employees

The crucial element that must be part of lean manufacturing and best practice exercises is the employees. Rather than dictate changes you would like to see made, you need to approach the process by asking those who do the job day in and day out for their ideas.

“Folks who participate in it and see how the operations run better, they’re coming up with the ideas,” Kendall says. “We’re not handing them a list and telling them to go do it this way. People want to improve. People want to do better. When they haven’t been called upon in the past, they really enjoy participating. We’re getting tremendous excitement and participation from everyone involved in the organization. Just that alone is almost a good reason to do it.”

The company has taken on projects from how to better operate machinery to the process of how to grade tires not ready to be thrown away. Once a project is identified by looking through the plant’s data, everything is connected to cost, time and effort to produce a product, and employees involved in that line of work are called in to brainstorm ways to find efficiency.

“Typically, you’re trying to understand why it’s done a certain way. What’s the reason?” Kendall says.

But Liberty Tire Recycling took the discussion one step further when it came to involving employees.

“When we conduct these exercises, we’re bringing in a lot of folks from different plants, so that they participate in providing ideas for the plant in which the event is occurring, as well as taking ideas back to their own plants,” Kendall says. “We expect at the end of the year a lot of the best ideas will be absorbed by osmosis, to a certain extent, based on people’s real-life experience at these different facilities.”

To get the best participation, you need to set the tone from the top as to why it’s important that the organization engages in these activities and that it will only be successful with the employee’s participation and offering of ideas. Also, employees need to know they won’t be criticized for speaking up.

“We wanted their ideas, and they weren’t going to be criticized for coming forward with ideas,” he says. “You have to stick by that though. It doesn’t mean you’re going to take all of the ideas. But you want to hear them. It’s like a typical brainstorming session where you’re going to reject certain things.”

Install accountability

As you’re looking for ways to find efficiencies, you need detailed projections as to how much improvement you anticipate.

At each plant, the team would list about 40 to 50 assignments of what should be done. That list was then communicated to headquarters, which sent somebody back to the location once a month to compare financials and see if they met the projected numbers.

“It’s critical to have good data and also figure out if the changes you made have had an impact,” Kendall says.

You want to look at whether the new practice reflects what came out of the meeting and whether you can measure the change in productivity.

Only a few months after committing to lean manufacturing, Liberty Tire Recycling, which has revenue of more than $200 million, began to see financial results as well as a boost in employee morale.

“As the CEO, you need to know, one, that people are engaged and, two, that they have specific plans that are measurable and quantifiable,” Kendall says. “You need to know what the results are and that somebody has gone back and looked and is seeing whether it worked, because obviously at some point, if it’s not working there’s no reason to put everybody through the drill.”

How to reach: Liberty Tire Recycling, (412) 562-1700 or www.libertytire.com