First impressions

What do you see when you walk into your reception area, walk around your site, offices or factory?

The trouble with familiarity is that we tend not to see things that are out of place or just plain wrong because we see them every day. It is hard work to see something familiar with fresh eyes.

In 1993 I spent a year in Japan as the local Managing Director for a tier one automotive component company. Everywhere I went around Tokyo or on visits to customers and suppliers around the country was a challenge. Sometimes just getting across the station and successfully getting to my destination was an achievement!

But it made me see things in a different light. In Japan there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place! I soon appreciated that 5S housekeeping discipline went well beyond the factory gate and that the exemplary standards of urban organisation and cleanliness were an integral part of Japanese society.

Returning to Europe I went to visit a “showcase” plant of my then new employer. As the car turned into the site I could see that the grass, hedges and landscaping around the site were neglected. In fact I wondered if they were growing a hay crop.

On entering the main building there was no reception area, I was in a long blank corridor with offices at one end and the factory at the other. There was no “welcome to XYZ Ltd, this is what we do” display.

In the factory I was awestruck by the ingenuity of the home developed factory automation. It was truly world class.

But paint flakes were peeling off the walls and ceiling. The impressive highly automated cells sat in a swamp of dust and grime. It was soon clear that basic housekeeping was a very low priority. The facility had order, flow and minimal WIP but I feared for the health of the employees, the quality of the product and what would happen if one of those paint flakes landed in the delicate mechanism of the automated cells.

My meeting with the plant manager was not an easy one. He wanted the automotive client I could bring to his facility. I knew that my prospective client would take one look at the housekeeping standards and take the next flight home.

To be fair to the Plant Manager he did “see” and when I returned a week later with the client, the grass was cut, a deep clean-up was in progress with a plan to lift the housekeeping standards and repaint. My client was as impressed as I had been by the local automation ingenuity, loved the new found enthusiasm of the plant management team to raise standards and, we won the contract!

So next time you walk into your reception, walk around your site, offices and factory, what will you see?