In this entry, I talk about general galvanizing because it is one of the sector I know best, but many other industries could have a place here. That said, let’s see how this industry fits or doesn’t fit the famous 14 key points that Edwards Deming established for the significant improvement of a company. This is a generalization, obviously, but I think it serves as a valid reflection on the management of a very traditional type of industry.
- Create constancy in the purpose of improving the product. We could say that the first point is met by most (not all) galvanizing companies. Senior management sets long-term goals and communicates the mission to all employees. It is not true that all of them invest in research and education, but at least the purpose of improvement assumes it as a reality and they dedicate resources and time to this, in different proportions. After all, it is something that is specified in the quality management system..
- Adopt the new philosophy. The second point already marks differences between some companies and others. If the objective of this point is to eliminate waste, defects and lack of productivity, it must be said that they succumb without contemplation. On many occasions they do not know how to do it or, usually, the managers of the companies are overtaken by the operators and area managers, who are the ones who mark the distances, often in a toxic way..
- Stop relying on inspection to achieve quality. The fact that the ISO 1461: 2009 standard itself requires the inspection of the material as a requirement of conformity leads practically the entire industry to ignore (almost always in the sense of ignorance, not contempt) the statistical control of the processes. The galvanizing sector commonly forgets that inspection is not the one that introduces quality to the product, but rather that it is in a correct control of all the chemical and mechanical processes of the system.
- End the practice of price-based business. Most galvanizers are gripped by the monopoly situations of big zinc suppliers and by some of the major clients. If we stick to the philosophy established by Deming, it should be noted that purchasing decisions in the sector cannot be subject to the price variable only.
- Constantly improve the production. Usually, production is improved with the innovations provided by suppliers (baths, combustion system, chemical products…) under the determination to seek the best productivity and, in some way, the best quality. However, the incorporation of statistical tools to control processes is conspicuous by its absence, and even on many occasions the existing knowledge of good practices and best techniques in favor of what has traditionally always been done is ignored. We are talking about a sector whose industries, for the most part, are born as family businesses, very traditional and impervious (at least in Spain) to management innovations. All that of eliminating special variations and reducing common variations is unknown for this sector.
- Implement training. Although everyone claims to comply with the requirement to train employees and managers, the absence of expert trainers in this activity and, above all, a certain amount of cynicism towards what a third party can teach them, turns this point out of the equation.
- Adopt and implement leadership. As I mentioned before, most of the time the leaders in this sector are not the directors, but the employees. Leadership away from the vision of employee persecution and the creation of a paradigm of full collaboration to find and solve the causes of errors, is practically non-existent.
- Discard fear. Operators limit themselves of asking or modifiying procedures from existing ones because of fear. This means that there is no climate of trust between managers and operators.
- Break down barriers between departments. It is crucial to collaborate and work as a team, and it requires adequate communication channels, new evaluation and reward systems based on teamwork and adequate training. Despite some attempts, it is usual for everyone to try to conserve their plot under control.
- Eliminate slogans, exhortations and goals. As in many other small or medium-sized industries, workers learn how stop being frustrated by the mistakes of the managers. And managers do not understand that slogans and exhortations are useless when the worker does not have the appropriate means to achieve the level of quality required, or when he is prevented from actively participating in the company.
- Eliminate numerical quotas. Managers love numerical goals. They are comfortable with them. The idea of leadership and continuous improvement makes them indifferent. They do not understand that numerical goals are incompatible with the philosophy of continuous improvement: once they are reached, the motivation to continue improving is lost. Even more, the variability of the process itself leads to interpreting as non-compliance what is evidence of an outdated management philosophy.
- Remove the barriers that prevent people from being proud of their work. Typically, annual performance evaluation systems are found based on the numerical objectives mentioned above. And it is a mistake to take only into account the final result and not the time spent improving the process or collaborating with other colleagues. Only by removing these barriers it is possible to increase motivation and improve the work environment.
- Stimulate education and self-improvement. In this sector, as in many others, it is assumed that all members of the company must constantly improve and expand their knowledge, but it is rarely assumed that it must be carried out beyond the skills specifically related to the job. For this reason, it is usual to find skilled workers in their own area, but not multipurpose workers, experts in almost all processes.
- Do something to achieve the transformation. Sometimes, senior management is terrified at the very idea of creating a new organizational structure, more modern and efficient and more adapted to the need to continually improve and stimulate work teams. They have been working in a traditional way for so long that they feel any change towards this point means removing the ground on which their feet rest. And they don’t do it. And the company does not transform and does not improve in a holistic way, but continues to celebrate the achievement of its numerical goals and to be angry when these goals are not met.
The image, therefore, of this sector is similar to that of other sectors implanted in the industrial fabric through traditional companies with vertical management styles based on objectives and not on improvement. The conclusion is immediate: a lot can be done, although it is true that it will be very difficult to do if the first change does not take place, the one that must be experienced by the controls and, above all, by senior management.