Tag Archives: process improvement

Yes = Yes, No = No. There is No Maybe

ACE your communication!  How to Recognize, REFINE, Resolve Colleague and Team Expectations and Communication Challenges

Lori: “Brad, can you email me that information by this Friday, so the project can be completed?” 

Brad: “I am so busy and will not be at work tomorrow.  I’ll see what I can do.”

This is a common communication exchange in everyone’s life.  Should Lori expect the information from Brad she asked for by a specific date?  Yes?  No?  Whenever we communicate answers that are ambiguous, such as, “I’ll see what I can do”, “I am not sure…”, “I think I might”, “Let me get back to you”, we are not communicating very well.  The above short examples are open ended without any definitive answer in response to the person asking the question that requires a definitive answer.

These forms of communication often lead to frustrations between co-workers, doubts of co-workers, and the typical office gossip between co-workers.  All leads to further break down of communication and work productivity.

  How can someone’s ambiguous response be properly delt with that shows respect, confidence, and  demonstrate the satisfied interdependence for that co-worker; or team?  Whether you are working in a team situation, work closely with specific colleagues, or need to collaborate with someone you do not know yet, the principle of agreed communication expectations is foundational. 

 

Agreed Communication Expectations = ACE

The concept on agreeing on expectations in communicating is not new, not a new religion, not groundbreaking for the 6 o’clock news.   Yet, this topic continues to be written about in books that are on best sellers’ listings.  There still is Dale Carnegie’s best-selling book, “How To Win Friends and Influence People”, published in 1936 with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. This book is one of the best-selling books of all time. According to Wikipedia,  it was number 19 in 2011, on Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential books. And there are  Dale Carnegie Communication classes now offered.  Another best-selling effective communication book, “Crucial Conversations” by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler, another New York Times best seller with over 3 million copies sold.  With hordes of e-books, Kindles, Audible and the good old fashion book, combed with living in a society where technology is at our fingertips on our phones, laptops, pads, and desktops, why is communicating with each difficult?  The title of the blog, Yes = Yes, No = No is the giveaway to agreed communication expectations, or ACE.

How ACE Works

The timetable to start effectual communication is anytime: anyone can require this principle, reinforce this principle, retrace this principle in a chronology of communication with another.  Setting and agreeing on communication standards that includes updates, reminders, and to be able to speak up to another when the communication is not clear without being rejected, (as we are all subject to not stating clear thoughts!), that builds the success of communication, which, builds the productivity, respect, and admiration for one another.   Below are 2 examples of how two or more people can agree on terms of communicating without the feeling of misunderstanding or that feeling of ambiguity of whether the expectation will be met or not.

 

EXAMPLE 1

Agree that responses to requests need to be a “Yes” or “No” answer

Of course there are instances when a simple “Yes” or “No” needs to be accompanied by negotiating a different timeline, or amount of information that was requested, or some other difference where the two, or group, can agree and then rely on.  Ultimately you need to answer a “yes” with the appropriate delivery times, or “no, but I can next week, on such n such a day”.

You Cannot be “Just meat and potatoes” for responding to others

If you are the individual supplying the request, and you think you may need more time or cannot supply the entire bulk of information,  then state just that and state the reasons why.  This is where you cannot be that “Just meat and potatoes” person, meaning that short answers or quips is what you are about and that is how you communicate.  When at work, often, you do need to fill many gaps with proper reasonings to others, so they are informed of your request for change of date of requests or amount of information you can provide.   We must take into consideration that in large organizations,  the same department is also divided into silos.  Signifying that just because you have certain knowledge, another team member, or co-worker will not.  We cannot assume others have the same internal knowledge, no matter how trivial, that we have.

