How to Motivate Your Team Part 2

15th December, 2013 No Comments Blog

I thought I would provide a real-world example of the motivational technique, providing a compelling vision, that I wrote about in my last blog post.

When I was in college, I worked for General Mills at a cereal plant in Buffalo, New York.  The company made Cheerios, Wheaties, Lucky Charms, and other cereals in this facility.  (Aside:  one of the job’s perks was shipments of cases of cereal to my apartment.  Lucky Charms are a surprisingly hot commodity on a college campus.)   All tolled, the plant probably produced half a dozen types of cereal, but did so using only a couple of production lines.  Because some of the cereals were made using different machines on these lines, and some contained allergens, whenever a line was to switch to producing a different cereal, it had to be stopped, partially disassembled, thoroughly cleaned, and reassembled.  This process was called a changeover, and would take the better part of a day to accomplish.  Each hour that a production line would be in changeover was a very expensive, unproductive hour for the company.  This timeframe and process was fairly typical across General Mills facilities.

One plant manager in California wanted to motivate his employees to speed up the changeover process.  He took them to a NASCAR race.  What does racing have to do with cereal production?  You might be thinking that he wanted to use the speeding cars as a metaphor?

He made a deal with one of the racing teams to enable his workers to sit in the pit to watch the pit crew go through its paces each time the car would stop.  They got to see one of the highest-performing mechanical teams in the world undertake its own type of changeover with the most extreme of time pressure.

The General Mills team was then tasked with coming up with ways to make the changeover process more efficient.  They stole many concepts from the pit crew:  putting all tools and supplies in place before the changeover started, manning each job to get through the process as quickly as possible.

Without sacrificing safety or quality, the team reduced the changeover time from one measured in hours (a full 8-hour shift or more) to one measured in minutes.  All because their leader (literally) showed them a compelling vision for what they could accomplish, then got out of the way.

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