February, 2007

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Article Index

Giving 5S in the Office the Personal Touch
Article by: Robin Gast
We all know that 5S is a great way to eliminate waste, but how do you convince your office employees? How about a little individual analysis before diving in and telling everyone to purge anything they don't think they've used in the last 6 months?
Applying the Science of Six Sigma to the Art of Sales and Marketing
Article by: John Hehre
The many successful applications of Six Sigma to traditional "hard" processes are well documented. However, applying the methodology to the softer art of sales and marketing is much less common and considered by many to be unnecessary or even inappropriate.
Carefully Planning Age Discrimination Releases in Reductions-in-Force
Article by: Gregory Peters
The Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act ("OWBPA") requires employers to provide certain information in "plain language" to employees offered a release for federal age discrimination claims as part of severance or other exit incentive programs. Ironically, the Act is presented in less than "plain language" law. As employers increasingly offer releases in connection with layoffs, a quick Act summary and new case law clarifications may be helpful.
Training a Diverse Workforce
Author Unknown
As we move into the twenty-first century Minnesota continues to grow increasingly diverse in its demographics. Spanish, French, and even Chinese immersion grade schools are increasingly common; and in some manufacturing companies, such as TURCK, Inc. where at times more than twenty languages have been spoken on the production floor. So how does diversity impact employers and how do they adapt to the increasing diversity of Minnesota workers?
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Giving 5S in the Office the Personal Touch
We all know that 5S is a great way to eliminate waste, but how do you convince your office employees? How about a little individual analysis before diving in and telling everyone to purge anything they don't think they've used in the last 6 months?

First, help each person look around his or her area and identify things that are working. Let's say the office workers' notebooks are in chronological order in a cabinet, they always know what to do next because they keep a list next to their computer, etc. Reassure them that you are not trying to fix what isn't broken, or force them into a one-size-fits all cubicle, but that you want to build on their successes and streamline the rest of the processes.

Now, help each person look around and determine why things are not working:
  • Is there more stuff than space?

  • Do things not really have a home, are items left out as visual reminders?

  • Is the system that exists just too complicated for the situation?

Are there reasons beyond this person's control that are keeping him or her from being organized; such as not enough time (and yes, you can make the person understand that he or she will be able to work more efficiently in the long run, but do you want those invoices to go out today or not?!?!). Is there too much information coming at your office workers? Are they in a transition such as changing jobs, or coming back from an illness? These are all questions to consider.

Lastly, don't forget about the psychological issues. I just read a statistic that we spend roughly 50 percent more time with our customers, coworkers, and bosses than we do with our friends, spouses, children, and other relatives combined. For that reason, their desks are their homes - they may "need" a lot of stuff around them, they may feel more creative that way, they may need to retreat behind their stuff, or they may have sentimental attachments to all the stuff. It is the hardest part of a manager's job, but we need to be considerate of this element as well.

Ask them to answer the following questions, excerpted from the book "Organizing from the Inside Out" by Julie Morgenstern:

"I can never find my…

I have no place to put…

There's no room for…

I am tired of…

I can't…because of the clutter.

I am losing a lot of [time on]…*

The disorganization makes me feel…

When people visit, I…"

With the answers to these questions, as well as thoughts generated by the topics in the previous three paragraphs, your office workers should now have a coherent idea of what their organizational challenges are, why they need to organize and what they may gain from 5S. And as a manager or Lean Office champion, you should have a list of issues that may be "out of their control" and be thinking what you can do to help.

*The original quote read "I am losing a lot of money on …"
<img src="http://www.mfrall.com/newsletter/authorpics/robingast.jpg" align="left">Robin Gast is the Process Improvement Director at Thymes, a manufacturer of body, home care, and home fragrance products. She may be reached at rgast@thymes.com.

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Applying the Science of Six Sigma to the Art of Sales and Marketing
The many successful applications of Six Sigma to traditional "hard" processes are well documented. However, applying the methodology to the softer art of sales and marketing is much less common and considered by many to be unnecessary or even inappropriate.

