Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What I learned from a paper mill in Canada

What I learned series post 1

This is series of post will cover basic concepts and "ah ha" moments that I have had over the years in the various companies that I have consulted. Some of the content will be common places in your facility and some of it may be new but I share it all with the intent to provoke thought and demonstrate how many things are the same no matter what the end product of the facility.  If you would like to know more about any of the topics please feel free to contact me.
Paper Mill
  1. Unions can drive change initiatives as much or more than leadership. They can be an excuse for why change is stalled, or they can be the reason for success with a change initiative. It is up to the leadership and the relationship they foster. This facility had five unions and four supported the change and the fifth did not fight it. The key to this support was open transparent communication, involvement, and a clear understanding of what was at stake for all parties in the end.
  2. Communication planning is crucial but execution is everything.This is one of the best examples of the change initiative being planned and the details socialized that I have ever seen. The project leaders brought everyone in the plant together to hear the message and learn of both the concepts being implemented and the tools that would be used to ensure success. They also spoke of the risk and what they had planned to mitigate them. It was a great process to be a part of.
  3. Burning platforms burn. Focus on these driver for change and use them to make progress but remember they are nearly single use so the same motivator can not be the burning platform that you continuously use for every change initiative.  This was a facility that knew their fate if an improvement was not made. They could see that they had to make a change or their high production cost would price them out of the market. They used it effectively and were successful in creating a fundamental change in performance.
  4. It is hard to see the changes you are making when you are in the middle of them. Especially in the planning phase. As you start to move through the change journey you will not always be able to see the progress that you are making in terms of bottom line performance gain. Use a master plan to show the items that have been successfully completed and celebrate the little steps until the journey you have made becomes apparent.  
There were many other learnings from this site and it was one of my favorite sites because of their desire to change and the hard work they put into making it happen. 


  1. I have worked at many different companies throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and Thailand. Most of my working life I worked at General Motors. Looking back on the different places and the different people that I have worked for and with I have to admit that the Union is one of the best things for many companies. They allow the people to have a say in how things are done and also have a stake in how the products are made. At many companies the turn over is so great because they don't feel as they have a say in how things are done. It is important for every one to feel as though they are part of the process. This can be done without a union however; many times it is not. Just thought that I would throw my two cents into the mix. Thank you for the good conversation.

  2. When you get all the people behind the changes executing them is a great experience. There is never a greater motivator but when people realize and understand that they are in danger of being prized out of the market.
    At many plants around the world in these difficult time we have gone through in the last years there are a lot of positives to be found, great initiatives driven by excellent people in all positions.

    Great article Shon, thank you for sharing.

  3. "Communication planning is crucial but execution is everything" ....including feedback to the troops! Excellent tip!

  4. Shon, good article. It fairly reflects some of my own experiences. I look forward to more in this series. Take care!