Not surprisingly, training is a foundational element of the progressive culture at The C.A. Lawton Co. In this interview, Continuous Improvement LEAN Coach Randy Thyrion explains the company’s enlightened approach to it.
What is a standard work initiative, and how does it help employees to retain new knowledge and skills?
Thyrion: It’s a tool created by the coach and supervisor as a follow-up to hands-on training for an employee. The working supervisor first shows the employee how to perform a new task. Next, the employee performs it, while the working supervisor watches. This could take anywhere from a week to six months, depending upon the complexity of the task or process to be learned.
Finally, when the employee is comfortable doing the work independently, he or she is given a standard work document as a reference. It contains a step-by-step description of the task, accompanied by pictures. If dimensions, work orientation or other key elements must be communicated to the employee, those are also spelled out in the standard work document.
What this means is that the employee has a complete documentation of the task process that he or she can refer to if he or she gets get stuck.
Can you give us an example of Lawton’s extraordinary commitment to training?
Thyrion: I’m a perfect example of that. I’ve worked for Lawton for over 30 years. I came to the company when I was 22 years old, fresh out of the military. Through the years, the Lawton family has always been there for me. They helped me with my education, invested in my supervisor training and more. They really believe in helping their people grow, personally and professionally. When you hear Lawton employees say this company is like a big family, it’s no exaggeration. It really is that way!
Tell us about the weekly one-on-one meetings between employees and their supervisors. What’s the thinking behind them?
Thyrion: They’ve been designed with the needs of Lawton employees in mind. For the first 10 minutes of each meeting, the employee leads the conversation. This is a “safe” place where employees can bring up any workplace issues, ask questions or let their supervisors know what they need to do their jobs better.
For the next 10 minutes, the supervisor leads the discussion. This is where he or she can coach the employee on work improvements and deal with any other job-related issues.
Finally, in the last 10 minutes, they have a dialog about how to build the employee’s future with Lawton. Where do they want to be in 10 years? Are they interested in expanding their role into engineering or leadership? Lawton works with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay for skills training. We also send people to Dale Carnegie courses for leadership training.
These one-on-one meetings have enabled me to build amazing relationships between myself and the people who report to me. It creates happier employees and cultivates a lot of employee loyalty to the company.
Lawton: How long has Lawton been doing these weekly one-on-ones?
Thyrion: About two years. It took a while for employees to learn to trust them. But now that they see that the leadership team is committed to these meetings and that they really are beneficial, they really like them.
How do these training activities fit into Lawton’s LEAN journey?
Thyrion: They’re an integral part of it. In order for continuous improvement and LEAN to work, there needs to be a lot of open communication. The employees I talk to really appreciate that the leadership team is communicating with them more frequently about the company’s values and direction, and why we’re doing the things we’re doing as a company. I only see things continuing to get better as we travel on our LEAN journey.
What’s special about feedback in the Lawton culture?
Thyrion: One of the values that the leadership team is really committed to is feedback. They require themselves to communicate openly and frequently with employees. They do employee surveys several times a year to ensure the quality of that communication.
Also, all employees and supervisors have been trained on how to give feedback. Here’s how it works: If I see you doing a task within your workstation and you’re doing it in an unsafe way, I can give you feedback. The first step is to ask if I can do so. Once you say yes, I must first state what I observed and then I give you feedback on how you ought to do the task in a safer or more productive way.
The whole thrust of this approach to feedback is enabling positive communication and improvement. There’s nothing negative or punitive about it. It discusses behaviors, the impact of that behavior and encourages effective future behavior.
What does the future of remarkable training look like at Lawton?
Thyrion: I’ll give you one example of an experiment that I’m involved in that’s part of our commitment to continuous improvement: We have three coaches, one assigned to each section of the foundry – north, south and middle. We’ve recently instituted a continuous improvement practice where we will rotate positions once a year. We believe this will help us do a better job of supporting each other. It will also give us an expanded awareness the ways in which our work practices affect our colleagues in the other two areas. So I guess you could say we’re guinea pigs. We’ll see how it works!