The Inside and the Outside

Cleaning up the physical appearance of your work environment.

As we manage our companies, most of us spend a lot of time striving for perfection in different areas of our businesses. We might be fine-tuning production processes, improving our workflow, or perhaps building a more effective sales and marketing structure. But we often neglect the actual physical appearance of our work environment.

To be clear, developing the look of a “perfect” shop – or, more realistically, making the shop look its best – is a process that can take an extensive period of time, perhaps the entire life cycle of your business. But the effort you put into the process can reap great rewards, not only in appearance and aesthetics but in your marketing and sales endeavors, in safety, and in making for a more quality workplace.

Exterior efforts
Let’s begin by examining the physical appearance of your business from the outside looking in. The way your business looks to someone driving up to your building can actually say a lot about you as a company, and it’s likely the first impression they’ll have of your business.

So who might you be trying to impress? At the top of the list are your customers, current and future. But the look of your outside premises should also provide a positive image to other visitors, including suppliers, potential employees, bankers, lawyers, accountants, as well as a number of other people with which you have business relationships.

What can you do to your building to ensure you’re providing a favorable impression? Start with some of the basic yet often neglected areas such as making sure your windows and the outside of your building are clean. But you can take quite a few other steps, too, including:

• Provide some nice landscaping, even if that might be something as minor as planting a few flowers at your entrance. Make sure the grass is cut and watered, and regularly weed the grounds.
• Pick up the trash on the grounds every day – you can make that someone’s first job of the day as they arrive.
• Make sure the exterior lighting is adequate for the look of your building, as well as for the safety of your employees and others.
• Paint is relatively cheap and painting is a nice task if you have a light production schedule on a nice fall day.

Although these may seem like small items, maintaining a clean, nice exterior becomes a great expression of what type of business you are. By the way, if you don’t own your own building, avoid simply relying on the landlord to make your site look great. Landlords who are not tenants will always provide the very minimum necessary for the aesthetics of the building – so it will fall to you to ensure the exterior look of your business is impressive.

An inside job
Like the exterior of your business, the interior look of your shop can provide a lasting impression, for better or for worse. Many of you have studied the principles of lean manufacturing to assist you in developing more effective production processes. One of the concepts of lean is establishing the “5S” of your shop and work areas: Sort (eliminate unnecessary items); Set in order (careful storage); Shine (clean); Standardize (best practices); and Sustain (keep the new changes in place). The implementation of these concepts can be a goal that you strive for long term.

As you work toward establishing a 5S shop, however, there are some “in-between” steps and actions you can take to improve your company’s interior.

Begin by implementing a shop mentality that everything has its proper place. This means that every tool has a specific location where it is to be returned when it’s done being used and kept there until it’s used again. That includes hand tools, power tools, brooms, electrical cords, boxes, raw materials, goods in process, finished goods, and anything else that may be left lying around.

Equally important is that everyone knows just where that place is. Years ago, I noticed that our shop seemed to be looking rather trashy on a regular basis. One of the primary reasons was that we had a lot of scrap and waste lying around the shop, all over the floor. While our employees were doing an adequate job of cleaning up all the waste at the end of the day, during their shift the place looked terrible. Plus, waste laying everywhere can not only hinder workflow, it can also become a safety hazard. When I discussed this with our fabrication and print managers, they mentioned that the primary problem was that we didn’t have very good garbage cans and the crews would waste a lot of production time carrying trash over to the dumpster. So we talked about what type of garbage receptacles would be best and we ended up buying five large plastic garbage bins mounted on wheels. They actually hold a lot of material waste and are easily wheeled over to the dumpster to be emptied on a regular basis.

Improving the look of your shop will probably require you to do some extra work that you might not currently do. For example, your shop floor should probably be wet-mopped on a regular basis in addition to being swept once if not twice per day. Having the constant mandate to keep all areas free from clutter will keep the shop looking sharp and will also provide a much safer environment for your employees. You’ll send a positive message to your employees that you care about them working in a safe environment.

One last suggestion that has worked great at our company: Perform a thorough cleaning of the shop, “top to bottom” on a regular basis. We do this quarterly. Everyone in the shop participates and makes a huge effort to make their individual work area shine.

Nothing lost in translation
Maintaining the look of your shop will require a strong, consistent commitment from your management team. If your newfound enthusiasm for a clean, sparkling workplace is perceived as a “one-hit wonder,” your employees will see right through it and, within weeks, your shop will look just like it always has. So whether you decide to go crazy and implement a system like the 5S program, or adopt just some of these suggestions, the progress you make toward improving your shop will reap you some significant rewards. 

Marty McGhie is VP finance/operations of Ferrari Color, a digital-imaging center with Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Sacramento locations. The company offers high-quality large- and grand-format photo, inkjet, fabric, and UV printing. 

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