An excerpt from the book Lean Printing: Cultural Imperatives for Success.
By Kevin Cooper
Some time ago, I managed a print facility which was moving down the pathway of empowering teams in the workplace. It’s difficult to impossible for teams to make decision about their jobs without an understanding of the financial impact of choices they consider. At the time, I was holding monthly financial recap meetings with each shift in the plant to review the monthly data accounting had generated on our performance. In these meetings, I’d explain the results of the last month and spend some time on any unique or unplanned results as well as speak to the trends the financial numbers were showing us about the business. Employees seemed interested and appreciated the degree to which I shared the financial performance of the plant with them, particularly in comparison to what exposure they had previously been given to financial performance within other jobs or companies.
While my effort at sharing financial information was well intended, it did little to truly empower the workforce with a better understanding of how “the numbers” worked and how they as individuals could relate to them. It also was placing the full ownership of the financial results fully on me, as I was the one explaining them each month. As plant manager, I was fully responsible for the financial results. However, in taking this approach, little had been done to empower anyone other than myself regarding plant financial performance.
Upon reflecting about what direction the plant needed to go regarding empowerment, I chose to more fully involve plant employees in the monthly financial reporting process. Doing this involved identifying team leaders in each major area of the plant. I asked them if they wanted to be more involved and understand more about our financial results, and I received unanimous positive feedback.
We then went through a process of spending a few months mutually reviewing the results for their area of the plant. Helping them learn how the various financial statements interacted with each was important, so questions that arose could be traced back to general ledger entries, which either provided the needed answers or allowed the right question to be asked within our accounting group. It did not take long for employees to gain some comfort level with the month-end process and develop a desire to provide their own analysis to run by me.
The next step was when each individual presented their area’s results at our plant financial recap meeting. It was immediately clear that this was a powerful process to have initiated. Employees were much more interested about hearing results from the people they worked directly with and were able to relate to the trends in ways I had never imagined possible. Teams began tracking key events during the month and then looking for their impact when the monthly accounting came out. As more employees understood how the monthly financial results came from the culmination of all the actions taken within the plant, unique employee-driven improvement projects began to spring up. Employees traveled over to the accounting offices to get to know cost accountants and better understand the process of how we keep track of the business.
What took place was an amazing transformation of knowledge within the plant as greater numbers of employees understood the financial results and recognized how they could have an impact on them through their own actions. Importantly, it was an empowering experience that employees gravitated to in a positive manner. People wanted to know how their jobs and actions made a difference, and the culture was changing in a positive manner through this.
It took time. It took effort to train employees in a discipline most were not familiar with. It took trust that information would not be misused. It also took being willing to give up a level of control that management had always had over the workforce – the unique understanding of financial performance and how it was impacting the business decisions.
Complacency cannot be allowed to inhibit employee or management actions in changing the culture for the future. My efforts to engage the organization through a better understanding of plant financial results was an ongoing work-in-progress. The initial efforts were nice but insufficient to create the changes needed. Managers must hold themselves accountable to the change process – as well as employees – and take any needed steps to facilitate change and not be complacent with the way things have always been.