Written by Jason Gledhill, Engagement Leader at LI Europe.

It’s a common misconception that continuous improvement and change management will be extremely complex processes with huge cost implications in terms of both time and money. However, this isn’t always the case.

Yes, for some projects, it is necessary to overhaul the entire operation and retrain teams, but this doesn’t have to be done all at once. In fact, trying to implement big changes too rapidly can actually be detrimental. Making incremental changes and improvements over time is far more likely to ensure sustainability.

The whole concept of continuous improvement is just that – it’s continuous. It doesn’t happen overnight. You need to plan, implement, embed and evaluate on an ongoing basis.

We recently worked with a light engineering firm who wanted to improve their production flow. One of the issues we found was a lack of workstation organisation which meant too much production time was being wasted looking for tools and equipment.

To eliminate this excessive waste of time, we used the 5S methodology (sort, set, shine, standardise, sustain) to create a more organised working environment. As a result, productivity sped up.

When you think about it, it seems pretty obvious that if you have a clean, tidy, organised workspace, you’ll find it easier to spot hazards and find the tools you need. It makes perfect sense. But, when you’re in the thick of it, tidying and cleaning always seems like a task that can wait – the focus is usually on productivity. Only when you take a step back to assess the situation does it become clear that the time spent organising will be repaid multiple times over through time saved.

5S is a relatively simple approach that can make a significant difference when it is the appropriate tool for the situation.  The key is finding the right tool for the job, and then applying the methodology correctly.  And there are many similar examples of tools and methodologies that are straightforward to implement and are proven to deliver results when the situation is right.

The key is in training teams to apply these tools and approaches with confidence and consistency. It’s no good implementing a fantastic new way of working and then gradually letting it fizzle out or only applying a systematic approach to some areas and not others. And everyone has to be on board. A new process will only be sustainable if all the relevant people are following it.

Continuous improvement should be approached as a long term measure, not a quick fix, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be complicated. Give your teams the skills and tools to make practical, sustainable changes on a small scale, and you’ll see a significant impact on a larger scale as a result.

If you’d like to find out where to focus your efforts first, our FMCG Academy is a great place to start. Using our OPEN (observe, plan, engage, nurture) approach, it allows you and your teams to assess each area to provide greater insight into where the inefficiencies are in your FMCG organisation.

Sign up for our free version to find out how it works and whether it is right for you. 

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

I recently attended a county schools’ athletics meet for eight to ten-year-olds. I was watching the long jump competitors, and as the children took turns, I noticed an interesting difference in how they approached the task.

The first child took his place at the top of the track, waited for the all clear and ran as fast as he could before taking off. He recorded a decent jump of 2.5m, but he was unable to repeat the same success with his second jump. It was clear that he had a lack of experience and repeatability.

The next child had a completely different approach. He carefully paced backwards from the jump board to determine his optimal start position. He was focused and knew what he needed to do to maximise his performance. Just like the first child, he ran at a good pace, but he achieved a much longer jump; an impressive 3.8m. What was more impressive was his ability to repeat his performance on his second attempt.

It struck me that, even at the young age of nine, this child had learnt that process is important if you want consistent results. What he has developed, over time and through practice, is a precise routine that starts minutes before his actual jump. His preparation placed him in a great position to deliver his best performance – a winning performance.

The first child simply threw himself into the event, hoping for a good result; the second child worked out what needed to be done to achieve the desired result. He didn’t leave it to chance.

So, what does this tell us about performing at our best?

We can be like the first child and simply turn up and go for it with no guarantee we will get the outcome we want. Alternatively, we can follow the example of the second child and learn what steps are required to achieve the results we want – we can create a process. We can then repeat that process to get consistency in our results.

Just as the young boy has worked out how far from the board, he should be to start his run, we need to find our optimal starting point. We can then make small continuous improvements to move us to the end goal. Sometimes we will make mistakes but learning from those mistakes will help us move closer to our desired outcome.

Of course, the processes required within a manufacturing business are on a much larger scale than the processes required by a nine-year-old long jumper. That doesn’t mean that you can’t apply this lesson to your business.

We’ve developed a range of tools to help manufacturing businesses. Our FMCG Academy is an ideal starting point for working out where the gaps are in your processes so that you can start working on closing those gaps and getting consistent results.

Visit our FMCG Academy Platform now to learn how process can benefit your business.

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

When do people learn most?

At school or university? Through reading or video? At the start of their career?

