Tactile map for culture change in a manufacturing plant

A desire to improve your plant’s reliability will include a change in culture. Don’t be intimidated by this reality. I use a simple change model presented to me by Partners in Leadership called “The Pyramid of Results”. It is challenging in its simplicity (see figure below).

Let’s start at the bottom of the pyramid. Our experiences create our beliefs, our beliefs guide our actions, and finally, our actions produce results. Your culture encompasses all of this, and there is a progression. Therefore, you can change your culture by creating new experiences, and you create experiences one at a time. Imagine if you could create one new experience per week in your factory; 52 weeks later, the culture can be changed. Simple isn’t it? Well, not so fast; let’s look deeper.

To ensure that the new experience is culturally recognized, it is essential that change agents and management connect the dots – remind the target group of the factory’s past culture and detail how the new experience fits into a new culture. For example, suppose your plant has 100% reactive maintenance (old culture) and you create a scheduled work team dedicated to preventive maintenance. Your goal may be to reach 80% responsiveness in three months. Tell them about the experience, the new belief, the new action and finally, at three months, tell them the result. Connecting the dots needs to happen in meetings, emails, posts, celebrations, and one-on-one chats. This step establishes credibility.

It’s common to have a crowd mentality in meetings – trust me, I’ve been there. Often the most negative people speak up, pushing the discussion into the ditch. I like to quote a friend of mine here, “It takes a carpenter to build a barn, but any moron can tear it down.” To combat this reality, I strongly encourage you to develop a Touch Plan. A Touch Plan is a disciplined approach to conquering people (culture) one person at a time. I first heard the term Touch Plan in a presentation by the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, and I adapted it to create a culture of reliability and stuck with the name. A Touch Plan includes all the interactions (or touches) to conquer the culture:

  1. Meetings — standing meetings and change initiation meetings
  2. Postings in common areas (dining rooms, clocks, etc.)
  3. Emails and publications to employees — at home or at work
  4. Rewarding and recognizing new behaviors—group and individuals (suggested best practice: handwritten notes to households)
  5. Individual discussions

Most factories do a decent job at points 1-4 but fail to prioritize and execute number 5. Think about it for yourself. Imagine a leader, two levels up in the organization, coming into your workspace to see what you’re doing and connect the dots to a new culture. While this has an impact, it also takes time. By dividing and conquering, however, you can make this manageable.

Here’s another example: imagine you have 100 artisans and nine factory managers, but 10% are a lost cause — they’re against everything. Don’t focus on them. This is a trap that most leaders fall into. they spend all their time on poor employees. Focus on the 90% instead – it can change your career. Assign 10 artisans to each of the nine leaders. Each leader commits to having a one-on-one discussion over the next month with each person on their list. This ensures that there is no duplication of discussions and that everyone is ‘affected’. In the discussion, talk about what they are currently doing and shift the conversation to the culture you are trying to create by discussing new experiences, beliefs, actions, and expected outcomes. Ask the person to give it a chance, specifically ask them to give you 90 days to prove the new culture, and then commit to going back during that time. People are conquered one by one. Each month, rotate the 10 people assigned to each leader so everyone gets a new perspective and sales pitch. This chat can last only five minutes and ensure you hit all shifts if you are 24/7. I had the list of 90 on the back of my office door, and every month we reported on contacts made and missed. Those missed were targeted within 48 hours.

To see this in action, let’s watch a hypothetical discussion between Jim, the maintenance manager, and Jane, a mechanic.

Jim: How are you today, Jane?

Jane: Alright, I wish I could stop fixing the same alignment issues every day.

Jim: I know. But we just bought new equipment and trained people in laser alignment. I have given instructions to my supervisors and I have a commitment from the production managers to take the time to align the shafts correctly the first time.

Jane: I heard that, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Production has always driven this plant – and driven it into the ground. You are not the first person to try to make things better. It’s always the flavor of the month.

Jim: I hear you. I would like you to give me 90 days to win this battle. After 90 days, I will come back to ask you if you notice a difference. OK?

Jane: Deal done.

Jim: Well, I have to go. Have a nice day.

“Touching” the employees became one of the highlights of my week. It made me wallow in reality and not just the opinions of the boardroom. They strengthened my determination to create new experiences. Culture is people. You don’t change people with tips and tricks.

Below is a sample worksheet for recording and reviewing employee “contacts”. To download a sample contact log, click here.

Recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate new behaviors through their actions should be formalized. Most do a great job with this, especially with groups. However, it is possible to be exceptional by using best practices. Again, I heard this from the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. The best practice is to handwrite a “fridge-worthy” note on an inspirational card — resembling a birthday card or wedding invitation — and mail it to the employee’s home. The note details the actions or results observed, connects the dots to the business impact, and thanks the employee. Do not mass produce these notes; write everything by hand, including the address and signature. Chances are the employee’s spouse will ask questions about the card and its contents, which produces a sense of pride.

Here is an example of a handwritten note:

Mark, I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for your expertise when replacing the bearings on the HDC press last week. This bearing fails twice a year, costing us $50,000 a year in downtime, labor and materials. Your idea to improve installation and lubrication should last 10 years and save us $500,000. You have also volunteered to train others in design.

As you know, we are in a very competitive industry. We need skilled craftsmen to maintain and improve our performance. I’m glad you’re part of the team.


Joe Kuhn, Plant Manager

Acme Industries

August 19, 2022

These cards must be rare – not everyone gets them. They must be authentic and specific to an individual. As a plant manager and maintenance manager for a large plant, I set myself a goal of two a week, and 100% of the recipients came back, sought me out, and shook my hand – some almost in tears. Some had the map with them, folded in their back pocket. It’s huge, people. Here is a link to the cards I used: https://www.successories.com/business-occasion-cards/variety-card-packs/3871-corporate-impressions-card-sampler

In my 35 years as a leader and change agent, I have found that a touch map is very often the critical difference between the program of the month and creating a lasting culture of reliability.

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