Not unlike the weather - tempestuous at times - growing a business can have its challenges - bringing havoc and chaos to best laid plans and strategies for success - leaving us wind-blown, if you will, in a three step forward two step back scenario. Since any number of complications might develop as growth incurs, having a weather-proof cloak of solid leadership, detailed plans, clear lines of accountability, expectations and communication can certainly ready us for that potential tornado of challenges...
As you may have guessed from above, given the nature of our topic, it only seemed appropriate that Mother Nature elected to make the force of her presence known. For those who successfully navigated through her winter wrath, Members present had an opportunity to participate in a very interactive and candid networking session.
We were delighted to have Blommer Chocolate Company of Canada in Campbellford offer to host this month's Food and Beverage and Belleville Regional SIG Event - but even more so when they elected to share their down-to-earth experiences around growth - particularly what happens when a company grows at a rapid pace. The outcomes are not always as you think, and our presenters were keen to share what went wrong and how that permeated every layer of the organization aptly titling their overview: "Be Careful What you Wish For - A Modern Day Manufacturing Fable".
Blommer is the largest manufacturer of cocoa products in North America. The company has 650 employees in five plants throughout the USA and one in Canada in Campbellford, Ontario. They service the confectionary, baking and dairy industries. In 2010, Blommer Chocolate won the EMC Award of Excellence for their efforts in lean manufacturing, leadership and cultural excellence. It's a company that has always tried it's best to put its people first.
In 2006, Blommer purchased the Campbellford facility from World's Finest Chocolate and moved to manufacturing speciality coatings. The initial workforce has tripled in size with most new employees having joined in the past 18 months.
Our speakers thought they were ready for growth - they believed they had the right structures in place - but they came to realize that they had not fully assessed all aspects of the business up front and they were not as ready as they thought they were. There were pieces of the puzzle missing. Doug Harper, General Manager, and Nancy Johnston, HR Manager, wanted to share their journey so that others might be aware of pitfalls and how to avoid them. It was an honest down-to-earth presentation about how to get ahead of the curve.
Some time ago, thinking from a sustainable continuous improvement perspective, they started a lean journey - totally understanding that the culture piece was essential. In general, most companies are working on some kind of continuous improvement model (which may or may not be called Lean) and embracing next steps in growth. Doug cited a Plant Magazine article from some time ago that revealed some rather interesting statistics relating to lean journey participation:
- For those embarking on a lean journey - 90% are out in 6 months...
- For the 10% left, 90% of those are out in 6 months after that...
This story of rapid growth began less than 2 years ago and has seen volumes at Blommer Canada more than double in just 15 months. This increased production requirements brought with it a flurry of challenges such as:
- Multiple major equipment installs taking place at the same time during the busiest production season
- Numerous complications relating to processing parameters/ product specifications/ mechanical issues
- Overseas support for equipment was challenging due to time zone difference and travel logistics
- Tight capacity timing commitments on both existing and new processes
- Lack of experience running new products and processes
- Exposure of numerous system "work-arounds" and temporary "patches" that no longer carried the day
- Reporting structures that resulted in confusion over "assumed" responsibilities
- An increase in staffing of 75% during this growth period that were on-boarded without sufficient/ effective training
- Lack of sufficient on-site technical support
Leadership plays a huge role in navigating the course of any business development, and although there was a strong management team in Campbellford, when Doug was promoted to a position that provided him with responsibility for all of the Blommer manufacturing facilities, he found himself with less time to concentrate on the issues in Ontario. The management team found itself without a leader. What makes for a high functioning team is not necessarily the same in the absence of a leader. An effective management team must have a leader.
"There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in a storm." - Willa Cather
So, what have they learned - or as our Presenters put it: "The Calm After the Storm":
- Test your assumptions and assess your readiness in all areas of your business
- "Work-arounds" and patches appear to be cleaver solutions but are just constraints in disguise
- Clear expectations and accountability
- Getting agreement on expectations that are consistent with the available resources
- Need detailed plans
- No last minute un-vetted scope changes to projects
- Put the necessary resources in places early enough to get the benefit
- Get clarity on roles and responsibilities especially if your organization uses a mixture of direct/indirect reporting lines
- A "present" leader is a necessity
- Be prepared to deal with stress and chaos (recognize it) but work to minimize it by being well prepared
- Don't forget your people when the process becomes a challenge - engage them and be supportive
The opportunity for a general Q&A session opened the door for discussion on a variety of issues that Members present and our Host shared experiences on:
- Working in vs. on the business
- New equipment - 10% holdback
- Commissioning process - need agreed upon benchmarks that should be met
- Spec sheet - what does it say it can do - get engineer to document that this is what it's supposed to do
- Get agreement up front - what does that look like for both parties to be happy
- Productivity versus performance challenges
- The challenges of culture and engagement - which is always a struggle - and getting people to show up for work every day
- Good leaders are essential and are linch-pins for the whole organization
- Recognize and reward good people and others will follow
- Doug will have a Pizza Lunch once a week at Blommer where 6-7 employees are invited for lunch - best $37 he ever spends
- Training time issues - if you do not train, then you pay for it in mistakes and loss productivity
- Progressive discipline processes - coach, counsel, letter and suspension
- Have a 90-day plan with expectations that have to be met - here are the clear expectations by 15/30/60/90 days and if benchmarks are not measured then let them go right away
- Termination - well thought out, fully investigated and planned
- Discipline is harder because there may be another side of the story
- Wrongful dismissal
- Need consequences and without consequences there is not accountability
- People do things because you tell them to, or because they like you, or because they know it the right thing to do - evolve to the latter through a sound culture
"In manufacturing, everything is people..." "Fixing people is the hardest part..."
Doug and Nancy were asked for some final thoughts around the topic at hand:
- Do a detailed plan - start at 30,000' level
- Test your assumptions/ assess your readiness
- Set clear expectations, identify resources and accountabilities
- Stress and chaos - minimize it by having a good plan and manage it by getting key people together and engaging them when you see it coming
This was a wonderful session, fraught with excellent and, as promised, honest down-to-earth discussion.
Trusting that this gives you some ideas and perspectives that will help you should you be faced with circumstances that leave you somewhat wind-blown and without a weather-proof cloak!
Special, special, special thanks to our Host and Presenters from Blommer Chocolate Company of Canada!!
All the best as always,
Bren de Leeuw, Sr. Community Development & Food and Beverage Program Manager