How to engage employees through plant optimization

Plant optimization results in much more than increase productivity and KPIs.

By Ricardo Estok May 19, 2021

Goodyear launched plant optimization (PO) to standardize processes in its 33 manufacturing facilities across the globe; it is the company’s operating system. At Goodyear, PO is not a program, project, methodology or set of tools, but an integrated set of practices, indicators, enablers, mindsets and behaviors to relentlessly improve quality and efficiency to safely deliver sustainable value.

Initially, the primary goal of PO was to increase our plants’ capabilities in a pragmatic way; and we’ve been successful. Since launch, we’ve reduced overall safety incidents, improved year-to-date operational effectiveness (OE) yield above 90% and closed our global gap in plant maturity levels by 31%. In addition, we’ve seen improved machine reliability, reduced waste and lowered our cost per tire.

But then, we saw something even more compelling and encouraging: the lasting effects PO had on our people.

In plants where PO has been deployed, is advancing and is sustained, our plant associates feel empowered to identify issues and opportunities, solve problems and drive improvements. It has also built a culture of trust, strengthened our culture of safety and health and created common understanding and mindset toward zero losses.

If PO is done right, the following sections describe ways it can benefit teams within an organization.

Boosts employee engagement and recognition

We have a formal process in place for associates to share key learning results across plants. This process empowers associates to propose best practices in our system. These are reviewed by our PO leaders for potential certification as a new best practice. This system has fostered a company-wide practice of knowledge sharing. We see a lot of enthusiasm among associates who are eager to share their successes and look to other plants for ideas. For example, our associates have told us that the PO process and methodologies engages the team, which helps sustain the results.

Reinforces a winning culture

It is exciting to see how passionate our plant associates are about PO. In many instances, they have transformed the culture of their teams to make PO the “way we work.” PO has established a process to recognize and share great work at the monthly and global PO meetings, and quarterly town halls.

Most of these meetings are about the plant associates. During these meetings, managers are invited to share why plant associates deserve recognition and contribution. One common topic across the board: Besides hard metrics on improvements in safety, quality, delivery and cost is the passion, involvement and engagement of associates. When the common theme of recognition is beyond cost and savings, it reinforces and strengthens the site’s culture.

Develops an ongoing growth mindset

Goodyear’s PO operating system continuously develops associates’ problem-solving and decision-making skills. We accomplish this through the PO Academy, which includes ongoing learning experiences and workshops on various technical and soft skills to close capability gaps. In addition, our Global Manufacturing Leadership Program provides training and mentoring to develop the next generation of plant leaders. It is essential to instill a culture of continuous improvement in any organization. Giving employees the power to be responsible for the reliability of their equipment creates a sense of ownership. To date, more than 925 associates have completed the formal two-week PO Academy, including field projects, to apply their learning. The number of associates who completed PO Academy eLearning courses rose to more than 20,400 in 2020, increasing from 13,484 in 2019 and 10,783 in 2018. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, we piloted a virtual training methodology and program to keep building capabilities in the “new normal” environment. It does not stop there. We also ask our plant leadership about skills needed for the next two to three years so we can start developing training now to make ourselves future proof.

Makes associates’ jobs more practical

For associates, PO makes their jobs more practical and even easier in some cases. It gives them the capability to apply knowledge and skills at the shop floor and improve their plant’s key performance indicators (KPIs) day in and day out (see Figure 1). An example is our Daily-Weekly-Monthly management system, which is a standard way to manage plants’ ongoing planning activities, standardizing, reviewing and taking action that supports a dashboard of cascading KPIs and targets. Since PO is embedded into this system, associates have a clear understanding of expectations, follow-ups and where to focus efforts. PO is part of the “way they work” and not an isolated workstream or improvement project. PO does not become, “one more thing I need to do.”

Increases productivity

While operationalizing and optimization does impact the hard skills, it is the PO mindset and behaviors that end up emerging stronger. We tested a formula of four variables to see what kind of outcome they produced: Capabilities + clarity + recognition + walking the talk = (how would you solve this equation?).

  • Capabilities. We ensure associates are clear on the why, what and how of PO as well as their roles and value add.

  • Clarity. We equip associates with information and skills they can apply to their jobs daily.

  • Recognition. We put recognition systems in place for when associates go above and beyond and when a red flag is raised to identify an obstacle.

  • Walking the Talk. Plant leadership — at all levels — is visible and publicly models PO values and behaviors.

What we found: Capabilities + clarity + recognition + walking the talk = A path to increased empowerment for problem solving and performance improvement.

Together, we are building a work environment that is producing the right products for customers as well as focusing on producing people, culture and teams committed to operational excellence.

Ricardo Estok is the director of plant optimization transformation at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.

Author Bio: Ricardo Estok is the director of plant optimization transformation at The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.