In his book, Applying the Science of Six Sigma to the Art of Sales and Marketing, author Michael J. Pestorius directly addresses the notion that Six Sigma is only for manufacturing processes. Fundamentally, Six Sigma provides a discipline for improving performance of processes. By analyzing the factors that negatively affect performance it is possible to suggest ways to control those factors and thereby improve performance. In general, the factors that affect most manufacturing processes are apparent, measurable, and tend to have a direct effect on the process. Changing a factor will usually result in a change in the process. The factors affecting performance in sales and marketing processes are less quantitative, frequently less well-defined, and the connection between the factor and the output of the process is not directly measurable. Nonetheless, with appropriate application of Six Sigma principles, the relationship between these factors, and sales and marketing performance can be analyzed and controlled in order to effect improvements.

The majority of the book covers the application of the Six Sigma methodology to six specific sales and marketing processes:
  • The Hiring of New Sales Representatives

  • New Product Sales

  • Sales Representative Competency

  • Field Visits

  • Sales Territory Planning

  • Product Promotion Process
.
The "DMAIC" or Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control approach is applied to each process and several different statistical approaches are employed to assess each situation.

The statistical methods are applied with enough explanation so the reader can understand the approach. The author recommends, however, the active participation of a Six Sigma professional, such as a Six Sigma Black Belt, in order to support the analytical needs of each project. There is also an excellent glossary that provides short and clear explanations for the terms used.

The book illustrates the application of the Six Sigma methodology to sales and marketing activities quite well. It includes an understanding of the nature and quantity of data required and the type of involvement necessary from the organization as a whole. In a general sense, the book also makes the case for applying Six Sigma to the softer activities in businesses in general.

* Pestorius, Michael, J.: Applying the Science of Six Sigma to the Art of Sales and Marketing. Milwaukee, WI: ASQ Quality Press, 2007
John Hehre is a senior operations executive and provides interim management and project based consulting to mid-sized private companies in need of transformative change. He can be reached at jhehre@cprocess.com.

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Carefully Planning Age Discrimination Releases in Reductions-in-Force
The Older Workers' Benefit Protection Act ("OWBPA") requires employers to provide certain information in "plain language" to employees offered a release for federal age discrimination claims as part of severance or other exit incentive programs. Ironically, the Act is presented in less than "plain language" law. As employers increasingly offer releases in connection with layoffs, a quick Act summary and new case law clarifications may be helpful.

For a release of rights or claims for federal age discrimination to be valid, the release must be "knowing and voluntary." The release will not meet this criteria if there is a material mistake, omission, or misstatement in the information provided to the employee. The release must be in writing and carefully worded in "plain language," at the level of understanding of the individual(s) being asked to sign the release. The release should not have any technical jargon or long, complex sentences. If you are using a release that the lowest paid employee cannot understand, then it is not in compliance.

The employee must be provided with compensation for the release that the employee would not otherwise receive without a waiver/release.

If a release is in connection with an exit incentive or other employment termination program offered to two or more employees, the employer must provide at the time the release is given, summary information about the individuals in the program, their jobs, and the ages of all eligible individuals retained and released.

The waiver/release must proactively advise the individual(s) to consult with an attorney prior to executing it, not just acknowledge that they have had the opportunity to do so.

Finally, the release must give the employee 21 days to sign, or 45 if two or more people are offered the waiver/release. The employee must have seven days to revoke it (fifteen for claims under the Minnesota Human Rights Act).

If a release does not meet these criteria, it may be stricken as invalid by a court, and the employee could sue under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") despite release compensation.

The recent Eleventh Circuit Burlison v. McDonald's Corp., dealt with former employees who signed a release waiving age claims who sued McDonald's under the ADEA. The court upheld McDonald's release and clarified certain provisions of the OWBPA.

During its 2001 restructuring, McDonald's reduced its workforce by 66 employees in the Atlanta region, and approximately 500 nationwide. The 66 employees, including the plaintiffs, received information based on the Atlanta region not nationwide. The plaintiffs argued that the release was not knowing and voluntary because the "decisional unit" was incorrect and did not allow them to see on a national scale the average age of the terminated employees. The court held that because the general manager of the Atlanta region was responsible for the selection of the terminated employees, the use of region-specific information by McDonald's was a correct "decisional unit." The court noted this provided the plaintiffs with the appropriate information to assess whether older employees were unjustifiably terminated.

