Printing Lean

Job Relations

March 30, 2010

A while back I introduced the topic Training Within Industry, the phenomenally successful program that was implemented at the outset of World War II and was credited with turning the United States from a depression-era, mostly agricultural society into the world's most formidable industrialized nation. After the war ended, manufacturing sectors in the United States lost interest in this "war effort" and Training Within Industry faded into the history books.

Fast forward to the start of the 21st Century: Manufacturers and many other industrial and service sectors are in a struggle to keep up with escalating costs and overseas competition (see The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, Thomas L. Friedman, 2006). Companies are beginning to embrace continuous improvement as a full time business strategy (finally!) and are making honest and earnest efforts to engage their employees in this new and difficult business world. But many are not successful and are struggling to understand why.

One very real reason that companies who are trying, really trying, to use the collective experiences of their employees in a real effort to improve their businesses is that, while companies have begun to change when, where, and why they are engaging their employees, they haven't changed how they're engaging them. We're still using the same means and ways of dealing with employees that we did before we began our continuous improvement journey. In other words, we're still pedaling a bicycle, yet we're now competing against Formula 1 race cars.

Five Needs of a Supervisor

In the Training Within Industry (TWI) materials we talk about the five basic needs of a supervisor or, really, anyone who is going to direct the work of another. These five needs are:

Knowledge of the Work
Knowledge of the work refers to the actual tasks that make up your daily routine. This is what you do. It includes knowing all of the materials, tools, steps, operations, products, equipment, etc., that are needed to perform your job.

Knowledge of Responsibilities
Knowledge of the responsibilities refers to the particular conditions, rules, regulations, or policies that govern your workplace. These include the organization structure, levels of authority, and terms of employment. These are typically referred to as the "HR stuff."

Skill in Instructing
Skill in instructing concerns itself with teaching someone, whether that person is a supervisor, lead, manager or machine operator, how to develop a well trained workforce. Many times, if not most times, we simply toss a new person into the maelstrom that is our everyday work environment and hope that they catch on.

Skill in Improving Methods
Skill in improving methods deals with teaching people how to utilize materials, machines, and people more effectively by studying each operation or task in great detail in order to eliminate, combine, rearrange and simplify the details of the operation or task.

Skill in Leading
Skill in leading is where the Job Relations program of TWI comes in. Don Dinero, winner of the Shingo Prize Research award for his book Training Within Industry: The Foundation of Lean (2005), states that "The creation of the Job Relations program may be the TWI Services' greatest contributor to industrial success." This is because, while the other "J" programs – Job Instruction and Job Methods – "organized and simplified training material that others were already using," the Job Relations program "took an existing (scientific) method and applied it to human relations." To anyone's knowledge this had never been done before.

Fundamentals of the Job Relations Program

There are six main concepts or fundamental principles underpinning the Job Relations program. They are:

1. Supervisory Responsibility
This one sounds pretty easy but it's really not as simple as one might think. One of the greatest failings in modern management is that we expect people who possess good knowledge of the work and of the responsibilities to automatically as non-supervisors to automatically know what their new responsibilities are as a supervisor or leader. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that few people really understand just how complex a supervisor's job is day in and day out, so oftentimes they are left to their own devices and develop their own ways of dealing with individuals and situations.

2. Foundations for good relations
In addition to learning and understanding the skill of how to handle problems, a supervisor, manager or lead person needs to understand what motivates people and helps drive them to succeed (think Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). TWI reinforces four points that help a supervisor anticipate problems or prevent them from happening.

These four points are:
a. Let each person know how (s)he is doing
b. Give credit where credit is due
c. Inform people of any changes that will affect them
d. Make the best use of each person's ability

3. Treat People as Individuals
It is a natural human tendency to want to simplify issues and categorize them in an effort to help us to better understand them. We need to break ourselves of this tendency, because while people may share common experiences, they are unique, and trying to lump people into "one-size fits all" categories fails to take this into account. Not only is everyone unique, but our experiences, wants, and needs are constantly changing and we need to be aware of and accept that very fact.

The TWI Final Report (1945) summed it up this way: "It is [more] important to know the kind of person who has a problem – rather than what kind of problem that person has."

4. The Four-Step Method
Like all other "J" programs, Job Relations follows a basic four-step method to assist supervisors with human problem solving.

5. Trainer's and Supervisor's Problems
During Job Relations training, the trainer introduces four case studies, each of which emphasizes one of the four points in the JR four-step method.

6. Other supervisory relationships
The Job Relations program focuses its efforts on developing skills to help a person manage the relationship between a supervisor and the employees that he or she oversees, but there are many other relationships that affect a person's success. These can be with and between other supervisors, bosses, suppliers, customers – really anyone with whom the supervisor interacts with. Effectively utilizing Job Relations skills will help in all of these cases.

Helping a person develop skill in Job Relations is possibly the single most important action that any company can take with newly hired, promoted or even veteran supervisors. Your supervisors are like the company sergeants and platoon leaders of World War II. The generals didn't win the war; it was the leaders of these small units, these departments within a much larger organization, who were able to get ordinary men and women to accomplish extraordinary feats. Eisenhower, MacArthur, Patton and Bradley may have garnered the headlines and accolades, but it was the Smiths, Jones, and everyday Joes and Janes that had to get the job done. The same holds true for your company. You may be in charge, but it's your everyday leaders who are really the ones who are going to win your battles for you, but only if you equip them with the proper tools to get the most out of their people. Job Relations is that tool.
Tom Southworth is a Lean consultant with ConnStep, Connecticut's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP). He is a Senior Member of ASQ, an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality & Organizational Excellence, an SME Lean Bronze Certified sensei, and a certified TWI Job Instruction Trainer. He can be reached by email at
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