Infiana proves: Only those who involve their employees in improving a process can create sustained improvements.
February 8th, 2019
More than one hundred sixty years of experience and the spirit of innovation that accompanies it – this is what defines the company now known as Infiana Germany GmbH & Co. KG. For the third time in a row, the specialty films manufacturer was named one of Germany’s hundred most innovative medium enterprises. But the companywide push for improvement isn’t about to slow down: late last year, the company introduced its Infiana Excellence (InEx) initiative in order to reshape its processes in a lasting manner. InEx is Infiana’s holistic initiative for continuous improvement of its processes, products, and services, and is based on the principles of Total Productive Management (TPM). Successfully implementing changes requires the support and participation of all employees. Infiana shows why this is so important.
The urge to improve has been present at Infiana for a long time. Over the years, numerous tools and management systems have been introduced to improve processes. Sadly, they did not find the necessary acceptance among all employees, as these tools didn’t always meet the employees’ particular circumstances and demands in practice. In some cases, employees had to put significant additional effort into using these methods. As a result, it became apparent that these systems were never successfully integrated into day-to-day work.
The Infiana Excellence Initiative (InEx) bundles this selection of methods and skills, creating a unified whole that is then adapted as much as possible to employees‘ requirements. By collectively focusing on a shared goal, resources can be applied far more effectively to achieve results. This quickly demonstrates the added value of this improvement initiative to employees, raising their desire to get involved.
”Too many employees and managers are afraid of changes and associate them with significant additional effort. A sustained implementation often fails because the changes are neither seen as relevant nor accepted,” explains Simon Porn, Group Business Excellence & Quality Assurance Director. ”The know-how we need can be found in the heads of our colleagues; they experience the problems and challenges in their day-to-day work, and it’s only with them that we can leave behind old habits and explore new ways of working and thinking.” This is where InEx brings the continuous improvement mindset to each and every employee into the process of continuous improvement. Otherwise, important voices and the level of acceptance required for the change process would be lost. Regular exchanges throughout all levels of the organization are therefore essential to Infiana.
Creating Regular Exchange
Maintaining communication between production shifts as well as between managers and employees is a challenge even for Infiana. “A proper working dialogue routine is imperative for a long-term improvement process,“ Simon Porn explains. “It creates a framework that can be followed again and again in day-to-day work. It helps employees as well as managers to internalize a solution-oriented way of thinking.“
To create routine in exchanges, Infiana uses the following elements:
1. Setting Targets
What are our common targets, and what do they mean for the individual employee?
Only those who know their goal reach it. That’s why it’s important to Infiana that every employee knows what the company is trying to achieve. Such overarching targets are often too abstract and too far from employees’ daily tasks. That’s why InEx breaks these targets down all the way to the operator level. Only when your personal targets are known is it possible to understand what they require. If the employee is able to achieve these, they become aware of how they are helping the company achieve its targets.
2. Create Transparency
Where are we and how far are we from our goal?
It’s important not to lose sight of where you currently stand. This is the only way employees can set priorities. This transparency and a continuous comparison between targets and status quo play a central role. This shows if and how successful measures are. If they aren’t, it is possible to stage a timely intervention without losing resources in the long term. For this reason, Infiana is constantly working on further developing reporting mechanisms and tools at all levels of the organization. From real-time displays in production to reports for senior management, everything is oriented towards ensuring that employees have access to relevant information at all times.
3. Identifying Obstacles
What is preventing us from reaching our goal?
It’s normal that not every goal can be reached directly. However, it’s important to continuously assess the corresponding procedures and work on them with the help of an improvement routine. The relevant obstacles must be clearly defined. These act as the end point for the ongoing improvement process. Here, InEx builds on a new approach: the improvement program shouldn’t just be used to create mid- and long-term improvements, but also for daily problem solving on the operator level.
4. Plan, Do, Check, Act
How can we change?
With the help of the PDCA cycle, individual obstacles should be removed step by step by working in a fashion that is experimental but focused on creating knowledge in a scientific manner. Here it’s about picking out one process and seeing: where is the potential root cause, and how can the mechanisms that result in it be adjusted? It is important to set smaller interim target conditions and only work on one obstacle at a time. This prevents resources and time from being wasted if the relevant expectation can’t be fulfilled.
