Setting a World Record

Question: In a union shop with a history of hostility, can management gain the cooperation of workers to test the maximum capacity of a manufacturing plant?

Answer: Yes; read how below.

Don Rust and his Tonawanda Engine Plant management team dedicated themselves to converting a negative organizational culture into a healthy one by partnering with the United Auto Workers and improving the relationship between supervisors and workers at the plant. At the same time, auto sales were getting stronger, and there was concern that the plant might not have the capacity to produce enough engines to meet demand. During regular meetings of the operating staff, which included workers and union officials, the importance of meeting production goals was often discussed. Management knew the true capacity the plant was tooled to produce, but in operational planning, there are normally allowances built in to allow for day-to-day maintenance activities and other factors that might prevent the plant from producing to its maximum theoretical output. The question came up about what the real capacity was and how best to test it.

After a short period of production planning, the committee decided to set a day for an all-out effort to test the actual engine-production capacity of the plant. To be successful, it was crucial for management, the union, and workers to be totally committed to this test. This level of commitment would have been impossible if it were not for the positive culture change at the plant. The union and workers were not only committed; they were excited and eager to see how many engines they could produce.

The date for the test arrived, and everyone was involved in the goal of all-out production, including Don. Throughout the day, there were no unanticipated problems--save one. Don had been assigned to one of the lines and was quickly told he was slowing things down. He was politely asked to leave the line in favor of another worker. Don knew this was the workers having fun with him and took his demotion in the spirit that was intended. At the end of the day, there were no product quality issues or unusual cost problems. Minor problems had been eliminated as soon as possible during the course of the day. Everyone was curious about the number of engines produced but would have to wait until the next day to find out.

When the final count of engines produced was announced, everyone was surprised to learn they had produced 8,832 high-quality engines, surpassing the forecast. No engine plant in the world was known to have produced this number of engines in one day. They believed they had set a world record.  

The workforce experienced a sense of accomplishment and pride in setting the record. It was abundantly clear that a great deal of human energy had been released, above and beyond what an otherwise normal day would have generated. There is little question that the plant’s positive culture, based on faith, trust, and respect shown to workers and union officials, had been reciprocated with a tremendous effort and performance. 

Management never used the record production day as leverage to set a new standard for production. But they now knew that the plant’s new culture was such that when a special effort was needed to produce more engines, the workforce would expend the energy needed to make them.

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Marie Pazych