Sometimes it can be pretty hard to tell whether folks are really dumb, or they are actually smart and are just being dishonest. The Mine Safety Appliance company is an excellent case in point. According to their corporate web site, they have no employees or workers – they have associates. In fact, their associates are so integral to their business the company proclaims …
"Yet, above all these strengths are what MSA considers to be its greatest global asset – its people. The high quality of MSA employees reflects a culture of people dedicated to protecting human life."
That said, the company announced that 65 of these great global assets are being laid off from the Vermont plant for a month or so while the Army tests MSA’s new helmet. "Company officials decided that since production might need to be adjusted after the testing, it made sense to stop manufacturing for a short period."
How about, Since the company really doesn’t view its employees as particularly important to their success – despite the self-serving blather in their web site – and the company really doesn’t know very much about manufacturing, it decided to forgo a great opportunity for training, an all out kaizen blitz, and a chance to make an investment in creating a high powered manufacturing machine.
The problem a client I am working with now has is how to free people from production for kaizen. Their business is so good and volume is increasing so rapidly they are having a difficult time balancing growing demand with a growing list of improvement ideas. Having 65 employees available for six weeks or so would be like manna from heaven for them.
Companies like Mine Safety Appliance just don’t get it. Their company literature is loaded with references to ‘innovation’ and platitudes about the value of their associates. Scratch the surface, however, and they are nothing but an old fashioned, 1950’s vintage outfit that has no idea how valuable their people really are. As a result, they have no idea how low their costs can go or how good their quality can be.
To my opening point, I suppose the management of MSA is neither dumb nor dishonest – just so blind to what manufacturing can be that they really see no choice but to take food from the mouths of their "associates", and to gut their paychecks at the same time their "greatest global asset" is coping with the cost of sending kids back to school.
You’ll notice that the MSA’s of the manufacturing world are the ones that bray the loudest about the difficulty of finding capable people to work in their plants – they want the government and the schools to turn out higher quality fodder for their mismanagement. There is no shortage of good, smart people to work in manufacturing. There is only a shortage of people who will tolerate working for a company that has no idea of their true worth.