The people thing

Over the past few years, it has been my privilege to visit a number of plants with excellent plant engineering and maintenance operations. To be sure, they have all made good use of technology. But the thing that impresses most, and always, is the people.

By Richard L. Dunn March 1, 2000

Over the past few years, it has been my privilege to visit a number of plants with excellent plant engineering and maintenance operations. To be sure, they have all made good use of technology. But the thing that impresses most, and always, is the people.

None of these plants could have achieved excellence were it not for the people. Technology is wonderful, but it requires people to select and apply the technology. Organization is important, but it takes people to build the organization. Standards of performance are great, but only if people uphold those standards.

And it’s important, I think, to realize that these extraordinary plants, these examples of excellence, are staffed by “ordinary” people. It’s too easy to say, “We could be like them, if we just had the people, or the technology, or the resources they have.” And all those are important. But if you start with the people, all else will follow, sooner or later.

Again and again and again, the lesson repeats. Success and excellence are only possible through people. Good managers understand this. Great leaders make it their mantra. And plants that achieve excellence affirm it.

In all of the plants I’ve visited, when the talk turns to how major hurdles have been overcome or how major changes have been accomplished, the discussion revolves around the people in the plant. Managers speak with pride about their departments, their teams, their workforces. And the workers, in turn, express their pride in the work they do, the training they’ve completed, the knowledge they’ve accumulated, the responsibilities they’ve earned.

Very often, these plants have made tremendous strides from levels of mediocrity or good performance to levels of excellence. And always there are the stories of how the workforce has changed — not in turnover, but in attitude and skill. Challenged in the right ways, and supported with the right training and resources, these “ordinary” workforces became exemplary.

In today’s climate of skilled worker shortages, it’s more important that ever to realize that people are indeed your plant’s most valuable asset.