What a buzz this week, to treat some 30 AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence Australia) members and friends to a tour of Holden’s Elizabeth, South Australia, site. One of few remaining opportunities to do so before the plant (sadly) ceases production in October this year.
AME's interests in arranging the site tour were two-fold: Firstly, of course, to connect with the Holden team, learn about the journey they have been on, and how they are solidly focussed on "going out on top", and secondly, to treat attendees to learnings and insights across such topics as Continuous Improvement, Lean, Standardisation, Team Empowerment, Performance, Safety, Customer Satisfaction and so on - an opportunity to peek inside their “Global Management System”.
In planning for the event, we hoped that the tour would provide opportunity for learnings to be taken into other SA businesses and influence change and improvement in those operations. We were not disappointed. I'm sure many attendees will hold firm memories of the processes they saw and heard about, as well as the attitudes of the people running them.
How wonderful it was to hear the story of the team ("Holden Together") and their commitment to continuing - not just to showing up each day 'til the end' - but to driving improvements across each plant and breaking records in their performance. Among the achievements, there have been significant profitability improvements (recognised globally), and their "first time quality" ratings are at an all time high. Absenteeism rates are down to a miniscule level. What outstanding commitment and achievements from a team of people that know they will not have a job there beyond October! It should also be acknowledged that the Holden team extends well beyond the GM employees. Many other businesses and employees in the supply chain will be affected but have also worked solidly to continue delivery and improvements with just as much commitment as the Holden employees.
It has been said that Holden/GMH has been like a "Manufacturing University" to South Australia. I heartily agree. So many senior managers, engineers and other operators I have met across many businesses in SA, as employees at Holden/GMH Elizabeth, learned not just their trades, but also how to work and drive improvement of processes and results. Solid skills for any business.
Without wishing to sound callous - despite the looming end of car manufacturing in this country/State I am rather glad that the manufacturing and other sectors have, and will continue to benefit from, the transfer of the significant skills developed by automotive manufacturers (at least in the short term). Lets hope we can keep them alive for the businesses and industries of our future.
Why would we want to keep such skills alive if “manufacturing is all but dead” (as some actually say)? Well, for an example, one of the newer business "gurus" on the block, Verne Harnish, author of "Scaling Up" and "Mastering the Rockefeller Habits" (who has an increasing number of very committed subscribers in Australia), offers a premiss that there are 4 key "decisions" to be made in growing a successful business. The third of those is Execution - i.e. "Are all the processes running without drama and driving industry-leading profitability?". This suggests the notion that standardising and improving processes is crucial to success. Whether an organisation/business is manufacturing physical stuff, retailing goods, or delivering a service there will always be processes at play that “need to be running without drama” as well as driving profitability.
My sincere thanks to the GMH team who hosted, toured us around and educated us this week, (and not to mention, for all of the amazing vehicles you have made for us over many years!). We are very grateful for the experience and the many takeaway learnings our group was treated to. We wish all the Holden Australia staff and suppliers wonderful opportunities and careers in the future. I hope many of you will continue to work in areas where your operational excellence experience can shine through and influence the growth of other industry sectors in SA and Australia. Our particular thanks to Jamie Getgood, Toni Frost, Darren Simpfendorfer and Dave!
Warmest regards from AME, and from me!
(PS – Dear Readers, the staff at GMHolden Elizabeth, as well as those within supplier companies, have fantastic skills that can make a difference in almost any industry - do connect with the Holden Worker Transition Centre if you'd like to be connected to some great potential employees for your business!)