Using LPA Systems to Break Communication Norms on the Shop Floor
Just hearing the word “audit” can send some people into a frenzy. Whether it is a financial audit, an environmental audit, or even a basic process audit on the shop floor of a manufacturing plant, the person facing an auditor’s questions is likely to feel uncomfortable, if not downright defensive. But what if you could reverse the negative connotations associated with audits and show that the audit process can indeed yield positive consequences such as improved communication among your employees? If your organization is conducting layered process audits (LPAs), then you already have a mechanism in place to enhance consistent, two-way communication in the workforce.
Some of your shop floor employees may rely on their memories when completing important process steps, rather than referring to written procedures—this, of course, can result in deviations to written standards and potential nonconformances. A shop floor operator may feel uncomfortable admitting to a mistake or placing blame on a process that is simply not working. When a process change is implemented, employees must change habits that may be quite ingrained over time. As a result, some employees might slip back into old habits and processes. LPAs help ensure that this doesn’t happen and that work is being performed as intended.
By creating a safe atmosphere to hold important conversations about using operational processes, you can break the typical communication barriers that exist on the shop floor. Interactions between auditors from the management area—perhaps engineers or plant managers—with shop floor workers can build trust between these groups of employees and create a sense of shared ownership in the quest to ensure that production processes are being followed as intended.
Putting Employees at Ease
With regularly scheduled LPAs involving a wide range of supervisory levels, you can set the stage for regular, ongoing communication that is focused on operational risks. A robust LPA program will help your organization address both standardization and variation issues while changing from a detect-and-correct mindset to a proactive quality culture with an emphasis on verification and prevention.
To help your shop floor employees feel more at ease with the auditing process, be sure to communicate LPA program details on a regular basis. Key themes to reinforce might include:
- LPAs are designed to verify that the organization’s system and processes are working as designed. Make sure your employees understand this distinction to alleviate any feelings of being personally judged or evaluated.
- Let employees know that they shouldn’t being doing anything differently when their work area is undergoing an LPA—because you want an auditor to get a snapshot or true picture of what is happening with a particular process.
- Share stories of success that come from your LPAs. Once employees learn how their co-workers have responded with improved work processes, they are more likely to feel comfortable with the LPA process.
Using Gemba Walk Principles
Another idea for breaking typical shop floor communication norms is to employ a key element from a Gemba Walk—showing respect—in a variety of ways, such as:
- Coaching employees to improve performance and enhance their processes.
- Developing the problem-solving skills of your shop floor employees.
- Challenging employees to develop their own solutions.
- Encouraging your auditors to offer positive feedback and reinforcement when they observe shop floor employees who are following written procedures correctly. LPAs should note positive actions as well as those that are in need of correction. Positive feedback instills motivation that will drive continuous improvement.
Improving LPA Questions Through Feedback
An effective LPA should involve two-way communication, and that means that shop floor employees have ample opportunity to provide feedback to the management-level auditors. Rich conversations between management and process users often lead to new or improved LPA questions for future audits. Many times, the shop floor employees have a unique perspective on a process that management has never considered; through information sharing during the LPA process, a new line of audit questions is discovered.
By working to reinforce the perception that your LPA system and, by association, your LPA auditors are not there to watch for mistakes and then deliver “punishment,” two-way communication between management and front-line employees is encouraged. With this perspective, over time, your LPA process will foster a spirit of cooperation and trust between management and employees.