Recently, I had a most unexpected networking experience. I was invited to visit an amazing company that does some truly incredible work. Chances are they will never make it to the cover of a major magazine or be the subject of a best selling business book, but they deserve to be. While they don’t make the flashiest of products (diamond bits for deep bore drilling rigs), how they do it and what they have become because if it is the real story.
From the moment I walked in the front door, I could tell this was not the typical manufacturing company I expected. Everyone from the receptionist forward was polite, happy and eager. I met my friend, the president of the company and he started me on a tour that would leave me astounded. He first introduced me to the IT team and left me in their capable hands for a few minutes. As they showed me around their area, the pride and excitement for their jobs was evident. They understood their job wasn’t to make cool technology, but to move the company forward. While cool technology abounded, they all knew exactly how it was going to help everyone else. Everything had a purpose and nothing was overkill, which I have seen in too many IT shops over the years.
They showed me some of the cool things they were doing to bring the company closer together as it grows. In the cafeteria, they have displays mounted showing the latest performance, safety and financial results. The cafeteria, by the way, was also completely unexpected to me. This is definitely a manufacturing company, but the cafeteria would have looked at home in Google or other hot company known for their pampering of employees. I was starting to get the idea I had stumbled into something special by this point.
The IT Director and I swapped stories as he showed me his pride and joy – a state of the art data center. He was proud of every switch, cooling system and server. He told me how they had embraced virtual servers recently that had reduced the need for new servers to the point of saving an entire second row. Huge savings for the company. He then proudly told me meant to showcase their network capability, but actually started to explain why this company is special.
Recently, the whole company had been working hard to win the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. When the award was announced, my friend wanted to do something nice for everyone. The answer? iPads for everyone. Keep in mind, “everyone” was around 800 people. The IT Director’s first thought was “Awesome!” The second was “I wonder if the network can handle it?” Yes, the network could handle the influx of new attached devices. The part that interested me was the focus of shared reward.
I have read many management books and have strived for years to be a different kind of leader. I gnash my teeth at the leaders presented in popular culture, like The Office and The Devil Wears Prada. I strive to be the kind of manager whose people are all more productive because of the work I do in the background. What I found at this company was exactly what I have been trying to espouse for the last decade and a half.
It was time to talk with my friend. He wanted to show me the floor. As we walked around, everyone knew him by his first name. He knew theirs, too. He proudly showed me how they take diamond dust, a fine talc-like powder and exert the same pressure the earth uses to create diamonds. The result is a diamond drill bit. He explained how they switched from a linear factory flor to LEAN processes, grouping several tools into cells. By making small teams that do several steps of the process together, they find defects fast – hours instead of days, saving thousands of bits being wasted should a defect crept in.
Quality is everyone’s job. Each team meets at the beginning and end of each shift to discuss how this could be improved. Everything is driven by these suggestions and rapidly implemented. I forget the number of improvements they have made at the request of the people doing the job, but it seems like it was over 10,000 suggestions. What is the result? These people make over 10,000 drill bits per day of the highest quality. That translates into a solid company that is very successful and profitable. And, you guessed it, the employees share in that profit.
I have read about companies like Toyota and Motorola who have pioneered this style of manufacturing, but I had never actually seen one before. I was simply amazed. Their systems were nothing short of amazing. The work they have put into making their product the best in class is obvious. I can see why they are so successful. I have read book after book on better process, management, leadership and alignment to create a better business. I just found a company that appears to live these principles. It actually exists! I am more motivated to take the ideals back and implement them in my own job now because I know it is possible. It has been done and I tip my hat to them. It was the most fun I have had in all my years of meeting people and companies. This is why I love networking – the chance of stumbling on a gem of a company or individual. In this case, I found a man-made diamond.
Bravo to them. Congratulations on the 2011 Shingo Prize. I hope someone writes their story one day.