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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturer's Network podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Vince Sassano. Vince is the CEO of Strategic Performance Company, SPC. A leading provider of software and consulting services that enable manufacturers to increase throughput, grow profitability, and permanently improve workplace culture. One of my very favorite things to talk about. Vince, welcome to the show.
Vince Sassano: Thank you for having me on.
Lisa Ryan: Share with us about your background and what led you to do what you do with SPC.
Vince Sassano: I am a degreed computer engineer and have been involved in manufacturing and consulting for over 30 years. Much of my experience with manufacturers came with installing and maintaining ERP systems. I owned a business with my partners on that. I subsequently sold that business and focused specifically on the plant floor because there was a tremendous need and an area where technology could help.
This would've been back in the nineties when I did this. When I made that shift, I could utilize my technological talents in a lot better fashion, in conjunction with my consulting talents, and that's how it all started.
Lisa Ryan: When it comes to workplace culture in manufacturing. Quality is a big thing, and we have to make sure that we're delivering on time supply chain, but workplace culture is the thing that makes it all happen. What do you think are some things manufacturers should do to improve their organizational culture?
Vince Sassano: One of the first things they should do is review their organizational structure and see if they're just simply talking about the same issues over and over and not changing or are in a place where they can foster good communication from the frontline up to the front office.
Lisa Ryan: How would they get started? If or how would they know that there's a problem?
Vince Sassano: The simple answer there is data. You must have some information about what's happening; numbers are the best place to do it. I come from a culture long ago where the best way was what we used to call M B W A, which is management by walking around. The plant manager and the supervisors would walk out on the floor and look and see if they had a good or bad day based on stacks and piles and where they thought they ought to be. Then, at the end of the day, they would use just a gut feeling. Yeah, we had a good day. Yeah, we had a bad day. How do you know? How do you know unless you're performing some form of empirical measurement of what's happening?
Lisa Ryan: Data, of course, is essential, but by walking around and seeing not only the piles but and looking at your employee's faces? Are they hiding from you when you're walking through the plant? Are they smiling and greeting you? So when it comes to workplace culture, that's still, even though we don't officially talk about it as much as we used to with the M B W A, it's still a critical component of assessing a company's workplace culture.
Vince Sassano: I agree 100%. First and foremost, the people on the frontline want to matter, and they want to know that they matter. And if you have a culture that fosters that, then you have a better opportunity of not having that be a hindrance when it comes to performance. And you can see that when you are out on the floor, you can see it.
I was told once by a management consultant when I read one of his books, and he said the best sign of a well-run plant is everybody walking around calmly. Because everybody's doing what they are supposed to be doing, and nobody's running around with their hair on fire. The best indication of a poorly run plant is everybody's running around like a chicken with their head cut off. They go from crisis to crisis. You can see your employee's faces. You can see if they're struggling. You can see if they're in crisis mode, and that will give you an indication of the fact that there's an issue there.
But then you'll need to bring the data in to determine why this is happening and what we can do about it. Do we need more labor on the line? Do we need to change some machinery out? Is there a piece of machinery that's a real struggle? For example, from experience on the back end of the line, if there's a problem with the case taper or the case packer, which is usually the end of the line in many of the companies I work with, that's a struggle.
That's just because that's the last thing they need working before they can palletize it and ship it off. And they are starting at the back end of the line and moving forward, looking at the employees and their actions. So that will be a significant indication of what's going on.
Lisa Ryan: Also, make sure that you have current data. Because, as I like to say in my programs, we are staying in the good old days of 2019. After the pandemic, our priorities have changed, and that level of connection has changed. Everything has changed, and there's an expectation for things that in manufacturing we would've never thought about before - flexibility, shortened workdays, having shifts like the mom shift from 10 to two, and just making sure that you realize that data needs to be accurate and constantly talking to your employees to find out where they are and what resources they need. And I like that analogy of starting at the back of the line and working backward. Yeah.
Vince Sassano: I can share with you that when it comes to cross-training, it was never more critical than during the Covid days. Having multifaceted people, you can move them around from line to line and from different parts of the line. And we have one of our customers who has a compensation program where one of the components is, "Are you useful and trained on multiple machines? Do you want to learn how to run this machine and run that machine?" That's the way the employees can then help control their destiny when it comes to that. If you think about it, manufacturing was the only industry with Covid that you can't mail in. How can you make your products remotely?
