Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Planning for continuous employee development.

Ford Romeo design idea #4. Continuous employee development.

The hourly workforce had never built engines before so considerable technical training was required both prior and subsequent to start-up. Since the plant emphasized decentralized decision-making and cross-functional teamwork and the workforce had no previous experience with these ideas, extensive employee social-skill development was required prior to and after startup. In addition to new technical skills, training was also provided to develop business skills so employees could understand the goals set forth in the Romeo mission statement and be responsible for tracking their progress in meeting them.

Several delivery systems were used to provide training for employee technical, social and business development at Romeo. These included instructor led classroom training, off-site seminars, video training, stand-up computer-based training, self-instructional computer-based training, interactive video training, and experiential on-the-job training. Most classroom training was developed and presented by Romeo employees, most often by the managers and sometimes by the union leaders. These instructors were given “Train the Trainer” courses prior to developing and delivering their programs, with special emphasis on including group and team-based activities.

Many benefits were gained when plant leaders acted as instructors:

- First, they built learning relationships with the other employees, and were respected as experts in the content being covered. Over time, this developed into an on-going working relationship where the employees felt more and more comfortable calling on the instructors when there was a problem related to their functional specialty.

- Second, as managers and union officials taught courses in their areas of expertise, the plant's leaders were perceived to be competent and approachable, instead of distant and removed from day-to-day operations which was traditionally the norm in the industry.

- Third, regular interaction in the classroom kept the leadership up-to-date about issues developing on the plant floor.

- Fourth, employees got their questions answered directly by those who were the most knowledgeable in the plant about the topics of concern.

- Fifth, there was visible consistency between the training and the plant’s operating philosophy, which stated that the role of management and the union was “to assure people have the atmosphere, resources and abilities to do what's needed to produce the highest quality production engines in the world, and to develop teams of employees who are the best engine builders in the world.”

During commissioning and start-up, many one and two-day off-site team planning and training sessions were conducted, some involving up to 600 people in the same place at the same time (a large auditorium was built and subsequently donated to a local church to make this possible). These sessions focused on dealing with actual situations being experienced by the employees during start-up rather than reviewing abstract management theory.

Some of the tasks undertaken during these meetings included:
- clarifying the plant’s mission and operating philosophy;
- reviewing it’s application in real life situations to be sure everyone understood what was intended and implied;
- analyzing how well individual work groups were functioning;
- clarifying the responsibilities and accountabilities of individuals and teams; and
- resolving problems within and between operating departments in the plant.

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