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IMPROVING BUSINESS: Speakers Jo Emerre of Activate Tairawhiti, Elizabeth McInnes of Callaghan Innovation and Bryan Travers from the University of Auckland.

'Liberating' workers key to improving business

2 July 2016, Andrew Ashton, The Gisborne Herald.

Activate Tairawhiti and Callaghan Innovation bring Lean Appreciation course to Gisborne.

EFFORTS are under way to “liberate” shop-floor workers in Gisborne from century-old boardroom “control” techniques in favour of the ways pioneered by business giants Toyota and Google. Chief executives and senior managers from more than a dozen Gisborne businesses this week turned out for a Better by Lean workshop to learn how going on a Lean Appreciation course could improve their business.

Boosting NZ's 'shocking' rate of productivity

Lean thinking is a phrase coined in reference to the concepts behind Toyota’s Toyota Production System and Better by Lean course facilitator Bryan Travers said the aim was to boost New Zealand’s “shocking” rate of productivity.

“We need to raise the bar on productivity. The only way forward if our productivity is that low is to do it differently. What Lean is about is different methodology, particularly in how we engage with people."

About 35 people representing “high-end” management staff from 15 Gisborne companies attended Tuesday’s workshop organised by Activate Tairawhiti and Callaghan Innovation in partnership with the University of Auckland Business School. Mr Travers said the event would provide some initial self-confidence that they could change their practices.

“The key thing is that New Zealand employees, on average, are under-engaged and senior leadership is failing to set a direction.”

Tools for employees to grow

New Zealand was failing to provide the necessary tools for employees to grow.

“The centrepiece of this whole thing is actually the transfer of power from the executive to the frontline employees. They can make a real difference and we are going to empower them to do that in a very different way to the traditional hierarchical, control mentality of last century. We are going to liberate our people from a control mentality and give them some freedom.

“The equation, at present, is way out. You only have to look at these incredible organisations like Google and high-end IT companies in the US where you have a totally liberated workforce and where ideas are the currency for everything. We have a wealth of talent but it’s poorly led, and the only place you can go to change it is to the leadership.”

The Lean Appreciation course provides senior leadership teams with the necessary tools and techniques to return more power to frontline workers.

“It’s about eliminating waste and getting staff working more efficiently and productively so there is more opportunity for innovation and growth, and redeployment of resources that actually add value to companies rather than waste,” said Elizabeth McInnes of Callaghan Innovation.

Regional focus could have a big impact

While the programme was already established in major cities, a more regional focus was seen as being able to have big impacts and more jobs in provincial centres like Gisborne.

“There is big business here. It just needs that support. The businesses involved in this will see a big result. An area like Gisborne can move the needle massively, just by nudging it.”

Activate Tairawhiti Regional Business Partner Jo Emerre said the event was a first step in changing the boardroom culture in the region. “If all staff share the company vision, then you will get a collective drive for continuous improvement.”

Following the two-day workshop, PetfoodNZ International managing director Phil Moulds said his eyes had been “graphically opened.” “As a result of this two-day course, greater value will be placed in our people and processes, and structure and logic will carry our business to real tangible achievement of goals. All NZ businesses owe it to themselves, their people and the country to learn about Lean.”

Understanding direction of the business

Ian Parker, general manager of Walter Findlay, agreed in the value of the course to the region’s businesses. “The clear message is that customer-centric focus should be the basis for all business activity. The challenge for businesses is to engage and empower their people, and for everyone to clearly understand the direction and vision of the business.

“This will lead to clarity in what processes are in place, and the need to constantly be improving, to add value to the customer’s experience. I am sure that everyone attending would join with me in thanking Activate Tairawhiti for bringing this insightful opportunity to our region.”

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