Recently, several courts have required releases to allow employees to still file charges with the EEOC. Employers should include such a provision, but clarify that ex-employees waive rights to future compensation, damages, etcetera, arising out of the charge or subsequent court action.

Preparing a release for age discrimination claims for workers over forty can be done, but carefully, and cautiously. While the release must be in plain language, do not let the "plain language" requirement mislead you into drafting a "homemade" release.
Gregory L. Peters, is an attorney with Seaton, Peters & Revnew, P.A. whose practice is limited to representing employers in labor and employment matters. Mr. Peters has worked with companies in all areas of employment counseling, employment litigation, labor arbitration, union organizing and labor negotiations. Mr. Peters can be reached at (952) 921-4607.

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Training a Diverse Workforce
As we move into the twenty-first century Minnesota continues to grow increasingly diverse in its demographics. Spanish, French, and even Chinese immersion grade schools are increasingly common; and in some manufacturing companies, such as TURCK, Inc. where at times more than twenty languages have been spoken on the production floor. So how does diversity impact employers and how do they adapt to the increasing diversity of Minnesota workers?

Lora Geiger, Human Resources and Organization Development Manager of TURCK, says, "The demographic of our candidate pool is very diverse so to be an employer of choice and also gain a competitive advantage, it is important to invest in training our employees, who represent multiple ethnic and cultural backgrounds." In order to maintain high quality and innovative products and to fulfill customers' needs, Chris Kafer, Director of Operations at TURCK, says, "Training our workforce is a business necessity."

Francisco Ariel Orench, Director of Lean Manufacturing at Gyrus ACMI Medical, says that one barrier his company has encountered with a diverse workforce is the lack of English skills. "First you need to identify the gap and provide English language learning."

If the training is not provided, the results for the employer could have negative impact–high turnover, loss of productivity, for instance. Other issues encountered in employing a diverse workforce are cultural; for example, a person has to experience a little culture shock coming from, say, a war-torn nation with a temperate climate and little developed technology, to the middle of a Minnesota winter.

Orench says, "We have also realized that education in technologies and skills is utterly useless if there are fundamental problems in human relations and self-discipline."

TURCK has encountered some challenges for employees who speak English as a second language, being able to read and comprehend work instructions. The manufacturer has adopted a multi-pronged approach to address the problem.

Geiger says, "First, we assessed the reading level at which our engineers were writing our work instructions. Next, we assessed the reading and listening comprehension skills of our production workforce. In areas where we found gaps, we offer Occupational English Training to help our workforce better understand the content of our work instructions."

A simple solution for a potentially difficult problem.
TURCK has shared resources with their engineering staff to help them simplify their instructions for maximum understanding and readability. Engineers have also tried to utilize more graphics in work instruction visual aids, and recently have implemented a paperless router system that demonstrates how to assemble TURCK's products through animation. Kafer says, "Initial feedback on this new process has been very positive from employees, which we hope will gain momentum as our roll out of this new process continues."

The manufacturer also offers on site Occupational English classes to employees on topics pertaining directly to their jobs. While aiming toward increasing communication effectiveness, TURCK also becomes more lean and facilitates a necessary level of integration for employees.

Gyrus has promoted a number of bilingual employees to leadership positions were they can also facilitate communication by translating to the rest of the group.
Kafer says, "Since cross-cultural communication is a necessity of a global business, we offer training for leads, supervisors, managers and HR professionals who work with employees and/or suppliers who speak English as a Second Language to give them strategies for successful interactions and enhanced understanding. " They also train in other languages employees who travel to TURCK's international locations.
"A diverse workforce is a reflection of a changing world and marketplace," concludes Orench, so training is simply a good business decision.

Around the Corner
Have your Spanish-speaking employees experience lean manufacturing by sending them to: Spanish Lean Manufacturing. A hands-on, interactive workshop by the Manufacturers Alliance.
Author Unknown

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