 

EXAMPLE 2

Repetition Builds Collaboration Confidence

I remember when matriculating for my physical therapy degree, most of the younger students would whine and complain about hearing the “same thing again”.  What they did not understand was that information repetition was building their ability to use that same information in a variety of ways.  Working situations are no different.  Ensuring that everyone is supplied and has responded to either requests, or changes of information, or changes in timelines are vital for not just the success of a specific project; it builds the success for better working relationships.    People that work well together will accomplish much more and more efficiently.

TAKE HOME                                         

Agreed

Communication

Expectations

ACE your communications!

Getting Beyond Low Hanging Fruit

How Accountable is Your Organization?

Employee health and safety professionals understand the importance of safety in the workplace.  They know that safety comes in all shapes and sizes.  Yet, when bad decisions are made by management regarding safe procedures such as lock out tag out, what are some of the possible outcomes? Well, this:

OSHA case study: How some companies still flout safety to gain economic advantage

In this OSHA case study, luckily there were no severe injuries.  But what was just as detrimental was the non-verbal but loud and clear message to the employees: “We don’t really care about you.  It’s about how fast the product can be produced!”

Robotics assist in many ways.  One way is to reduce possible awkward positions and sustained awkward positions of employees. When dangerous short cuts are imposed like the one outlined in the OSHA case study— allowing employees to climb into the robotics cage with the robot still moving—what else is an employee to think?

Couple the OSHA case study with this one, posted in the same timeframe in EHS Today:

SLC 2018: Engaging the Workforce Is a Key to Health & Safety Excellence

In this article, Dr. Fulwiher makes excellent points and suggestions.  Our take home, since this is what our organization tends to witness, is this statement of Dr. Fulwiher’s:

This requires a transformation in the leadership of the organization, be it a for- profit or nonprofit, understanding the need to become more transformational and less transactional.” 

This is very true, as most top executives and middle managers are truly only focused on the output in the long run.

People DO NOT CARE how much you know
until they know HOW MUCH YOU CARE

So many articles continue to revolve around this mantra.  And it is true, isn’t it?  So, what can supervisors, employees, and middle managers do to demonstrate this at work and also outside of work?

  • Take an extra 45 seconds to dialogue with any colleague, co-worker, and more importantly, someone you do not know well.
  • When conversing, look them in the eye and notice the color of their eyes. Most of us don’t look at those we’re talking with in the eye.
  • You can smile when talking.  Even if the conversation is a critical point, smiling shows that you do care, and also places the other more at ease.

We should not need classes on this. However it appears that  we do, since there are books, audio tapes, seminars and lectures that all focus on how to become more attentive, genuine, and accountable.

Accountability Starts at Every Level—
in Your Organization and in Your Community

We hear, read, and experience for ourselves the disappointment and frustration when someone is not accountable for something they said or something they said they would do.  We know what it feels like, and we would love the unaccountable people in our lives to become accountable.  Unfortunately, it’s beyond our power to change someone else.

Therefore, the only way to experience change is to change ourselves.  This is what life is about: change.  How can we become our highest selves,  and how can we truly begin to treat others the way we would like to be treated?  Here’s a way to begin in your professional life:

When at work, be accountable.  What does this really mean?  Your “yes” is “yes” and your “no” is “no.”

In a meeting, if you are asked to participate in a project, or asked to assist someone with something small in their project, don’t say, “I’ll see what I can do.”  Either say “yes, I will,” and give them the date by which you’ll provide the information, or say “I can’t,” and provide a reason why.  This is where your accountability starts.  Becoming more direct, detailed and authentic will yield better outcomes in all of your interactions, whether with your supervisor, peers or employees.

As a role model of accountability, you can then begin to challenge your co-workers and colleagues in this area, as well as coach those you supervise to adopt this revolutionary mindset and value.

 

3D printer manufacturing

Innovation Is Not Just for the New and Most Up-to-Date Products for Consumers

Your employees deserve innovation, too.

