February 6th, 2017

How to Get Shifts to Perform Consistently With Knowledge Sharing

Why are there such differing manufacturing performance levels between shifts?  While some of the differences can be attributed to personnel, a big reason is a company’s inability to effectively transfer knowledge between shifts. An organizational expert provides us with six methods to consider to improve the situation.

Lean manufacturing is based on the premise of consistent processes. Yet when shifts change in the manufacturing world, it’s not uncommon to see some blips in output and/or quality. According to organizational change expert Nancy Cobb, this is in part due to an organization’s inability to transfer knowledge and reinforce consistent job expectations.

Just as inefficient companies have different departments that operate under a “silo mentality” — finance doesn’t talk to marketing, operations doesn’t talk to maintenance — shifts can become self-contained units. Since their job and shift are their “work identity” it’s only natural they’d prefer “their” way to do things, thinking it’s best.

“People who work shifts come to work and leave,” Cobb said. “They are usually just concerned about their shift.”

People are concerned about their shift.

Let’s take a look at some of the chronic issues that foster this shift mentality.  We’ll then consider some real-world steps companies have taken to create a remedy via knowledge sharing and other methods.

What is Knowledge Sharing in Organizations?

Definition of knowledge sharing: Sharing knowledge from one person to another in a group or organizational setting. In an organization, this is an activity in which knowledge about processes, products or services are exchanged, and may be a function of improving efficiency.

What are the Knowledge Sharing Barriers That Can Impact Different Shifts?

With so many benefits to knowledge sharing, it seems like it would — and should — be an organization’s top priority. But as is often the case, there are definitely some barriers that make knowledge sharing difficult.

Generational difference – Third shift workers tend to be the youngest in the plant. While first shift workers typically are committed to a company and improving the processes — younger workers often don’t have that same sense of loyalty, and may not go the extra mile to share knowledge.

Young workers may not be loyal.

This isn’t necessarily a knock on the younger workers, or that they’re bad people. Younger people simply don’t view a job as a place they’ll be for life in the constantly changing workplaces of today — unlike their older counterparts.

Lack of supervision – There are typically no consequences for failing to share knowledge or stick to processes. This is often due to a lack of supervision — or at least equal supervision — for different shifts.

No job aids – Documenting processes is critical for knowledge sharing, but if an organization doesn’t put the resources and effort into creating job aids as well as effective training to reinforce the learning process, the results can be inconsistent.

Training issues – Often training is very informal between co-workers, with no consistent process, documentation or even a confirmation that what is being taught informally is accurate. Often there aren’t formal internal trainers — equipment training may be conducted by the service techs. Many fail to approach the training in a consistent manner, and as a result, each shift may receive different information.  

Lack of follow-up and consequences – Many companies are guilty of rolling out new programs but fail to track progress and/or reinforce the learning.  You might have effective training, but if workers lack supervision follow-up and reinforcement or accountability measures, “People may tend to do what they want to do anyway because no one is watching or they forgot what they learned,” Cobb said.

Afraid to empower – To make knowledge sharing a strategic part of your operation, you need to involve workers.  On one project, Cobb had internal trainers on all three shifts together learning and sharing with one another rather than by “shift.”

They also designed job aids and trained others. They were engaged and took ownership for effective, and most important, consistent training, eliminating the typical shift differences.  They worked hard at knowledge sharing, and cared about it. …and took pride in the outcome.

Empowering employees may be a tall order.

Empowering employees is a tall order for some management teams. The inability to promote good leaders is often what prevents a company from scaling up and growing, according to business guru Verne Harnish. Empower your people, and those people will become engaged and dedicated.

Benefits of Knowledge Sharing:

Knowledge sharing has many benefits, as noted in this article by David Gurteen. Some of the most significant issues for manufacturers include staff turnover, accelerating change, and perhaps most significant, is the “we don’t know what we don’t know” problem.

“Expertise learned and applied in one part of the organization is not leveraged in another,” Gurteen writes.

