For any operation, Engineered Labor Standards (ELS) provide a tool for you to benchmark how well your operation can perform. The challenge for any operator is answering the question on “how” to achieve that level of performance. Engineered Labor Standards require both the building of the standards and the ability to execute on those standards.
There are three main phases that should occur to ensure you can achieve the performance levels provided by the standards:
- Be involved in development of the ELS
- Train your employees and supervision
- Execute to the scheduled plan
Gathering Feedback and Securing Buy-In
Let’s start by reviewing the first item: “Be involved in the development of the ELS.” In developing labor standards, a specific method is identified as the “correct” way for the work to be completed. Make sure you understand not just how to perform the method, but why that method is being used. Does the method make sense to you? Is it repeatable? Is it the most efficient way to accomplish the task? Would you label it a best practice? You should be able to answer “YES” to each of these questions. If you answered “NO” to any of these items, you MUST go back and review the method. The most important piece of this phase is to make sure operators believe the output of the ELS is realistic and obtainable. If operators do not believe the method to complete the task is obtainable, they will not believe that the final output, an engineered standard time in this case, is realistic.
Training and Change Management
The next phase involves training your employees and supervision. This phase goes beyond just helping your employees understand how to complete the job. Providing your employees with a better understanding of standards, how they are built and why they are used, will help you get the buy in necessary to achieve the desired productivity levels.
Start by teaching your employees about ELS and why they are used. It is critical to help the employee understand that standards are used to determine what is possible in an environment that has standard working conditions and a trained operator working with average skill and average effort. In this way, when standards and productivity levels are not met, we can use standards as a management tool to understand what can be improved.
Training employees on the process and method steps that were used to create that standard will help employees perform the task correctly so you can easily assess where in the process there may be deficiencies. Let’s take “Unload a Trailer” as a process for example. Review all the steps that have been included and excluded in building the standard. Explain how the process should be completed per the standard. Show the employee that the process can be completed and provides a realistic output. Next, teach the supervisors how to coach the employee based on the method documented in the standard.
Achieving Desired Objectives
Now let’s review the last phase, “Executing to the plan.” Engineered labor standards only help you schedule your labor. It is up to you to staff your operation to the plan. You must be prepared to handle fluctuations in labor needs. Having the correct staffing is one of the most important factors to being able to execute the plan. Always plan each area appropriately, and push hard to accomplish the task per the plan. Do not over/under plan your staffing based on potential absenteeism or reduced volume levels. Be creative to create the right staffing levels. Cross-training your employees in different areas allows for versatility when you have situations arise with your staffing needs. Work with your employees to determine if they have personal needs that align with your schedules to accommodate light production days versus heavier production days. Offer incentives for employees to come to work on time. There are a variety of approaches you can take to plan your staffing and you should not be afraid to adjust your techniques to suit your operation.
Hold your employees accountable for achieving the plan. There will always be reasons why the plan cannot be achieved. It will be your responsibility to mitigate any risks and be prepared to handle situations as they arise. Let’s take our “Unload a trailer” example again. If we find that a package has fallen and broken open, there is a good chance this was not a planned event and assigned to the standard. It will be your actions in managing the team that will reduce the time necessary in handling such an event.
Engineered labor standards are only one step in a multi-phase process to ensure your operation is successful in maximizing your workforce performance. Be involved in the development of the standards. This will ensure you fully grasp and believe in the schedules. Your employees will accept the standards better if they fully understand what the process is and how the standards are being used. In addition, execution of the standards will be much better if supervisors are involved and trained to be coaches. Executing to the plan requires forecasting correctly and holding your employees (and yourself) accountable to achieving the results.