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By Dave Goebel, Missouri Enterprise Project Manager 

John has been a Plant Manager for just over a year. He’s proud of the productivity at his facility and the quality products produced there. Due to the focus on output, little effort went into cleaning and organization. Consequently, the workers were subjected to special cleaning sessions to prepare for visitors.

During one such cleaning session, a worker asked John, “Why can’t we keep this place clean for us, why do we always have to clean up for others?” John responded that the question was a good one and he decided to do something about it.

John brought in a consultant to lead a team of his workers through a 5S event. The team was educated on the 5S principles and then led to the floor to a selected area to implement what they’d learned. They sorted through everything in the area, segregating things they needed from those they didn’t.

They established a Red Tag area to temporarily hold the unneeded items. They organized the necessary items using shadow boards and drawer organizers, and identified parking spots for raw materials, work-in-process, finished goods, waste cans, empty pallets, and all other portable items. Electrical cords and air hoses that previously laid on the floor were now organized using overhead retractable reels. The team wiped down equipment inspecting for mechanical issues as they cleaned. Cleaning checklists were developed along with audit forms for management to randomly grade the workers on how well they maintained the area.

By the end of the 3-day event, the function and appearance of the area was drastically improved. The consultant then explained that sustenance of the improved condition will come with time if the team adopts the 5S mindset and sticks to the cleaning rituals.

For a few months, the area continued to look good and function well. However, over time the area degraded to its prior condition. John was upset and looked for someone to blame for the backsliding.

He felt he’d provided everything the workers needed to be successful: He did his research and found a capable consultant; he ran ahead on production schedules to free up the area for the 5S event; he hand-picked the 5S team selecting individuals he knew would approach the change with a positive attitude. In fact, John provided everything the workers requested throughout the event. He couldn’t figure out what went wrong.

John called the consultant back in to help him assess the situation. The consultant reviewed the mechanical issues just as John had, then asked John about his involvement in the program. John reminded the consultant about all the things he provided during the event.

The consultant asked John what he was doing about it and John replied, “my work is done, it’s now in the hands of the workers.”

The consultant explained to John that 5S is a team effort and reminded him of a conversation they had prior to the 5S event. He noted that John’s efforts didn’t end with the event and that he was responsible for its’ success or failure.

The consultant asked John whether 5S was discussed at company meetings. John replied that it was not. The consultant inquired about John’s involvement in the audits and asked whether he spent any time on the floor between audits?

John said that he delegated the audits to two of his reports and that he was too consumed with meetings to spend time on the floor for housekeeping issues. John said angrily, “I’ve given the workers everything they requested and they’ve let me down.

Carefully choosing his words, the consultant informed John that he had failed to give the team one thing, leadership. He explained that the mechanical components of a 5S program are the easy things and that it is leadership that ultimately makes it successful.

During the conversation, John admitted that the cleaning routine had been scrapped temporarily due to the receipt of large orders. He also admitted that he spent no time reviewing audit scores and trends. 5S was not discussed at meetings because he didn’t think to bring it up. Overall, John had failed.

People come to work wanting to succeed. Often, it’s the lack of leadership that leads to failure. Inability, or unwillingness, to communicate and the lack of discipline to follow our own rules are the systemic weaknesses that lead to substandard performance.

If you want to improve anything, think deeply about what you want to do, plan your attack, and execute your plan checking performance along the way. If you get the results you want, document the process and repeat as necessary.

If you fall short, note the issues from the prior initiative and try again. Don’t’ be like John. Remember, leaders facilitate the success of their reports. Play an active role in every initiative and lead your people to success.