3D printer manufacturingA recent article in the Harvard Business Review focused on the importance of U.S. firms bringing home their innovation centers—which they’ve shifted overseas right along with manufacturing (Sridhar Kota, et al., 2018). The article additionally points out that the U.S. “has also lost the ability to do the kinds of process improvements that are essential for innovation.” Our expertise and experience tell us that there’s a particular deficit when it comes to factoring in the humans, particularly those on the production line and the assembly floor.

Sports medicine technology and injury prevention innovations and their benefits are not being captured by industry.  Innovations made in data science, virtual technologies, and data collection and manipulation can now reveal, in real time, just how individuals move, thereby creating the platforms for movement retraining and other methods to restore optimal movements in any individual employee.  The impact of poor movement and the benefits of optimal movement aren’t a line item on any profit and loss statement, but they are certainly being felt there.  You’ll never see human movement in a strategy document, either, but you should, and here’s why.

As technology innovations advance, companies can begin to see exponential growth.  However, if these new types of technologies are imbalanced within a company, collisions will begin to occur—in output, life cycles, and elsewhere.  Although these innovations work on paper, they don’t always integrate and succeed on the assembly floor.

An example here would be that engineering innovators are using technologies such as virtual simulators, like 3D printing and other types of technologies.  While on the assembly floor, employees are still required to contort their bodies in order to assemble the product.  Some of the processes can now take longer due to the intricacies of advancements in product design and manufacturing.

In addition, these enhanced assembly processes now require increased skills from employees.  Current employees require more training, and new employees require new and different training.  This eats up valuable resources and does show up on the profit and loss statement as employees must be educated, trained, and mentored much longer.

Manufacturers have no choice but to invest in innovative approaches in the manufacturing assembling process.  Robotic assembly is not the only innovative restructuring process out there, and in fact is ancient in today’s marketplace. Powerfully integrating employees into today’s advanced manufacturing processes is the Holy Grail.

This type of methodology and use of technology can be referred to as “translational research”: not only investing in the R&D, but turning that R&D into physical reality, and that includes technology-enabled proactive and positive integration of the human part of the equation.  It’s this type of innovative use of human-focused technology in process design that can decrease employee injury, increase the consistency of quality of product, and increase the efficiency of production time.

Most large organizations have not yet come to the realization that seeking out cutting edge responses to human limitations on the assembly floor is a critical component of strategy and process design in today’s quickly changing production environment.  SMBs are looking for big business models to follow.  In both cases, the ROI of focusing on such solutions is rapid and a conservative >800% in the first few months.*

For some years to come, human beings will be on the assembly floor, much of the work there requiring more awkward positions and/or tedious fine motor skills of the upper extremities.  Biology of the human body is not getting a facelift in the near future.  Therefore, using the innovations happening in human movement analysis, correction and optimization will help to integrate and capitalize on the human aspect of assembling the new innovations created by engineering designers.

*Case studies available on request.

Ergonomic Assessment Forms

The 7 Deadly Sins of Ergonomic Assessment


If you’re using a standardized ergonomic assessment form (or a set) to gauge the progress or success of your ergonomic initiative, you may not be realizing the total benefits available to you and your employees. You may also not be capturing or addressing the full scope of the issues before you.

This is especially true if you are tasked with achieving X results in a timeframe of Y. Your forms-based approach may or may not deliver results that will produce the metrics that the executive team wants to see. So, what to do?

Here are some of the limitations of forms-based assessments and how you can go beyond those limitations to create a whole new world of change.

1. The floor and ceiling effect. The REBA assessment form, for example, has a limited range within which to measure capacity and incapacity. I do not wish to step on toes, but, how can a previous injury impacting mobility be addressed within this form? Your movement floor and ceiling and my movement floor and ceiling are likely completely different. How can the individual’s unique range of motion be captured? And if the use of the REBA form, or similar forms, is mandated in order to fit into a larger hierarchy of performance, how can you track what’s really going on with a particular employee? Here’s a suggestion: add a detailed addendum to the form that identifies the individual’s particular physicality and its abilities and limitations and create a set of metrics around that. Bringing these metrics to the attention of the executive team and how tracking them has benefited both employees and the company may allow the introduction of a whole new set of metrics to be tracked across divisions/work groups.