Create Standards for Long-Term Wins
Infiana wants to create sustained process improvements in production as well as administration. In the long term, employees will therefore go through training to practice regular exchanges and develop an understanding for the continuous improvement process (CIP). “Only with this kind of joint development of solutions you create a culture of feedback and trust,” Simon Porn explains. “We want to get away from the question ‘Who is responsible for the problem’ and move towards collectively thinking ‘What is the problem – and how can we solve it together?“ InEx therefore builds on the idea that employees and their managers go through these steps together. The reasons for this are multi-faceted: “The employee responsible for the process is the one who knows the most about its problems. They are the ones who have to grapple with those problems in their daily work,” Simon Porn explains. “In addition, in this way the employee recognizes how important their experience is to the change process. Finally, they are more likely to carry out suggestions for improvement that they themselves have contributed to.”
Individually Motivating Employees
A process is ultimately only as good as the person performing it. Their abilities and qualifications aren’t the only deciding factor: how motivated they are has just as much bearing on their ability to successfully carry out their job. But how do you motivate your employees? At Infiana, it’s down to management.
The specialty films manufacturer has set a long-term goal of continuing to develop its managers in their capacity as leaders so they can direct employees in a responsible and ongoing fashion. The manager acts as a coach, supporting employees as they face their individual challenges and collaborating on solutions. “We want to support our management as they take on a coaching function, accompanying employees‘ development processes and individually fostering them within the context of their jobs,“ explains Tamara Stüllein, HR Advisor for Personnel Development.
An important reference point here is the Learning Zone Model, which lays out three zones of development based on the challenge posed by individual tasks.
The Learning Zone Model
In the Comfort Zone, the employee performs tasks they are already familiar with; using their experience, they can routinely overcome problems and obstacles as they occur and in doing so feel a sense of safety and stability. In the long term, however, this zone lacks the appeal of new, unknown situations. Personal development is almost non-existent and motivation and engagement fade over time.
In the Learning Zone, the employee is confronted by new tasks close to those found in their daily work. The employee feels challenged but not overtaxed, as they have the ability as well as the confidence to independently develop new solutions for problems that arise. New experiences spur learning, and as a result employees can expand their Comfort Zone. Through this, they are able to achieve successes and approaches further tasks in a more motivated and confident manner.
In the Fear Zone, employees do not have the means to solve problems independently. They are overburdened, can’t complete their work, and ultimately fail to meet the challenge they’ve been given. Under these circumstances, learning is impossible – instead, stress, fear, and frustration rule. The employee is demotivated in approaching further tasks.
“These zones offer helpful guidance when it comes to accompanying personal development and motivating our employees. They support our managers in their coaching functions, helping to identify each employee’s Learning Zone and helping to keep these in mind when assigning tasks. In this way, the employee can be motivated by successes and individually fostered,” Tamara Stüllein explains. But the Zone Model isn’t the only driver of employee motivation. “It’s our goal to create a culture of trust and feedback. Only with open communication and applied transparency we can motivate our employees to contribute themselves with the entirety of their experience,” she adds.
First Successes and Outlook
”With InEx, we have managed to integrate a process of continuous improvement into our day-to-day work and give our colleagues the opportunity to contribute to improvements. By solving problems on a daily basis, we can achieve advances that are visible to employees,” Frank Rosenkranz, CIP Manager, describes his experiences. “What’s more, communication between the various departments, production areas, and between production and the production-adjacent administration has gotten noticeably better. In this way, many ‘friction losses‘were removed and effectiveness was raised,“ he adds.
"CIP doesn't only work on shopfloor level; InEx also helps us to get more transparency in administration processes in order to find out how employees there can also improve their processes," Christina Kaiser, CIP Manager, explains. "This clarifies for them how their daily work contributes to achieving top-level company goals. This has already lead to a completely new working culture," she adds.
With InEx, Infiana shows that a sustained continuous improvement process can only be established when all employees are brought into the fold. It begins by preparing employees for new processes and routines, and continues through to the development and implementation of ideas for improvement.
”Our initial success and the positive feedback from all levels confirm that we’ve taken the first step in the right direction with InEx,” Simon Porn summarizes. “We’re excited to see what’s awaiting us on the road ahead, as we know that the improvement process is a long-term commitment and requires everybody’s attention.“