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Creating Impactful Culture A view of NUMMI from the inside Executive overview During my formative working life I was very fortunate to be able to work at the NUMMI plant for six years. For those not familiar with NUMMI, the joint-venture was born in an old General Motors Fremont, CA, plant. GM wanted to understand the effective Toyota Production System, and Toyota wanted to see how that system could work with U.S. workers. I realized while I was working there that the experience was the equivalent of a second Master’s degree. It was clear to me that there was something unique and amazing going on at NUMMI. So rather than pursue an additional degree, I dug my heels in and decided to learn on the job. I learned many lessons during my six years there and imple-mented many of the concepts during my subsequent tenure in Human Resources. In this article I want to share with you some of those lessons that can be applied to improve a company’s culture and have a meaningful impact in any organization. Although each of these lessons can be implemented indepen-dently, a culture “system” becomes much more effective when all the pieces are heading toward a common goal or vision. Clarity and intention, or consciousness, are the keys to furthering any organization’s culture. What can be learned from the NUMMI experiment At NUMMI, prior to the launch of the Tacoma truck line, I was hired to work in the Human Resources department. I started in the training and development department of HR and then moved to the labor relations department, doing a final stint back where I started in the training and development department. During my tenure, I was privileged to help develop and build the Problem Solving Circles program (a name we used for the quality circle program). NUMMI was operating in the same plant as before, with the same workers, and the same union, but everything else was dif-ferent. The quality was outstanding and consistently recognized. For example, the Corolla was ranked “Best Compact Car in North America” in 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2006. The Tacoma was ranked “Best Compact Pickup in North America” in 2002 and 2007. The plant was an effective machine. I have been reflecting on the lessons that can be used today from what I learned working at NUMMI during its “experiment” of sorts. This article draws some conclusions and presents what I think are the most important points to review and consider as people in business strive for continuous improvement, effective communication and decision making. This is both a complex and simple story. The complexity is related to all of the different pieces that create the perception and feel of simplicity. The autoworkers had so much clarity on the job that it felt simple for them to perform effectively. It took great thought by management to be able to communicate what their jobs were and what the proper training and tools were needed for them to be successful. The following components led to the company’s well-thought-out system. Clearly understood and expressed values At the center of the culture were clearly expressed values of mutual trust and respect, teamwork, equity, and involvement. There are many tangible and visual symbols that reinforced these values every day at work. The four values or cornerstones as they were named at NUMMI are listed here. They are not meant to be independent of each other, but rather are completely dependent on each other. It is easy to see the links between teamwork, involvement, equity and mutual trust and respect. It is one of the examples of brilliant simplification. The challenge of all organizations is to determine values that truly describe who they are, which then encourages behavior that will make the organization uniquely successful. Mutual trust and respect – This was probably the most impor-tant value at NUMMI. It showed up at work in many different ways. One of the more visible examples was the “andon” cord, a cord that could be pulled at every workstation. If an employee pulled the cord, the line stopped. To understand the impact pulling on this cord had, nearly every employee was forced to be idle until the line started up again. About 2,000 employees were placed in waiting mode. The “andon” cord symbolized that each employee had a critical role in ensuring that every car passing by his or her workstation met with the level of quality expected. The employees had both the power and obligation to contribute toward that goal. Teamwork – The plant was set up in teams and groups. A team consisted of about five employees with one team leader. A group consisted of three or four teams with a group leader. Team members, as they were called, were expected to learn all the jobs in the team. To reduce boredom and injury, team members rotated every 2 ½ hours. This required not only cross training, but it also resulted in a balanced workload. Rotation added to the feeling of being a member of the team and the importance of teamwork. Equity – One vivid example of equity was the open office. Every employee had the same size desk in one of several large rooms. The only exception was the president who had his own office. To fully understand the significance of this, the vice president of manufacturing who had thousands of employees under him was seated several feet away from his direct reports. And he faced all of their direct reports in the same open area. When I attended a meeting in his area, I passed his desk only a few feet away from the walkway. This strongly symbolized the equity concept. Involvement – One of many examples of involvement was the suggestion program. More than 70 percent of the employees provided at least one suggestion, while many provided more then one suggestion. With more than 4,000 employees, there By Russ Elliot Interactive Leadership Excellence Essentials presented by HR.com | 01.2016 Submit your Articles 21


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