Lisa Ryan: Exactly. You can't, no. And when it comes to cross-training, too, you think that you may have your employees in one part of the plant or an employee in one part of the plant, and when you cross-train that person in another plant, it lights them up. We discover that, hey, we have the right person on board, but maybe they're in the wrong seat on the bus, and it allows us to cater to that employee to find out what they're best at, what they like doing because we have a much better chance of keeping them that way.
Vince Sassano: Yeah. And one of the big things we have as a corporate ethos and will never drop if I'm sitting in this chair is that people matter. People matter, and unless you have a fully automated line where stem to stern, it's a hundred percent robotics, your quality, and your efficiency, and everything is all computer generated. If you don't have that, then people will always matter. And quite frankly, that's the type of people we excel with and work best with because that's where the culture matters most. Because there is no culture with a machine, culture is people. And it's how people work together and interact.
Lisa Ryan: What are you seeing regarding some of the triggers from manufacturers when they need to consider a change or continuous improvement for their workplace culture?
Vince Sassano: They're obviously feeling some pain, and they've had some event happen – a financial hiccup, loss of a key customer, some turnover, something has happened. That has given them a little bit of a kick in the pants. I can tell you a story about a prospect we were working with. They made all of the leather seats for John Deere. They had the exclusive, but it wasn't an exclusive contract. It was we've been working with these people for 35 years, and it turns out they had a problem with the machine and they had a problem with the operator. So through a series of events, they missed some shipments, which greatly affected John Deere.
They said, listen, I hate to do this to you, but we cannot have you as our only supplier anymore. So we're going to have to take you out for bid. And boy, was that a wake-up call for them because they had been doing good for decades. And then, all of a sudden, they had a problem. They didn't have any backup provisions and ended up losing a significant portion of the business because, from John Deere's perspective, they could not afford that liability.
Many people, especially in the manufacturing industry, don't necessarily think about what they will do if something goes wrong. But, especially when something has always gone right, that's not the case; contingencies are increasing, especially with the Covid situation. Contingencies are becoming increasingly important, so it's usually some event that happens.
Lisa Ryan: We pay attention to things when it's either going well or something terrible has happened. But when things are just going along swimmingly and the day-to-day, we take that for granted instead of continuing to have those conversations and recognizing and acknowledging people for doing their job, doing it well, and keeping things running smoothly. When we get away from that, where it sounds like with that particular company, maybe they got a little lax or a little complacent because they'd had the business for so long that they assumed. They would have it forever, which only happens if you pay attention.
Vince Sassano: They would've had it forever without a problem. Nothing would've changed. One of our customers does something that I like when it comes to this. This concept of weaving culture and technology and data and people, they always set on an annual and a quarterly basis, two things. One, they set a goal. For their productivity, they set a stretch goal, okay? And they say, okay, here's what we want you to hit. But if you hit that, here's what we want you to hit. And it helps combat complacency. And that's what you're talking about. You get stuck in the same old, same hole, and everything's running fine, and there's no incentive for what if we tweak the machine up a little bit?
What if we get it going faster? What if we kick it up one bag a minute? Is everything going to blow up, or will we see any problems that come up? And having that stretch goal has encouraged me—the culture to continue to expand on an incremental basis. You're not trying to double your productivity in one day, but you are trying to say, okay, we've hit our goal for the quarter, the first four weeks in a row. What do we do now? Let's look at the stretch call. And I must commend the VP of management and the president of that company for coming up with that concept of being able to do that. Because then it gets you to know what your organization's limits are.
Lisa Ryan: And then, how are they getting the buy-in from the people on the line? Because obviously, you want to meet your goals, and then there are the stretch goals, but there's got to be some reward for the employees or getting their input or doing something so that they still feel valued. So they are willing to put in that extra effort that we hear so much about the quiet quitters that don't. So what is this management team doing to get their employees excited about these stretch goals and meeting the regular goals?
Vince Sassano: There are three different components to it. It's not every department. Most departments have a stretch goal, but for some, the first thing you do is educate. They educate the people on the front line about what management is trying to accomplish and how they're trying to accomplish it concerning meeting a particular goal. And then the second thing that they do is they give them access to information and data about how well they're doing. And what could they do to improve; what are the primary issues that are presenting or hindering them from being more productive?
There's a communication that goes on there, so the employees feel part of the process because they're part of it. Then the third thing is they've implemented a pay-for-performance model in some areas of their company where the employee can see a direct benefit to wanting to reach the stretch goal. So, for example, reaching 85% efficiency on their line puts them at a level two employee with this particular pay scale. If they get to 90%, that might bump them up to level three. Okay? Now, productivity is not the only component. There's quality, safety, and cross-training; there are so many other components that they've added to that paper for the performance model.