Some additional benefits include:
-Enabling better and faster decision making
-Utilizing expertise and experience
-Engaging employees
-Making the organization’s best problem solving experiences reusable
-Developing consistency
-Reducing downtime, accidents and improved quality leading to higher productivity and employee satisfaction

Importance of Knowledge Sharing: Case Studies Tell the Tale

When she presents to companies, Nancy Cobb explains the benefits of knowledge sharing via storytelling.  Here are a few example:

Knowledge Sharing Case Study #1: Eliminating Competition and Sharing “Cheat Sheets”

Some companies pit shifts against each other, hoping the competition brings out the best in performance. This may work on occasion, but Cobb shares a case where just the opposite happened.

Competition amongst shifts may not work.

At a company in Chicago, one of the craft unions had just developed a two-year “pay-for-skills” training program. The other maintenance staff had little training, and was interested in what the other union was developing.

To satisfy their interest, Cobb brought reps from all three shifts together to discuss what was needed. They decided to focus on the problem areas. They identified the “root causes,” which became the foundation for training efforts.

Together they identified the processes that were inconsistent (the cause of the problems); designed job aids; and then trained each other. From that shared knowledge, they became fully engaged and resolved the issues through their own training program.

Knowledge Sharing Case Study #2: Overlapping Shifts to Share Knowledge

One of the biggest issues with knowledge sharing is poor / ineffective training.  Typically, an operator will be involved in training other operators. They may not have formal training skills, and/or their training might not be systematic and organized.

This becomes a problem when their training sessions become Q&A sessions, and the training follows the questions. As a result, shifts aren’t trained properly and certainly not consistently.

Shifts aren't trained properly.

To solve the problem, Cobb first designed a “train the trainer” program, so that the materials were consistent and systematic.

Next, the company rearranged some shift times so there would be overlap between shifts. That way, two shifts could be trained at the same time. By rotating the two, they also represented all three shifts, further eliminating any variation.  “You’re really trying to deliver consistency among shifts,” Cobb said.

Knowledge Sharing Best Practices for Different Shifts

The Internet is filled with knowledge sharing best practices. Here are a few specific to different shifts:

1.Overlap shifts when possible. Arrange for times when shifts can be together to share information and receive consistent information. Make sure they’re not leaving while the other shift is arriving. If possible, leave time for more sharing than the customary, “Morning Ralph.”

2. Train your technical trainers how to train, and give them job aids. Remember, your technical trainers are techs first, trainers second. Give them all the tools they need to make the process consistent and uniform.

3. Explain the consequences and share the benefit. Make sure your employees understand the benefits of engaging and sharing knowledge. Also make it clear that poor performance from poor information sharing could eventually hurt them financially as well as physically through accidents.

4. Promote knowledge sharing sessions. Cobb mentioned the collaboration between shifts. It’s a perfect example of how collaboration can trump competition.

5. Create a knowledge sharing culture. You must make knowledge sharing at work part of the culture. The more your team communicates across shifts and in a cross-functional manner, the more effective your company will be.

6. Empower your leaders. The organization that creates leaders is the one that scales for growth the most effectively.  Knowledge is power — give your people the power.

Final Takeaway: Knowledge Sharing Quotes

Different shifts don’t have to mean different levels of production. A key to generating consistent output is to facilitate knowledge sharing.

The hard work now is up to you to commit to the process. To provide you with a little added inspiration (as if the eventual financial rewards wouldn’t be enough, here are some quotes on sharing knowledge):

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”
Margaret Fuller

“The only source of knowledge is experience.”
Albert Einstein

“In today’s environment, hoarding knowledge ultimately erodes your power. If you know something very important, the way to get power is by actually sharing it.”
Joseph Badaracco

“Unless you try to do something beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The more extensive a man’s knowledge of what has been done, the greater will be his power of knowing what to do.”
Benjamin Disraeli

“Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.”
Dalai Lama

“The only thing to do with good advice is to pass it on. It is never of any use to oneself.”
Oscar Wilde

“There is no wealth like knowledge, and no poverty like ignorance.”
Buddha

“In vain have you acquired knowledge if you have not imparted it to others.”
Deuteronomy Rabbah

“A teacher who establishes rapport with the taught, becomes one with them, learns more from them than he teaches them.”
Mahatma Gandhi

“Knowledge rests not upon truth alone, but upon error also.”
Carl Jung

“An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”
Benjamin Franklin

“We owe almost all our knowledge not to those who have agreed, but to those who have differed.”
Charles Caleb Colton

“Often, we are too slow to recognize how much and in what ways we can assist each other through sharing such expertise and knowledge.”
Owen Arthur

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