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Barnes Group CEO Patrick Dempsey Discusses Culture’s Role in Operational Excellence

America’s manufacturing sector will likely require an estimated 3.4 million workers over the next decade with over 2 million of these jobs expected to remain unfilled due to a shortage of people with the skills necessary to operate in a 21st-century manufacturing environment.

CEOs will need to understand the key variables contributing to the gap. Overall, there is a need for a new kind of workforce strategy, one that focuses on addressing employees’ perceptions of manufacturing, optimizing the deployment of the existing workforce, and building the right talent pipeline for the future.

The Barnes Group is one organization that is achieving this goal. An international industrial and aerospace manufacturer founded in 1857, is a recipient of the Shingo Prize. Awarded by the Shingo Institute, the prize is awarded based on a complete assessment of an organization’s culture and how well it drives world-class results.

“We received it in 2012 for our aerospace manufacturing location in Utah,” recalls CEO Patrick Dempsey. And that recognition “served as an inflection point that infused even greater enthusiasm and excitement into the Barnes enterprise system.” As a result, Barnes then launched a bronze, silver, gold measurement system and now every business within the organization is measured on an annual basis as to their progress along the journey.

The Barnes enterprise system has four main tenets:

1) It begins with culture and the values the company was built on;
2) All employees are aligned behind the vision and the strategy of the company;
3) Putting in robust systems that drive continuous improvement in everything, including innovation;
4) Results.

Like the Toyota lean manufacturing system, Barnes’ system “embraces a lot of the same concepts,“ but a key difference, he says, is that where lean provides the physical tools to improve a production system, Barnes was giving its employees the cultural tools to achieve the same goals.

“If you haven’t really won the hearts and minds of those employees, then their enthusiasm to use the tools wanes very quickly. They have to really be able to put it in perspective. So our Barnes enterprise system combines culture with operational excellence. And we believe that the combination of the two is what makes ours unique and different from what you might refer to traditionally as the Toyota production system, which is very much based on tools and different ways of driving overall.”

To get started, Dempsey explains, they took all the leadership across the company and walked through their current understanding of the entire Barnes enterprise system. “We benchmarked against Toyota, Danaher, Shingo (which has a culture component that we liked), a number of different known and very reputable lean-focused organizations.”

Next, they brought in the employees and went through the culture aspects that were involved in embarking on the journey. “We talked about what it meant to them in terms of creating job security, allowing them to compete in a world market. And I think therein lies what is really the fundamental challenges that faces every company today.” Over 60% of Barnes Group’s employee base is outside the U.S. today. They have over 800 German employees and 500+ Chinese employees out of a total of 4,700 people worldwide in 60 locations. So the benefit of having the skills to interchange locations is huge.

“We took the bedrock on which the company has been built—our eight values—and then looked at how those values translate into behaviors in everything we do, in how we operate within our businesses on a daily basis,” Dempsey explained. “So it included anything from respect for the individual to always being honest and having the highest levels of integrity to looking to employ standard work and systematic thinking in everything we do.”

Shifting the employee base, he says, from “having to” to “wanting to” is at the heart of the cultural aspect. “It helps the employees see the reason why they’re using these lean tools, and they actually see the value and the longer-term purpose. If we’re going to compete with countries and emerging markets that have a much lower cost base than we do here in the western world, then one of our greatest defenses or competitive advantages is not only intellectual property, but it is also our productivity. And for every one part that they’re making in an hour, we need to be able to make six parts an hour. If they’re making six parts in an hour, we need to be able to make 18 parts in an hour.  And I think the Barnes enterprise system sets out the framework to allow us to achieve that.”



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