It’s easy to think about the knowledge gained from educational institutions, books or documentaries, but real learning comes through experience. Some of my best learning has certainly been established when I have tried to implement a practical solution. 

What I find most interesting is that I always seem to learn more when things have gone wrong rather than when things have gone right. This can be a painful journey, with possible embarrassment and potential cost.

I’m sure I’m not alone in this unfortunate way of learning either. There is an abundance of quotes about how it’s better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all, or how it’s not our mistakes we should be judged on, but how we deal with them. It seems that many people believe that mistakes provide us with an excellent learning opportunity.

But it’s not just our own mistakes we should learn from. The world has only evolved as quickly as it has because people have learnt from each other. They’ve built on what works, improved on it and developed it, but they’ve also analysed the mistakes of those before them. This is true in war, in sport, in politics, in construction, in science and technology, and of course, in business.

Rather than taking huge risks in our own business, we can look at what other businesses have tried. If the results are good, we can implement similar ideas into our own business and make small continuous improvements. If the results are bad, we can work out what went wrong and make the necessary adjustments to avoid similar outcomes.

Even if your business is going well, you will benefit greatly from the experience of others. After all, if you’ve never fallen foul of the common pitfalls yourself, you’ll find it harder to see them coming. Isn’t it better to learn how to avoid them, than to have to overcome them?

This is one of the reasons that many companies utilise external consultants. Consultants and Practitioners who have analysed and fixed the mistakes of other businesses. Consultants who have experience in identifying exactly where the risks are and where improvements need to be made. Consultants who have first-hand experience of what works and what doesn’t.

Through LI Europe, you can tap into the experience of our consultants who will help you avoid common mistakes and ensure you maximise results. You can also benefit from the experience of your peers through our monthly Ambassador’s Academy (TAA).

Ambassador’s is a support network where you can share your challenges with like-minded operational professionals who have probably faced similar challenges in their careers too. They are happy to share their experiences, suggestions and advice, letting you learn from their valuable insights and avoid some potential pitfalls.

Why not find out for yourself how our Ambassador’s Academy can benefit you. Contact us for a free taster session to see what mistakes you can learn from.

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

Despite Brexit uncertainty, UK unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975, and the latest CIPD poll shows that ‘British businesses are still hiring and competing fiercely for talent’. The survey states that over 40% of businesses are finding it more difficult to fill roles than in previous years.

With these figures in mind, what are you doing to secure talent for now and the future?

Many businesses don’t have the luxury of being able to offer improved pay and attractive benefits packages to attract new blood. Even those that can offer higher financial rewards will often find that such hygiene factors are not motivators, so will only work as a short-term fix at best. Employees now are looking for more than just a competitive salary. They want to work for companies that invest in their training and development too.

Apprenticeship schemes can be an effective method of attracting and developing future talent. The introduction of the apprenticeship levy means this could also be a very cost-effective route for some manufacturing businesses.

However, apprenticeships are a longer-term investment and can’t be relied on as the sole method for growing an effective workforce. You need the benefit of experience too.

Don’t underestimate the impact of upskilling your current workforce. Offering the right development provides a win-win solution. Employees gain new skills and improved job variety while delivering hands-on activity for the business.

Upskilling your existing employees will not only help you address immediate skills shortages, it will also benefit the long-term future of your business. Your workforce will feel more motivated, more valued and more invested in the success of the business. Employee engagement has a direct impact on productivity – the more engaged your employees are, the more productive they will be. And, because you are investing in your employees, you’ll be more likely to retain your best people.

There are so many different levels of upskilling, knowing where to start can be a minefield, but you don’t have to do it alone. We can assist you in upskilling operators, managers and Continuous Improvement Leads.

Using tools such as our OPEN audit and a skills matrix will enable you to identify where the gaps are in your business and put a strategy in place to address those gaps.

We can also provide training and certification for all levels of Lean and Six Sigma, not only teaching the methodologies but also embedding them into your business.

We work with you to develop continuous improvement strategies that fit with your overall business strategy. Having the right processes in place is only half the story – you need the right people too; our goal is to help you achieve both.

Learn more about how to maximise your existing workforce and build an effective team.

Written by Nathanial Marshall, Practitioner at LI Europe

When a business is not performing as efficiently as it could, it can be tough to work out where to make immediate changes for the biggest impact. Knowing which order to do all the important things is difficult.

We had a case where a client restructured four times within eighteen months. During that period, several individuals managed the operations on a temporary basis with varying levels of support. Each had their own view of how the operations structure should be and where CI fitted into it.