2. Only addressing the design of the station. Welding will always be welding, but you can suggest and allow changes that will help address worker fatigue and stiffness. For example, you can build in stretch or rest breaks. Even just 45 to 60 seconds can reset the most used muscle groups.
3. Ignoring future effects. Each change you make will deliver short term, midrange, and long term effects. Are you tracking the effects of your ergonomic changes over time? Some of the changes you put in place may deliver excellent short term results, but might those changes produce poor results in the longer haul? For example, changing a reach at a workstation can create immediate relief for an employee as he or she begins to exercise a different set of muscles. But will the new reach movement deliver a different set of problems over time, or the same muscle fatigue problem you started out with? Thinking through the longer term effects of your ergonomic changes may reveal that additional considerations have to be made.

4. Not training or monitoring your ergo team effectively. If you don’t have an ergo team in place, then that’s step #1. If you do, the way you train that team and measure their results will have an enormous impact on outcomes. Proper training and continued training through developing a critical eye, will allow your team to implement corrections that produce positive results versus negative ones. For example, encouraging workers to stretch throughout the work is great. The caveat to this is whether or not the employee truly understands the hows and whys of stretching. This form of education must be nurtured layer by layer. Don’t assume proper movement patterns in stretching or exercising in anyone.

5. Not defining the role of the ergo team deeply enough. Does the ergo team view themselves as compliance police or teachers? Do they think their job is to enforce or to encourage? Studies clearly show that leaders who show up as teachers and encouragers will develop deeper relationships with their employees and produce better results than those who only try to achieve metrics. When a leader, or change agents, takes the approach of empowering and valuing employees, employees will show up engaged and eager to participate, even becoming teachers and encouragers themselves. The more distributed the selfcare message is—that is, the more often it comes from peers versus the leadership team—the more powerful it will be. Don’t feel like you have the right people in place to provide that training in a powerful way? We have trained many teams in this approach, and they’ve been extraordinarily successful in creating positive results for their employers and employees alike.

6. Not considering yourself a change agent. Many leaders fear that implementing a program focused on helping workers mitigate fatigue, body stiffness, or discomfort will soon have all workers complaining about having pain, and then what? Surely, they’ll demand more pay? Or, worse yet, we could experience higher worker’s compensation claims. We’ve found that concern to be baseless. In fact, our experience is that these programs help employees feel cared for and valued. Emotions expressed as “valued”, “cared for”, “appreciated” are powerful non-monetary benefits all companies can aspire to create in the company culture. This can spur employees to step up and participate in leadership roles, training fellow employees and providing helpful tips when they see the opportunity. Therefore, companies observe decreased worker compensation claims, increased productivity, increased quality, decreased number of days away from work.

7. Using the wrong words to communicate with employees on how they physically feel. Let’s take the word “discomfort”, a popular term in early intervention programs, and a term that OSHA approves, rather than the word “pain.” “Pain” equals an injury in OSHA terminology. Unfortunately, we find that employees often consider “pain” and “discomfort” as synonyms. The goal of Early Symptom Intervention programs is to get to the employee before pain. There are red flags that employees express either consciously or unconsciously well before a description of “discomfort” or “pain” is verbalized. It is here where you can begin to assist employees to make corrections to help and then monitor those corrections. This is an area in which ergo teams can fall short; not because they don’t care, but because the knowledge base is not there. And chances are this technical level of knowledge and application won’t be learned in ergo teams comprised of most current company employees: EHS, assembly team leads, production supervisors, HR personnel. The information necessary is in an entirely different career knowledge base. Hiring outside companies that have this experience to assist in molding, teaching, and mentoring internal ergo teams is highly valued by companies that are now traveling down this path, due to the significant results achieved by doing so.

Avoid these seven deadly sins in ergonomic risk assessment, and you’ll find yourself curing ills you may never have known you had.

