Seville, Ohio – Blair Rubber Co., like most rubber product manufacturers, is constantly evolving.
The difference is Blair is doing it both physically and mentally.
The physical side came to fruition in June when the firm completed a 50,000-sq.-ft. addition to its facility in Seville, including 40,000 square feet of production and warehouse space and increasing the size of its maintenance shop.
It also added a new training room, the Michael Burkholder Training Center, named after the firm's late sales manager, who died in May 2015.
The company just launched a revised website, www.blairrubber.com, complete with new tools to assist end users of rubber linings, the firm's primary product line. It includes a revamped engineering manual, video tutorials, specification sheets, installation guidelines and material safety data sheet documents.
But the company's mental evolution, a focus on internal continuous improvement and employee engagement, began in 2012 and never really ends. That was the core message President Dave Jentzsch delivered to visitors from the Association of Rubber Products Manufacturers, which the firm hosted on an ARPM tour event 12 July.
“It's all part of how we're able to change, move forward and progress,” Jentzsch said. “It's been reported that 44 percent of executives say they're disappointed with their employees. They're unengaged, they're uncommitted. The old leadership model where there's this leader in charge and everybody follows is dead. Anyone that tries to do that now, their organisation is going to collapse. It's just a matter of time.”
Starting from the top
Blair adopted a new leadership model called “Leader-Leader,” designed to get everyone from the top down involved.
But for the programme to be adopted, it had to start at the top. Jentzsch said he had to look inward and found three things:
Approach every problem with curiosity;
Assume the best outcome; and
Look in the eye and voice feelings.
“Every time I see someone look at me, I wave,” he said. “It's amazing how that turns things around. When I started doing that, everyone else started doing that, and things started happening. But it had to start with me and carry to everyone else.”
Recently, Blair invested in a new ERP system and barcoding, which was a huge change for the firm.
Jentzsch said the company used to use a kanban system, and most of the employees needed to be re-trained on using the system and handgun scanners. During the transition, there were growing pains.
He called the work force together with a simple slogan: Don't sink the ship.
Jentzsch said he told the team, “Do it right, do it slow, don't be concerned about going fast. If you don't know, ask the question. It's more important right now to do it right; speed and productivity will come. Right now we've got to learn the system. Don't sink the boat by going fast.”
Not long after that, he said he ended up in the hospital. The team signed a get well card.
One member of the team wrote, “We won't sink the ship.”
Jentzsch also wanted to focus on improving employee recognition. One of the first things Blair did was to establish a leadership award, given to an employee not in a leadership role. He said, however, there had to be a wow factor.
If there wasn't one, nobody gets the award, he added.
For instance, one winner showed up to work while battling colon cancer. Jentzsch said if he wasn't in the hospital, he was at work with his chemo pump on.
He added that the employee's efforts were an inspiration to the entire team.
The firm also gives awards for 100 percent attendance, and like with the leadership award, if nobody meets the goal, nobody receives one.
In addition, it gives points based on safety ideas generated by employees; however, to receive points, the firm must implement the idea.
Jentzsch said employees also can earn points for volunteering on various committees. At the end of the year, Cash awards are given to employees with the most points in each category.
He said another way the firm helps to recognise achievement is by handing out candy bars, an idea he adopted from his managers after they constantly gave him Snickers bars. The candy bars Blair distributes now come with messages stuck to the wrapper, such as, “Your work is greatly appreciated, thank you” or “Your commitment to excellence is inspiring to others.”
“The monumental problems we face in the future and that are going on can't be down to just a few minds,” he said. “We have to have everyone in the company, their minds engaged.”
Alternative training methods
Blair found traditional training sessions were unproductive, so Jentzsch decided to do something different. He split the class into groups and divided the lesson, challenging each group with responsibility of their portion of the lesson.
Each team had to present the most important points to the class. He said all members of the class passed the test.
This is just one of many types of teaching methods Blair uses. Another involves role-playing scenarios, and yet another involves building examples and putting people through them.
A very effective one is mutual peer tutoring.
For instance, if someone were to cut themselves on a mill, the entire team would spend time learning the proper way to cut.
Jentzsch said having to avoid these kinds of tutorial acts as a self-policing incentive for employees who see others deviating from their training.
He said re-training is very effective because now when employees see someone doing something wrong, they police themselves because they know it only takes one event to cause a team-wide re-training.
The firm has another rule: Performance reviews only can be positive. Jentzsch said the goal is to try to find each employee's unique ability and then line that up with the job.
“If there's a problem you have to discuss with the person, it's done at another time,” he said. “That's your job. Do it at another time. Performance appraisals are positive. You might learn something from the employee, and he might say something.”
All of the firm's work culminated in the establishment of its core values, represented in the acronym SILPHA—shared knowledge, integrity, long term, performance, humility and agility. Jentzsch said he doesn't mind if people make mistakes, as long as those mistakes can be tied back to Blair's core value set.
“The minute we're afraid to make mistakes, we're going to stop being an innovative company,” he said. “If you make a mistake and you can tie it to our core values, all you can say is, "I made a mistake. I learned from it, and we won't do that again.' I'd rather be there than to have people afraid to make decisions, afraid to take action or trying to get a hold of a supervisor at midnight when they can make the decision and move on.
“History is full of great companies that collapsed because top leadership self-deceived on what's really important.”