5 Keys to Achieving Employee Accountability in Manufacturing

If you have worked in any type of manufacturing for more than a week or two, you’ve quickly realized that your work-life’s goal is to improve one or more of the following performance measures: Safety Incident Rate (TIR), Customer Satisfaction (Product Quality), Productivity, Scrap Rate, or Cycle Time. There are other performance measures to consider, but the majority of us in manufacturing will find ourselves working relentlessly to improve one or all of the five measures above for the majority of our careers.

Our first and best line of defense against any of these measures regressing is to implement mistake-proof countermeasures that remove the possibility of human error interfering with safely producing first quality product at efficient rates. We should continue to direct as many of our resources at finding these solutions as possible, but in the meantime (since we probably have not found all the solutions), it’s important to consider how equipped you are to handle the rare exceptions when human error impedes our progress. Establishing a firm and fair accountability process in your operations is the answer, but the following steps should be followed before attempting to enforce accountability.

  1. Education and Training – The first step in establishing personal accountability is to understand the proper methods to perform the critical operations in the facility.  Whether it is proper safety procedures (wearing the proper Personal Protective Equipment, for example), best quality practices, or lean manufacturing techniques, employees must be educated and trained by certified personnel.
  2. Demonstrated Capability – After an employee is educated and trained on the proper methods, the employee must be able to demonstrate the capability to actually execute the movements or skills in the correct order. Again, this must be done under the supervision of certified personnel. This step in the process is often overlooked, but it is critical because many employees can use logic or personal experience to pass a written test, but actually doing shows true understanding of a concept.
  3. Documented Skills and Capability – Once the employee has shown she understands the concepts and can demonstrate the correct method of performing the task(s), these activities must be documented and signed off by a minimum of three parties: a trained employee, a certified trainer, and an area or department supervisor. Signing your name on the “dotted line” gives any document a much higher level of significance and importance.
  4. Reliable Measurement of Performance – Documentation of skills is great, but unless you have a reliable measurement system to tell you whether or not the employee is performing to the known best standard, you will have a difficult time holding her accountable. Some examples of measurement systems include
    • Audit Systems – Periodic observations of each employee during the course of performing his/her job.
    • Quality Standards – Regular quality inspections of in-process product can provide immediate feedback as to whether or not an employee has performed quality critical actions correctly.
    • Performance Standards – Efficiency reports, shift production counts, or equipment speed reports can provide day to day, shift to shift, or in some cases, hour to hour feedback on employee adherence to standard methods.
  5. Consistent, Fair, and Firm – Coaching, Recognition and Enforcement – Once you have all of the above in place, but not before, coaching, recognition and enforcement can begin.  All employees must be held accountable to the same standard or range of performance throughout the facility.  If one person is held to a higher standard than their team members or another team, both recognition and enforcement can become dicey. Consistent recognition of desired performance will set the stage for continuous improvement. Finally, a progressive discipline process should be used to enforce the policies and expectations of the leadership team. The discipline policies must be documented and enforced consistently.

In study after study, one of the leading causes of employee dissatisfaction is the lack of accountability among their peers. The key to improving this is implementing the countermeasures outlined above. After these are accomplished, leadership can then begin to motivate all team members to live up to the standards that are set. Group or Work Team accountability can be achieved using the five keys, but the team goals must be broken down into individual responsibilities and actions and the five keys applied to the individual components of the team. Relentless pursuit of mistake-proof countermeasures along with following these five keys will lead to a safer, more engaged and productive workforce.


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Dan Flynn is a Perfomance Solutions™ by Milliken business practitioner.