Gram Commercial creates a learning organization and maintains jobs in Vojens
What do you do if you are in a competitive market and still want to produce in Denmark?
Written by Lars P. Jensen (Lars Lean), Lean Manager from Hofor A/S - written for effektivitet.dk
Published at: effektivitet.dk
Date: March 2017
At Gram Commercial, productivity is increased while at the same time a learning organization is created. They do this by, among other things, building production cells according to the Lean principles and by TWI-training employees. And it works. Gram creates flow in production and minimizes production waste by improving its share of products that are produced right the first time. In just half a year, Gram's productivity increases by more than 10% while at the same time they significantly reduce their production waste.
Ownership at Toyota level
"A couple of years ago, I was in Japan where, among other things, I was watching the production at Hoshizaki, who owns Gram Commercial. Even then, I considered Hoshizaki to be at Toyota level," says Torben Kjær-Christensen, factory manager at Gram Commercial, and continues: "It is of enormous importance that we are owned by Hoshizaki. Especially for our sales organization, which merged with Hoshizaki Europe here on January 1, 2017. As for production, the Hoshizaki people wish to be consulted about major technical investments in Vojens. In addition, we are quite protected."
So with Hoshizaki as owner, the bar has been set high for Gram Commercial, but luckily, Gram is doing well too. The operation in Vojens is restructuring to Lean, where the entire production flow and all processes are being revised. At the same time, Gram is in full swing implementing the TWI methodology.
Torben Kjær-Christensen formulates it clearly and concisely: "The goal is to maintain a competitive production here in Vojens, and Lean and TWI have already resulted in quality improvements as well as increased capacity and efficiency."
The relationship between Lean and TWI at Gram Commercial
Many Danish companies have worked with Lean for several years and more and more companies have started working with TWI (Training Within Industry). Although there is a historical connection between Lean and TWI, it is still interesting to know if Lean and TWI also work well together practically in operations. TWI is about learning to train employees and leaders in the specific tasks of the company in an efficient and respectful way. TWI is often linked to the implementation of Lean in the business.
Torben Kjær-Christensen says: "Even when I was the Operations Manager at LINAK, which has worked with Lean for many years, I gained interest in the TWI programs via John Vellema from Business Through People. I therefore had a good idea of the potential of the TWI programs when I came to Gram, and TWI made the work with improving right the first time meaningful. I therefore contacted John Vellema again. The TWI method was presented to the management team and then we made a company visit to Fertin Pharma, which is also working with the TWI method. After several in the organization had gained more knowledge of the method, there was a broad consensus that we should launch a pilot project."
Torben Kjær-Christensen continues: "At Gram, we work with Lean flow cells where we want standardized work. This is to ensure a consistent level of quality and high productivity. It requires that our SOPs (Standard Operation Procedures) be updated and that our employees follow the processes. This is where we use the TWI Job Instruction and TWI Job Relations programs. In practice, it means that selected employees are trained to teach their colleagues based on the updated SOPs. And we're creating good results. In just half a year our productivity has increased by more than 10% and we have significantly reduced our waste due to a higher degree of production being done right the first time. The errors we systematically attacked supported by TWI training have decreased by 30-45% in a few months."
Gram thus creates good results with Lean flow cells and TWI. In a Lean flow cell, a well-defined product or service is produced. It is produced in line with demand, as a good cell layout can be turned up and down for the number of employees working in the cell. Employees in the cell usually have the responsibility to follow up on quality and output.
Thus, Gram has chosen the two most essential TWI programs: TWI Job Instruction and TWI Job Relations. TWI Job Instruction is about training job trainers to train the company's employees to do their work correctly, safely and conscientiously and in the same way each time. TWI Job Relations focuses on proactive conflict management and employee satisfaction.
What do the employees say?
On a specific question about the employees' support of TWI at Gram and the link to the TWI Job Relations program, Torben Kjær-Christensen replies: "Employees are generally positive, but it should not be a secret that in the beginning there was some TWI skepticism. We made a list of concerns together with the employees who were trained in TWI. The biggest concerns were partly the fear of training their own colleagues and partly that the management would not be persistent enough to maintain the TWI concept. The first one is easy to understand as it is a great personal step to be trained as a job trainer and having to train a colleague who may have been employed at Gram for over 25 years. But by working systematically with the list of concerns and handling the topics on it, we will get help on the way. Surely it cannot be right for someone to be bullied by their coworkers because of the tall poppy syndrome. The list of concerns is a good tool that must be controlled. The challenge in this context is to concretize and express concerns. When the job trainers are worried, without giving concrete examples or situations, it is not easy to do anything about it as a leader. The challenge for management is to get enough out of the meetings where the list of concerns is in focus. Our approach is to make demands and ask questions to make the issues concrete so that we can do something about them."
Gram Commercial creates a learning organization
I also talk to John Vellema from Business Through People, who has taught Gram Commercial's job trainers about the TWI method.
John Vellema explains: "Many companies have long been interested in creating a learning organization because they have realized that the organization's ability to learn is the only sustainable competitive edge when the outside world is changing as fast as it does. And I actually think they can create a learning organization at Gram Commercial."
The fact that a major concern at the beginning of the TWI process was that the management would not be persistent enough to maintain the TWI concept is interesting in relation to a desire to create a learning organization. Because TWI is very much about learning, and if the employees are worried about the persistence of the management, it is because they are motivated to maintain a good learning environment in the company.
And Torben Kjær-Christensen backs up: "Another good example of our development towards a learning organization is the collaboration with the development team, PTA (Product Technical Department) and our internal Lean consultants. They work together to define how things are going to work and there is a common understanding that specifications and SOPs must be clear and well-functioning. In general, we are constantly getting better at seeing the whole picture and maintaining the understanding of what is important in our goals of high productivity and high quality. Above all, TWI makes job trainers good at realizing our goals by linking the organization's and their own personal visions. One might also say that we promote an open dialogue without being subjective."
Finally, I ask Torben Kjær-Christensen what he would do if he was to start all over again in a company without Lean, TWI or any other management system?
Torben Kjær-Christensen concludes by saying: "If I had to start all over again somewhere, one of the first things I'd implement would be CPI management and TWI. Then, improvement projects that in turn could be supported by the TWI method."
Gram Commercial develops and manufactures refrigerators, freezers and related equipment for professional use. The company was founded in 1901 and is located in Vojens. Gram Commercial's customers are typically restaurants and hotels, catering and central kitchens, pubs and cafes, day care centers and schools, bakeries and confectionery shops. The company also delivers to the marine and offshore industry as well as to the BIO market (hospitals, laboratories, etc.). They market and sell the products via distributors in Scandinavia. The remaining European market is covered by Hoshizaki Europe. The company has annual sales of approximately 300 million DKK. The Japanese Hoshizaki Group bought Gram Commercial in 2008. The group has annual sales of more than 1 billion euros and operates within the same industry as Gram Commercial. The ownership aims to strengthen the overall market position of the business in a competitive market.
The learning organization
Peter Senge introduced the term "learning organization" in the book "The Fifth Discipline" in 1990. The book was translated into Danish in 1995.
In the article "Building Learning Organizations" (also published in 1990 in The Leader's New York), Peter Senge defines learning organizations as: "Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together."