As a result, the business went from having no CI resource to having a dedicated CI team. The impact on resource to focus on CI was good, but did putting people in a role for focus on continuous improvement fix the site’s problems and guarantee results?

In a case like this one, what impact does restructuring have on the consistent execution of strategy? How does it impact the front-line management team who cannot develop their teams effectively without knowing how long they will be working with them until the next restructure?

Is changing a management structure to improve bandwidth and provide dedicated resources to CI really the path to achieving sustainable results?

The answer is both yes and no. Yes – because the operational structure is important and will have an impact on results. No – because focusing solely on one element of your business won’t create sustainable improvements.

We believe the key to unlocking productivity improvement is the OPEN process.

The OPEN process works on the basis that it is better to be effective in all areas rather than ineffective in some and world-class in others.

Why focus on building an exceptional organisational structure, but not set clear KPIs? Are well-structured weekly meetings effective if nobody is collecting data or following up on actions?

In our OPEN process, each element is scored by colour with effective being green, good practice being silver and best practice being gold. FMCG factories should aim to get every area green and then work towards turning them silver and gold.

But surely this brings us back to our original point about not knowing which order to do all the important things? If you have multiple areas that are in the red, which do you focus on first?

That’s why we’ve designed our FMCG Academy. It works by allowing you and your front-line teams to audit each area. By involving front-line teams, you get a true insight into which areas are ineffective. You might find that some of the results surprise you – areas you thought were under control might actually be areas that need attention.   

Not only does the FMCG Academy give managers an insight into the views of the front-line teams, it also improves employee engagement and educates them around elements of continuous improvement. We believe that knowledge of operational excellence and world-class manufacturing shouldn’t be limited to the realm of the few. Our objective is to promote productivity improvement by sharing good and best practice with everyone involved in running a factory. 

You can find out more about our FMCG Academy by signing up to access our free version. This will give you an insight into how it works and whether it is right for you.  

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

Despite the doom and gloom so often reported in the media, UK manufacturing is not getting worse. The problem is that when the media talks about the manufacturing sector, it focuses on jobs, whereas when it reports on the financial sector, the focus is money.

Despite widespread perceptions, UK manufacturing is thriving. The UK is currently the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world. Manufacturing makes up 11% of GVA and 44% of total exports for the UK. It also directly employs 2.7 million people.

It is true that output and productivity have flattened since 2007. There is a productivity conundrum, not just in the manufacturing sector but across the whole economy.

This lack of movement has been widely attributed to a decline in skilled workers and a decrease in employer-investment into training and development. However, while skills are an important part of enabling productivity, it is unlikely that this is the primary cause for any stagnation.

None-the-less, measures have been taken to address the skills shortage in the hope that this will drive up productivity.

One major initiative is the apprenticeship schemes which were put in place to combat poor productivity and the decline in employers’ investment in training. Unfortunately, the frameworks that were in place didn’t always result in the apprentices gaining the skills they needed to actually do the roles.  

In 2017, the Department of Education implemented several changes. The purpose of these changes was to ensure apprenticeships better served the needs of employers as well as improving the quality of training for the apprentices themselves.

Reforms were also introduced to make the programmes more employer-funded. Under the scheme, businesses that have a pay bill of over £3 million pay into a levy. The amount of funding you receive towards the training of an apprentice depends on whether you pay into the levy or not.

This is supposed to encourage businesses to run apprenticeship schemes so they can, in effect, reclaim their money from the pot. It acts as motivation for companies to upskill new and existing employees as they are already paying into the levy.

It all sounds great in theory. Unfortunately, the take up by employers has not been as high as expected. Since the funding reforms were introduced, there has actually been a decline in the number of people starting apprenticeships.

Anyone who has read about the Israeli Nursery Study in Freakonomics probably isn’t surprised by that.

So, what is the problem?

One reason is the risk of no return. While funding is available for training and assessment, there is still a big investment of time required to train apprentices. Employers must allow for 20% of the apprentices working time to be allocated to off the job training.

Apprenticeships are well tailored to large manufacturers who have high demand, but smaller manufacturers miss out because they do not have the scale to set the agenda. 

The FMCG Sector has many smaller manufacturers, but relatively few different technologies.  This makes it ideally suited to benefit from apprenticeships, but it requires collaboration between smaller manufacturers to set the curriculum, where historically there has been none.

FMCG manufacturers together are bigger than aerospace and automotive combined, and yet, current apprenticeship schemes do not adequately meet their needs. The FMCG academy exists to promote the needs of those thousands of small FMCG manufacturers.