Making the Improbable a Reality with an Energized Culture

In our last blog post, we discussed the hidden costs of an unhealthy organizational culture. As a follow-up, let’s take a look of what can happen with a culture that is energized and led by the Golden Rule of management.

Here is the situation. The economy was quite strong, and we were operating at near full capacity at the Tonawanda Engine plant. Car sales were strong, and we undertook a major contract to upgrade the building where the new V6 engines were being manufactured. It was in the middle of winter, and the plant was cold with some of its walls open. The workers had to wear cold weather clothing while doing their jobs. The management crew, led by General Superintendent Jack Hughes, was trying to keep the workers as comfortable as possible. Management even contracted outside food venders to drive through the plant to provide hot coffee and food for the workers.

The president of Chevrolet visited the Tonawanda plant with a new request. The market forecast revealed that the company needed another 8,000 V6 engines before the end of the model year. We were already at capacity but confident that the workers would accept the challenge of this large order. We had no idea how to produce these engines in the middle of an already full schedule. Management called a meeting with workers to discuss this challenge and seek their input on how it could be met. 

We concluded that a new level of uptime would be required at the least, along with some extraordinary efforts on the part of the workers. In a new initiative to improve uptime, a special team of workers was chosen to focus on keeping the manufacturing processes running smoothly. This team responded to any and all problems on the manufacturing floor, providing quick resolutions that kept the lines running at full speed. Management and workers, with the support of the UAW leadership, worked together to meet this challenge of greater uptime.

When the model year ended, the 8,000 additional engines had indeed been produced. It was a happy crew that took a bow for that accomplishment. Could this increase in uptime and efficiency have been accomplished in the typical union shop culture? We believe not. This was an extraordinary accomplishment and a testimony to the partnership and healthy culture that existed at the Tonawanda plant. It is also an example of the Golden Rule of Management being followed. The combination of creative problem solving and leadership that treated workers with faith, trust, and respect made the improbable a reality.

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