When I was young there was a campaign for reducing traffic accidents with children pedestrians called “Stop, Look and Listen”, before using the crosswalk. That simple philosophy can work just as well in today’s warehouse or manufacturing floor. With that in mind I think you’ll agree a great operator is one who keeps their machine clean, organized and knows when their machine is at the point of some tuning or it’s ready for an overhaul just by the feel and listening to it. Think of yourself as that operator behind the wheel of the warehouse, and who else should have a better feel for the flow.
STOP and go for a walkabout. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the emails, committees, budget concerns and productivity reports but you need to get away from it and the walk can help give you a new perspective on problems and issues you’re working. Setting time limits on yourself for computer work, projects, committee reports and walkabout is a great way to budget your time. Use whatever venue you are comfortable with to guide your time use. I personally use Kanbanflow since it also allows me to track time spent on projects and to do lists but you can also use an alarm clock as well. I’m also a big believer in making checklist for myself especially when I’m new to a job or trying to incorporate new routines. It takes about 21 days to create a new habit and the checklist will help keep you on track to achieve that goal. Most important, if you are having a bad day due to being blown up in an email, pressure from above, don’t bring it with you to the floor. The staff doesn’t need your bagage.
LOOK and see what’s going on, what are people doing and are they doing it safely? Are there any back-ups on the floor, and if there is what’s causing it. Is everybody engaged in activity or standing around, are forklifts properly parked in the warehouse, code dates on packaging lines correct, are pick locations clear and organized, people wearing proper PPE.? Walk around with your eyes wide open and make sure to catch staff doing things properly or beyond and personally thank them on your walkabout. In addition to this you can also recognize staff based on your observations in other means. I would hand out certificates for a free lunch at a local deli to staff I found wearing all their PPE or cleaning up a spill on the floor they had found.
LISTEN to the sounds of activity going on around you and more importantly what employees are telling you. You begin to build employees trust when you ask them to show you the ropes and how they do their job. Your interest in their performance has to be genuine or you will lose all of their support. I was one of two new superintendents hired and were assigned to train with a foreperson. My colleague would just wonder off on his own but I always stayed with the foreperson and listened to every gem he offered as we crawled under lines and over belts and cleared jams. I learned a lot about maintenance issues first hand, why employees were so soft on safety and his views on working closer with production to improve palletizing times in the warehouse. I was able to use that information to spearhead improvement projects, removed a few walls while earning employee goodwill since someone was listening to them. My collegue could never say that and never understood why. We trust our employees to operate extremely expensive equipment the most efficient way possible so why not listen to their suggestions and ideas on how to work smarter? Between the two of you who knows what improvements can be made.
My Dad had a friend Donnie, whom he met in the Navy. He was a mechanic and was the only person allowed to tinker with the family car because he had a special talent. He could listen to any car engine and diagnose the problem on the spot. He had developed an amazing keen sense of diagnostic hearing beyond any science but unfortunately Donnie wasn’t as safe as he was a great mechanic. He was missing two fingers on his right hand, which I always thought was from the war but was actually from a run-in with a car fan blade. He also had only half of a thumb on the left hand and the story was always vague. He would also tell me that gasoline was the best solvent there was and he used it on a regular basis to clean up including his arms and hands which could be a problem if you’re a chain smoker. And as it turned out, one day Donnie became a human candle. I still to this day remember the white bandages wrapped around his arms up to his elbows and a cigarette dangling from his mouth. My purpose of this story is to remind you that employees intentions are in the right place, and they have great ideas or amazing talents like Donnie. They just need you to keep them safe while coaching and nurturing to help develop those talents. So Stop, Look and Listen and see what hidden treasures you discover.