Setting a World Record Pt. 2
In our last blog, we presented the planning that took place in preparation for a special day of engine production at the Tonawanda Engine Plant. The purpose for that plan was to determine what the actual engine production per day could be. Everyone in the plant participated. At that time, there was no intent to set a world record, but all were aware of the potential to outperform the capability of competitors in the world of engine manufacturers.
As we stated in our earlier blog, the final count of quality engines produced at the end of that day was 8,832. There was substantial jubilation across the entire plant at that announcement. The immediate question of the day, once the real engine production potential had been established, was “How should this knowledge be used?” For starters, management at the plant decided to make a rare announcement of this new accomplishment to the top management at General Motors headquarters in Detroit. Telegrams were sent to the two top officers of GM. After all, it was thought, the production capability of its manufacturing plants is critically important for future planning purposes.
The telegrams were sent just before 8:00 AM. Plant management had no idea what kind of response they might get, but at the very least, they expected a positive reaction. What they got was not what was expected. The telephones rang at 8:05 AM, with a call from the president of GM, who wanted to know if the plant had spent any extra money to set a record production day. The response was that engine production cost for that day was the lowest ever, due to the high volume, and that ended the call. The next call was from the chairman of the board, and his question was whether quality was compromised
in some way in reaching this record production. The response was that engine quality was the best ever recorded. There were no unusual quality problems, repairs, or engines left over when production reached the end of the normal shift.
While it was proper for the two top GM officers to be concerned with cost and quality, they missed the significance of what had just happened at their Tonawanda Engine Plant. In a manufacturing plant with over 4,000 workers, there is a huge amount of human energy available to accomplish the work on any given day, but unleashing that energy depends on a whole host of circumstances. Ultimately, it is the workers who control how much energy will be released. We are convinced that the major reason for the surge in energy that led to the world record that day was the healthy culture that existed at the Tonawanda Engine Plant. This culture accounted for the difference between a minimal effort and the energy that produced the world record. As we have written before, a healthy culture is based on the Golden Rule of Management, which combines the natural desire for people to want to be successful with the human need to be treated with faith, trust, and respect.
In setting a world record, something very unusual happened. Nobody objected to the fact
that on that special day the goal of maximum production superseded the day-to-day compliance with many of the management and union operating rules and contracts. There were no complaints from anyone. It was, in fact, one of friendliest days of work that had ever been observed at the plant. The implications of this experience went beyond the one-day record-breaking productivity. There is a real competitive advantage for any business to harness the energy that exists in its workforce. This is the clear message in our book, Unleashing Human Energy through Culture Change.