PW: Who manages the people on the packaging lines?
Lethcoe: We don’t have managers or supervisors on the packaging lines. We’re modeled around self-directed work teams. The operators are responsible for manipulating the schedule, together as a team, so that they can maximize how efficiently the packaging lines accommodate the output of both upstream pasta presses.
PW: That seems not only like a lot of work but a lot of responsibility, too.
Lethcoe: It is, but we provide training designed to help people meet the challenge. We involve machinery vendors in the training where we see an opportunity to do so.
PW: What is an operator’s toughest challenge each day?
Lethcoe: Probably it’s making his or her own decisions. When a supervisor or manager is on the plant floor, it’s easy to fall back on them and say, ‘What do you want me to do?’ But these operators have that decision-making responsibility themselves. They need to develop confidence in their decision-making abilities, and our training is designed to help them do just that. We want them to view it as if they were making decisions about running their own businesses, which in effect is what they’re doing.
PW: Why operate this way?
Lethcoe: If I’m an operator, this kind of environment makes me feel good about where I work and what I do. It’s a simple matter of fulfillment, and it springs from a fundamental belief that everybody is capable of doing this.
PW: Is this approach limited to the Tolleson plant or is it practiced throughout AIPC?
Lethcoe: It’s done to a degree at the other AIPC plants, but at Tolleson we probably leverage it the most.
PW: Is it risky to empower people this way?
Lethcoe: Sure, there’s an element of risk. But we believe the benefits to be gained make this a risk worth taking. —PR