Put employees first?

In addition to showcasing various manufacturing technologies, the recent NMW in Chicago had some neat presentations. Bruce Hamilton, a former manager of IT and productions departments and now a consultant, spoke on "Lean" and the underlying idea that "Less is More." He says Americans like "big ideads, big changes, and big everything in implementing change for the better. But we look in the wrong places. Usually, companies attempt to do things "easier, better, faster, and cheaper." And they always start with "cheaper."

Hamilton then gave the example of GM, which in the 1970s spent $40 million to build a lights-out factory to get rid of people. Trouble is, improvement comes from employees who are doing the actual work, through the small changes they make over time for the better. He says our schools are in the Dark Ages in terms of Lean. Kids don't learn by memorizing stuff, as schools seem to think. Rather, anyone learns better through what is called "tacit learning" — that is, by making mistakes. An example of a company phislosophy that works is that of Toyota, says Hamilton. The company's thinking is summed by the acronym "TPS." On one hand, this stands for "Toyota Production System." But, more interestingly, it also stands for "Thinking People System." A big reason for the success of the company is that it puts its people first — and not in such a way to forget about profit.

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