Continuous Improvement Conference: Aim to Constantly Reach Higher
The final day of the 2022 Continuous Improvement (CI) Conference served as a benediction of sorts; a cluster of presentations designed to inspire and motivate attendees before they depart, returning to the trenches of their day-to-day lives.
Walking and Talking
In his general session presentation, “Our Transformation: From 5S to Gemba Walks,” Dave Macfarlane, president at IC Group (Salt Lake City, Utah), shared the lean journey of the 40-year-old, 160-person company that serves healthcare, financial, and higher-education customers. Recounting efforts to use continuous improvement to reduce waste and meet stringent requirements, he said the IC Group team instituted daily Gemba walks in the operation. In so doing, he has been able to improve communication and address issues before they become problems. Macfarlane said he found it difficult to get the company’s CI effort off the ground until he added a dedicated manager. He added that success includes engaging the youngest, least-experienced employees, and taking steps to mitigate the effect of nay-sayers, either by winning them over or understanding that they may ultimately take their leave. Of the effort, Macfarlane said, “lean and CI are a part of our culture now.”
What Makes a Leader?
In her presentation, “Breaking the Telling Habit,” Katie Anderson, founder and principal consultant, Katie Anderson Consulting, provided illuminating examples of why great leaders shouldn’t have all the answers. By solving problems themselves, she said, managers simultaneously burden themselves and disempower their teams. Earlier in her career, Anderson, a self-titled former “telling addict,” said she was not aware of her own negative impact. She talked over fellow team members, telling all her ideas. In her enthusiasm, she wanted to contribute; she found it easier to offer solutions, not leaving space for learning. Anderson said a leader’s purpose is to set the direction, which is a telling aspect. It is also about providing support — to create conditions for learning. Finally, Anderson said, leaders must develop themselves.
Aim High, Reach High
In the day’s final presentation, “Purposeful Culture for High Performance,” Wendi Brewer, CEO at SeaChange (Minneapolis, Minnesota), described that while many organizations desire – and even reach for – high performance, they often lack the culture to achieve it. Brewer sees herself as “keeper of the culture” at SeaChange, committed to creating a culture where there isn’t “carpet” versus “cement.” She presented her own strategies for a winning culture: The Number One need of employees is to feel they are important. “The best way,” Brewer said, “is to know them.” Second, listen to them. “To be heard,” she said, “is to be valued.” Finally, communicate with them. Brewer shared how careful, thoughtful communication from a variety of voices served to bolster, for instance, the sharing of company core values. To communicate, she shared, also includes asking the hard questions and acting with intention.
The conference concluded with a plant tour of Runbeck Election Services (Phoenix, AZ), a leading producer of election ballots. Using cutting-edge software in an area that requires nothing short of perfection, the company has used lean concepts and methodologies to preserve the integrity of the American democratic process. With lean practices on full display in this uniquely focused printing facility, conference attendees were able to experience first-hand the reasons for, and benefits of, lean.
About the broader CI Conference experience, Tim Drey, director of Quality and Operational Excellence at DuraTech Industries, who serves on the CI Conference advisory committee, said, “the PRINTING United Alliance Continuous Improvement Conference is a perfect event for all printing partners. Whether they’re printers, converters, suppliers or end users, and no matter the maturity of their lean knowledge, there were valuable takeaways for any change leader, regardless of where they are on their journey.”