Control-Define-Measure-Analyze-Improve

Inconsistent with the Application of Your Processes?

CONSISTENT APPLICATION OF YOUR COMPANY PROCESSES WILL LOWER RISK OF WORKER INJURY

We use the word “consistent” a lot. It’s an adjective that can describe attributes in humans, animals, machinery, work tasks, decisions, and so on.
In general, businesses strive to be more consistent: with tasks, communication, routines, and the use of company processes. Sometimes, however, we don’t realize how the inconsistent use of those processes is actually increasing the risk for a worker injury, soft tissue injury, or work accident. Any of these outcomes obviously hamper productivity and increase costs in multiple areas. That’s not at all what we hoped to achieve with our processes!
Here’s an example: you’re in a hurry, pressured to complete a job. You’ve made a decision to change out a drill on a workstation. Harmless, you think. The workers know how to use all types of drills. So, to speed things along, you opt not to consult with the ergonomics team so they can ascertain how the new drill will impact that work station ergonomically, even though you know you’re supposed to. The whole process will take too long, and this drill is necessary at this work station immediately. One week after making that decision, a worker sustains a low back injury from using that new drill. The awkward posture and torque value with the body in such an awkward position created a lumbar strain, causing the worker to lose days from work.
The financial costs? Take a look at this table and run a quick mental calculation:

The costs of Inconsistently applied processes

Expensive! No?
In any facet of life, consistent action yields consistent results.
In business, the performance of a process allows us to know if the process itself is working or not. Consistency in performing or following processes or standards allows for the measurement of the efficacy of those processes. Are they working as planned? If they’re not, the steps are ordered enough to locate mistakes and correct them. Without order and follow up observation of the performance of the ordered steps, chaos and speculation result, without a solid determination and direction toward improving outcomes.
Another important aspect of disciplining ourselves to be consistent in a work process is that it develops a type of responsibility. “Accountability,” the new buzz word, is really taking the responsibility to do those things that seem mundane. Sometimes these are such small things that we fall into the pit of thinking they couldn’t possibly matter in the long run. When too many individuals have convinced themselves to take that approach (unbeknownst to each other), multiple problems arise in the very process that was designed to assist us in identifying problems and solving them.
Anything worthwhile takes time and self-discipline. Many processes can appear to take too long, or to hamper productivity or work flow. However, Lean programs and Six Sigma show time after time that when the process is followed, results are more reliable, and answers can come faster. From the overall vision and mission of a company down to the simple tasks in a production line, all come together. Happy end users, happy employees. It’s a win-win proposition. So, the next time you’re tempted to skip a step in a process, think again. It has a bigger impact than you know.

Have You Really GEMBA Walked Workstation Movements?

Look on the Other Side of the Coin
Most manufacturing companies have heard, read and used a GEMBA walk within a LEAN approach to identify waste, develop more efficiency, produce what is necessary, and increase good communications through discussions with workers in a specific area and reviewing current processes.

GEMBA walks, LEAN manufacturing and Kaizen events are only a few methods and ideologies that help to spur and create the necessary positive changes in an organization. The experienced quality leader will also note the existing positive processes and conditions that produce a quality end product with efficiency, less waste, and engaged workers.

In any organization that creates products for customers, it is that end product and the high value it imparts that the customer appreciates. The common thread through manufacturing processes is to involve both the vertical management and the horizontal workforce together to identify the good and the “what is needed” for added value with less waste.

These activities often require an evolution of skill sets that happens over time through planning and conducting GEMBA walks in order to hone the process. The best and most obvious skill to develop is the eye. The eye can focus on one small object, or span out to view the larger surround. It is here, observing by eye, that the movements of workers at their stations can be viewed and more thoroughly analyzed.

