Setting the tone for higher expectations and productivity
I am often asked by lumber dealers, component manufacturers, and others for that “one thing” that will improve results, drive cultural change, hardwire behavior, or create lasting quality. I’ve come to realize there is no magic bullet to becoming a high reliability organization; it is a long-term journey. This journey requires leaders at all levels to be deeply committed to setting expectations by aligning standardized behaviors/expectations/productivity and creating a culture that has a relentless focus on safety.
Whether an organization is expressly striving for “high reliability” or creating goals to provide the highest quality and safety in our products, there are tactics that are key to fostering a culture of hardwired behavior, consistency between shifts, and constant focus on continuous improvement and higher productivity: The Shift Huddle.
Shift huddles, or brief meetings conducted at each shift to exchange information, are an effective component of driving outcomes and are vital in the development of robust process improvement, productivity, and training efforts. Huddles, whether they are safety huddles or shift huddles or gatherings for any other reason, all exist for the sole purpose of communicating critical information to your team. Implementing a regular shift-change huddle, in which your team is directly involved, helps ensure that all team members are aware of expectations, safety issues, continuous improvement progress, and staying informed on key strategic initiatives intended to improve quality, experience, and safety. A shift huddle will help you reinforce teamwork and allows the team to share in a group so that everyone hears the same information. And being “lean,” in some cases the group can problem-solve issues on the spot.
Characteristics of Huddles: When, How, and Who
Shift huddles generally should occur at the beginning of the shift. You can also use a leadership huddle between shifts that allows your managers and supervisors to have a clean hand-off between shifts. The shift huddle should take no more than 5–8 minutes on average, though I always recommend a 15-minute huddle once a week using the SBCA Safety Program to supplement additional safety training or a more focused lean event. One thing to note, our teams do not have long attention spans, so going much past 5 minutes means you may start losing people. Keep in mind, a study done a few years ago that appeared in Time Magazine showed that most humans lose attention after 8 seconds.
During a huddle, leaders should begin with a “bright spot” or recognition of a team member(s) for a specific achievement. This allows your team to hear what is working well, and recognizing a team member for exhibiting a desired behavior also demonstrates what right looks like. Shift huddles should be a stand-up meeting, meaning that everyone is on their feet and attentive. The expectation is that the meeting will be fast and relevant.
It is critical to keep key metrics front and center during huddles and use visuals to focus the huddle on outcomes. Conduct huddles around the metric board or bring a visual representation of the metrics so the team can see this. This allows the team to interact and take ownership of the expectations and interact with each other on ways to improve. In addition, think about your scheduling and actually talk about where your team will be positioned in the operation. This keeps them focused at the end of the huddle on moving to that station right away. We want our teams to know that there is expectation placed on them; I think you will be surprised to know they also want it.
You may want to talk about a quick, quick, training tip that you want to share with your team. But if you do this, it is important to follow up during the shift as you are on your gemba walk and interact and reinforce that training tip.
A quick safety tip at the end of each huddle ensures we’re communicating that we want our team to be aware of their surroundings, aware of those working around us, and focused on going home in the same condition they arrived. In the work I do, I have also encouraged teams to stretch before they begin. A couple minutes to perform some stretching exercises before the end of the huddle or at the beginning will get their blood moving and begin to prepare their body for the work that needs to be done.
The shift huddle should involve everyone on the team. Communication is important and one of the biggest failures I find in companies. You can have a huddle for everyone on the production team, the yard team, the design team, the office team, etc. The importance is to have a consistent message and one that is applicable to that team.
As you are on the “floor” with the team during the shift, check in with an associate and ask them a question that will validate that something shared during the huddle was understood. If not, you may need to re-train or review if how it is communicated needs to be improved.
If you are not using Shift Huddles today, then one of your New Year Resolutions should be to begin this valuable tool. For just a few minutes of time spent each day, you will be rewarded with better communication, productivity, and engagement.
If you would like to learn more about this approach, or need assistance with other aspects of your operation, please give us a call. We would be glad to work with you as we have with hundreds of other companies over the past 8 years.
Ben Hershey is CEO of 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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