Your People Are Not Usually The Real Problem

toyotalogoMost companies when faced with a need to grow revenue ultimately end up deciding to change people. They may change certain sales people, or they may try to hire a superstar from another company, or they may just change the VP or Director of Sales. These changes don’t usually work any better than dropping the bottom 10% of your sales force each year has proven to not work. (If it had worked, Texas Instruments, which was famous for dropping the bottom 10% of its workforce every year, would be the hands down leader in the semiconductor business instead of an after-thought.)

Deming taught 50 years ago that people are not usually the problem, it’s the process they work in that’s the problem. I was reminded of this again by reviewing a brief history of the General Motors (GM) plant in Fremont CA, which is now the Tesla factory.

GM closed the plant in 1982 because it was one of the worst plants in the country. It’s output included more defects and at higher cost than nearly any other US plant. Absenteeism at the facility was about 20% per day, and drug and alcohol abuse was rampant.

The plant was re-opened in 1985 as a joint venture between Toyota and GM, called New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI). Toyota ran the plant. 85% of the first workforce were previously employees of the GM facility, and they were still UAW members. Toyota sent 400 trainers from Japan to train the workers prior to the plant re-opening.

The new plant produced some of the highest quality, lowest cost cars in the US, and absenteeism had dropped to less than 3%.  Same people, different process.

Every process is perfectly constructed to produce the results it does. If you want different results, rather than keep changing people and hoping this time you’ll get good ones, consider looking at the process in which you have them working.


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