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Employee Development: Path to a Lean Supply Chain

Sean Ito | 14 April 2021

As a fundamental element, supply chain and logistics requires delivering a quality product to the consumer. The details behind quality product and on time delivery are complex and filled with complexities such as distribution center locations, advanced automation technologies, product specifications, throughput goals, and software support. And, while selecting the right automation equipment is important for a company’s competitive advantage, sustainable growth is most centered around the people. Lean supply chain management and the operational success is a product of the strength of your human resources. How do you create and foster sustainable human resource growth? 

While COVID-19 has forced companies to shift priorities and adjust manufacturing processes to deal with changing consumer demand and new safety precautions, the fundamentals continue to hold true for employee development: clarify goals and direction, identify the challenges, promote learning, and put that learning into practice.

Hoshin (strategy)

Whether your facility operates in a local market or reaches globally, it’s important to have a working environment with a clear strategy (hoshin, in Japanese), where each member knows their role and contribution towards that mission. The success in carrying that message through all aspects of your operations is ultimately reflected in the quality of your products and services, which was earlier defined as the key fundamental element. 

Kaizen, a Japanese business philosophy that seeks continuous improvement in the efficiency of work methods and labor, is the inspiration for the well-known Toyota Production System (TPS).

The people of your organization are a path to support lean manufacturing and Kaizen. “Good thinking” is developed by inviting employees to feel part of the process and sharing in the direction and encouraging them to think outside of the norm. To do this we need to understand our employees’ thoughts and cultures and know what drives new generations of employees.

Identify the Challenges

In addition to employee culture, workplace culture also plays a role in creating an environment that fosters sustainable growth. Before you start making changes to employee development, it’s important to review current practices and identify if any of these exist in your workplace.

  • Tacit or implicit knowledge – Undocumented knowledge that is inherently learned through experience is difficult to transfer and share with others.
  • Inflexible and slow to move forward – The ability to act on ideas, concepts or directions is crucial to maintaining flexibility and staying competitive.
  • Ambiguous directives – Reliable information transfer isn’t possible when directives are unclear.
  • Lack of accountability and responsibility – A lack of accountability creates reduced workforce engagement.
  • Reactionary environment – Acting after something happens puts you behind. Encourage a proactive culture.
  • High-level sights – Large goals need specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound objectives to make them happen.
  • Subjective thinking – Subjective opinions should be backed by objective data and research that account for your customers, products, global factors, and the industry.

Promote and Create Learning Opportunities

Creating a positive workplace culture in order to minimize employee development challenges includes creating space for learning opportunities. Employers must make knowledge transfer and development accessible for their team, which then helps to promote growth both for the individuals and your company as a whole.

  1. Knowledge backed by practice

In our day-to-day work, we often encounter various problems on the way to achieving our goals. The important takeaway in this experience is how we solved those problems. What did we do to solve them? How could we have been proactive? What was the solution, and can it be applied elsewhere? We can then take those learnings into new projects.

  1. Knowledge-based knowledge

Learning opportunities isn’t just an individual endeavor. A company is only as strong as its people, after all. “Good thinking” is encouraged through sharing experiences, solutions, and problems. A database with accumulated know-how is created, within your team.

  1. A strong will to keep doing

Creating a culture, both for the entire company and workplace, that values its customers is reflected in strong-customer loyalty. Your team will strive towards high quality and on-time delivery not just before or during projects but also post-process.

Practice

During my time in Poland in 2003, where I was assigned to set up a new production plant, it was crucial to create a roadmap for employee development over the medium and long-term period. Our employees needed to understand knowledge growth, through practice and shared information.

I encouraged on-site training when employees started at the production plant. Through this, a developed understanding was created around the acceptance of parts, the packaging and delivery of products, and the equalization of shipping times. In equipment installation, they understand details like wiring methods, hardware shape, layouts, and more. These are details that could only have been learned through experience in the field. Even if aspects were taught in university, every process is unique, products are different, and variables change.

In this case, the team took this knowledge and factored for these needs in their designs, project management approaches and many other aspects of their work. Over time, the importance of these details, which go beyond engineering drawings and general lists, were shared across the team creating growth and elevating quality.

Build a Strong Team, Develop the Company

Our teams are our treasures. They are the key to fostering creativity, unique solutions, and sustainable growth with a differentiated product for our customers. 

My 30 years of work experience around the globe, have established this value. Cultivating a strong team will encompass the whole company; all departments, divisions, and the individuals. Bastian Solutions recognizes this principle in our core values in “our commitment to people” to deliver the best material handling and logistics solution innovation and building lasting partnerships through teamwork, collaboration and trust. 

Author: Satoshi "Sean" Ito

Sean is Director of Corporate Quality with Bastian Solutions. He has an engineering degree in electromechanical instrumentation and maintenance technologies. Bringing 30 years of project management and manufacturing and logistics knowledge, Sean has worked with Toyota Manufacturing and Industries Corporation and more recently, Toyota Advanced Logistics North America. Since 2017 after acquisition, he came to the US to start the install of TPS & Toyota Culture for Bastian Solutions’ manufacturing business units. It was a success and now his focus is on other business units to develop our entire solution quality.

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