Focus On: Managing a Kiln Factory
Company President Todd Lokash discusses some of the ideas he is bringing to Paragon.
Last October, Todd Lokash became the new president of Paragon Industries L.P., an electric kiln manufacturer in Mesquite, Texas. In this interview, Lokash discusses some of the ideas he is bringing to Paragon.
What are some of the unique challenges you have found in the kiln industry?
Other than it’s a new industry to me, manufacturing is manufacturing. Trains, planes, kilns, boats—manufacturing is manufacturing. All the same principles work.
You are planning on bringing 5S to Paragon. What is 5S?
5S is a process of eliminating waste from manufacturing. A well-organized and visual environment is needed to implement and manage lean manufacturing. 5S provides the organization and creates a visual work place. 5S is the foundation of a lean manufacturing operation. The 5Ss are Sort, Straighten, Shine, Standardize, and Sustain. The 5th S is the most important and most challenging.
What are the typical changes that you have seen in factories after lean has been started?
Energized employees, friendly competition, a boost in morale and improved efficiency. Employees feel a sense of ownership. Everyone wants the best scores in their audit, so this turns into friendly morale-building competition between work centers. People start enjoying coming to work.
How does lean accomplish that?
The workplace becomes visual, so anyone can walk up to a work center and know exactly where everything is and know exactly what that work center is to do next. Lean eliminates confusion or misunderstanding by showing what needs to be done next.
When you say visual, do you mean charts?
Usually I like to have an information board at each work center, which shows people their progress in the work flow. On these boards I like to post the results of all the other work centers. So from one glance at the boards, everybody tries to be the best, and they gun for whoever happens to be in the lead at that point.
So it helps to make a game out of work.
The biggest value is the pride and sense of ownership that comes with lean. Everyone starts understanding the value they bring to the company. And if they don’t do their part, they’re letting down their peers. The opportunities in lean manufacturing are endless. The production capacity will increase, yet employees will be rested. They will have the tools they need to do their job in the best way they can. Those are the first big steps. That’s all part of a true lean environment.
Does lean encourage people to think?
It gives factory workers time to think. Instead of push, push, push, it’s a pull system. Instead of someone behind pushing them to go forward, the work centers pull the work forward, so they know what’s coming. Since they know what’s coming toward them, they know what to do now so they can efficiently transition into the next task that is coming. There is a big difference between pushing from the beginning of the line and pulling from the end.
In a nutshell, what is servant leadership?
Servant leadership builds organizations that are based on trust and respect, with constant recognition of the value all employees provide to the organization and to each other.
What are the most useful lessons that you have learned from the study of servant leadership?
Treat others as you like to be treated. Consider everyone’s “emotional bank accounts” in everyday decisions. Trust and respect are the keys to success. Always listen, and listen well.
How do employees usually respond to servant leadership when exposed to it the first time?
First, I’m not saying this is happening at Paragon. But speaking in general, if you show up in an operation where people have not been trusted or respected, and you try to include them and encourage them in expressing their ideas, they think, this guy is crazy. What’s going on here? What’s he trying to get out of me? It blows them away.
As a servant leader, my motto is: “What can I do for you today?” Sometimes it takes a while, but trust and respect start to build. As the people who bring tremendous value to the company are consistently recognized, trust forms. Everyone opens up and starts sharing ideas. The team environment flourishes. For instance, if the round kiln line is slammed, maybe the square kiln line can take some work to take the pressure off the round line.
Servant leadership makes everyone’s work experience much more satisfying, much for meaningful. Most people, I find, get great satisfaction out of being helpful to others. As a self-measure, I prefer significance to success. The charge that I get out of a job well done is the satisfaction that I know I utilized every person I could, got all the appropriate people involved, listened very clearly to their thoughts, and either accepted their ideas or showed them down the road why an idea wouldn’t work in a particular situation.
So you measure success by the level of significance rather than by money alone.
Yes. I could make a lot of money in a crack-the-whip environment and be miserable. Or I could help people develop professionally and derive great satisfaction, especially because professional success automatically overflows into the employee’s personal lives as well. When you build an environment like that, the company automatically flourishes.
Does servant leadership create an idea factory?
Yes. You have to listen. You’re still guiding the ship, but you’re taking everything into consideration, and you’re not making drastic changes without letting everyone know about it, because someone else in the factory probably has a better idea. In most cases the people with those ideas are right under your nose. The challenge is to get people to reveal what’s on their mind, to foster the culture where they feel trusted and comfortable in doing that.
One way to shut someone up forever is to listen to their idea and to say right in front of them and their peers, “Oh, that will never work.” Everyone has ideas. An idea from one person might lead to a better idea from someone else. Free expression of ideas gets everybody in the room thinking. Nine times out of 10 when someone at a meeting presents an idea that somehow won’t work by itself, the idea results in a collaborative effort to find a better solution. A single good idea can result in 10 times the previous results. “We’re 10 times better off than we were,” or “Everyone gets to go home early today.” You don’t want anybody to clam up or feel they can’t share what they feel they have to offer to the success of the company.
I am amazed at our latest customer service meetings, which have become think tanks.
All the reps have great ideas. In the meetings, at least one of the ideas clicks in everybody’s minds, and then we spend 15 minutes talking about that. Great ideas come out of open conversation. Then everyone goes away from the meeting and still thinks about it. Then we bring more ideas to the next meeting. That’s the first step—making everyone feel comfortable. It’s okay to say something even if it makes no sense to anyone else.
Servant leadership creates a very respectful, trustworthy team environment where people constantly learn from each other. I learn more from the customer service reps than I could probably ever teach them. My biggest challenge is just to get them to share their thoughts and then let them know that there are no dumb ideas. This leads to a very collaborative effort for the greater good of the company.
How does servant leadership affect personal lives outside the workplace?
A good leader recognizes that people have lives outside of work and understands the extreme importance of family. A good leader places family well above anything that has to do with work. Even though we may like to work, there are more important things in life than work. Putting that in perspective and treating employees with respect will create a very loyal, trusting, and dedicated workforce.
How does servant leadership affect you, as the leader?
Servant leadership is about making life better and more meaningful. “Service above self” says everything. When you want to help someone become better, it usually comes back to you tenfold. And a true servant leader doesn’t even care if it does. Building a great manufacturing team and, for instance, helping people become manufacturing executives and changing their lives is more satisfying than any big bonus or paycheck you can get. But while you’re doing that, you’re also building a successful, profitable organization.
Servant leadership isn’t just for within your organization. You should treat your suppliers and your customers the same way. It is building not just a better workplace, but a better overall quality of life, where you treat everybody like you would want to be treated.
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