But still, the employee understands. What the important the importance of efficiency is and productivity to themselves? They get it. After all, they've bought into the system because they understand that education is the first step.
Lisa Ryan: When they reach the goals, is a celebration a part of it? And how do they do that?
Vince Sassano: Yes, the celebration happens on a shift by shift in a day by day and week-by-week basis. Because what they do is they take their information and they post it on the board. There you go. It's right there where all the employees walk into the locker room, and they can see all the productivity, efficiencies, downtimes, issues, and charts going up and down and sideways and all that kind of stuff.
They make it very visible to the employees. In the meetings that they have, the daily production meetings, the weekly production meetings, and the monthly trend meetings, they talk about. The stuff that they post and what's going on. And it's in those meetings where the employees, and the dissemination of that information, feel part of the team; even if they're not in the meeting, they know their boss is in it. And then the boss says, hey, I just met with the shift supervisor or the plant manager, and he's happy about what we've been able to do on these lines with these products and let's keep it up. Good job. And by the way, here are some of the struggles that we've had, but here's what we're going to do about it. So it's a lot of open communication. But this communication can only happen because they're speaking a common language. And they must speak a common language.
Lisa Ryan: That level of transparency you shared is so important because some companies think I want to keep my employees manageable. Or if things aren't going well, I don't want to scare them or whatever it is. But if they know that you are laying everything out and being transparent, good times, bad times, everything in between. Because if you go through a good time, things start getting bad. Your employees are much more likely to say what if we try this? What if we try this? Because it's like they know their jobs better than their managers know their jobs. When managers are transparent, it trickles down that employees are much more willing to share.
Vince Sassano: Absolutely. When you've got people on the frontline daily, they know what's happening better than anybody else because they're there for their entire shift doing whatever task. And it's imperative that they feel that they matter and that information trickles down in that transparency. I agree a hundred percent is significant. I don't think information dissemination is not done because they're worried about overwhelming the employees. They can take on a lot more than people think they can. And you shouldn't limit somebody's capability based on the position that they're in. You should limit their capability based on what they're capable of.
It's that stick factor that's more of an issue because the managers are afraid to share the information because they think the employees are going to feel they're going to get beat up with that information. So they don't share it. Or the employees are afraid that if they say what's going on, it will be a stick and that they will get beat up by it. That is a hurdle, but it can be overcome. Overcome, and you overcome that hurdle through education, but not just educating on the what? Educating on the why. Why are we doing this? What is it that we're trying to accomplish here? It's that type of transparency. That is a tremendous booster culture.
Lisa Ryan: That's one way to ensure you are keeping your more tenured employees relevant. Because they understand the history, they understand the why, and it's up to them to share that passion with the newer people coming in that don't have that same level of history and background so that they can more fully understand the why. They have that same level of passion and passion that your more tenured employees have.
Vince Sassano: I agree. And when the tenured employees are at their position, walking around, or in the lunchroom, they carry themselves differently because they know that they have achieved and earned a certain amount of status. They garner respect from management because they're instrumental, and they garner respect from their peers and the people that work on the line with them because these people know that this guy's been around in a while and he knows what he's doing. Exactly. That's where cross-training and information dissemination are essential.
I'll tell you a short story. One of our customers had a problem with a can labeler, and they noticed through their information that it consistently ran better on the first shift than on the second. The first shift was 85, 90%. The second shift was down in the seventies. And I pointed that out on some of the reports, and I was like, why is that? I went to the guy on the line. And he was like, oh yeah, I developed this little technique that the machine sticks, and if I have a little bit of a ruler and when it sticks, I just poke it keeps things running smooth. The second shift guy needed to learn of that. I went to the manager, and I told him that, and the manager said that's an easy fix.
I'll have the first shift guy stay late and the second shift guy comes early, and he can show him what he's doing. And that happened the next day. And when he showed what he was doing, the second chief guy said, " Oh my gosh, thank you so much. I have this problem all the time. I didn't know what to do. So it's those little nuggets of information that unless you have that culture that encourages that type of cross-communication or you have a reporting system that can point that stuff out where you can ask why that's when things can pay dividends.
Lisa Ryan: Absolutely. I know you have a background in technology, so what are you seeing as far as using technology with change management to improve the organization's culture?
Vince Sassano: What I'm seeing is that the more you can interweave technology with people, Not the opposite, which would be people with technology, the more