Typically, when observing a worker at a station, we look globally: how far is that worker walking to obtain a part or tool? Are there too many or too few parts or tools? Maybe the worker is moving the parts too many times, or perhaps having to lift heavier parts too many times. In the process of removing waste through designing smaller work stations, reducing an overflow of parts, and creating additional work stations, workers may now only need to move their arms little, or take a few steps occasionally.

On the one hand, we are possibly helping to reduce human error, and therefore may be reducing the risk of mishandling something that results in an accident or injury. The workstation now may be such that more types of workers will be able to perform the job tasks at that station. Those are all benefits.

The “other side of the coin” is: are we creating a scenario for the worker to sustain relatively static postures, that, over time, increase fatigue in postural muscles, thereby increasing the possibility of mental fatigue, stiff muscles, sore feet and neck?

In the past few years, many of us have heard or read about the new “silent killer”: prolonged sitting. The deleterious effects of sitting are reducing quality of life by dramatically decreasing physical abilities and increasing onsets of various disease processes.

In manufacturing, however, the opposite maybe taking place: prolonged static standing. This is a common posture in assembling, the food industry, and other labor jobs. Many assembling plants are looking to minimize foot step movement and the number of times product is handled in order to decrease risk of physical injury and increase efficiency of the work tasks. The goals are excellent, but these “optimizations” may result in workers virtually frozen in prolonged standing postures.

Prolonged standing, as illustrated in the table above, has negative effects on the human body that are well documented: pooling of the blood in the lower extremities and increased muscle fatigue due to prolonged co-contraction of muscles for erect standing. Both create discomfort or pain in the feet, legs, lower back, neck, shoulders, and hips.

At Physical Performance Solutions, we have treated hundreds of individuals over the years whose static postures were a large contributing factor to soft tissue injury. In our work assisting organizations to reduce soft tissue injury in the workplace, we are seeing firsthand some of the results of these changes. Many studies published in peer review literature are coming up with similar conclusions. (FTüchsen, 2005), (Marwan El-Rich 2005).

Static loads and fixed postures are increasing stress and strain on the spine, ligaments, and surrounding soft tissues, in addition to sustained compressive forces on all load bearing joints. Occupational Health and Safety published about this subject in 2003, (Joy M. Ebben 2003), yet there more workstations than ever that are increasing standing postures. Our evidence is more than anecdotal; we are seeing more individuals with tissue adhesions not just in the lower neck/upper trapezius region, but also lumbar spine and calf muscles as well. Prior to recent redesign of particular workstations, those types of complaints and identification of adhesions was minimal.

Here are some suggestions to see if the changes your organization has made may be contributing to the “other side of the coin.” Some of these indicators should be fairly easy to track and document, while others will be more difficult due to the individual nature of each employee.

  1. Compare quality of product over time. There should significantly fewer mistakes. If there are mistakes, can you identify who is making the mistake? What time of day is the mistake being made? This is taking into account all parts and supplies are defect free.
  2. What are the age ranges of the workers at particular stations? How many women vs. men, and what are their ethnic and social backgrounds?
  3. Is there a consistent job rotation of the work area?
  4. Have there been any accidents, injuries, or other physical complaints prior to and after any changes?
  5. Are there new workers in the area now?
  6. Have soft tissue musculoskeletal disorders within that area decreased? By how much?

Manufacturing production and Lean are truly more than finding the waste and inefficiency that is external. It is also looking at any tradeoffs that might be created by reducing “wasted” movement and locking a worker into a static position for hours at a time.

Is the organization saving money in one area, but creating expenditure elsewhere, as expressed, perhaps, in days off from work due to soreness? Workers experiencing issues from changes in work movement patterns may not be confident enough to speak up for fear of losing their jobs. They might also have difficulty articulating what they are experiencing. Many workers do not truly realize that just standing can have so many ill effects on the body.

This is a microscopic view in relation to all of manufacturing and all companies that utilize Lean concepts and practices around the world. However, the “other side of the coin” bears watching, and companies that are proactive will begin to practice new approaches to further create a positive culture within the organization and an excellent product.