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Stop Shooting Yourself in the Foot!

By Scott Ellis, Ed.D.

November 13, 2023

So many frustrating economic and societal conditions are working against manufacturers. Yet, the most infuriating losses are self-inflicted. A CEO recently put it this way: “We have procedures in place with good training and clear goals, so why do we keep shooting ourselves in the foot?”

This is not a new annoyance, and we have tried many solutions:

  • We have issued mandates and directed supervisors to remind people every day. This follows the belief that with sufficient nagging, compliance is the path of least resistance.
  • We have invested in training and measurement reporting and then allowed ourselves to get distracted by seasonal or situational changes. This has resulted in cynicism and resistance in our team.
  • We have incented people for productivity and suffered remorse when people felt entitled to bonuses when not achieved through performance.

And the list goes on.

It is no secret that the habits of highly effective manufacturers include consistency, awareness, communication, accountability, and recognition. These factors are always present in a culture where best practices are common practices.


Consistency of follow-through is the major difference between resolutions and lasting change. If it is worth doing well, we must begin by assigning
responsibility to all and oversight to a few. For example, quality is everyone’s job, but measurement and reporting
are assigned to a person. Follow-through is completely dependent on discipline in leadership to apply the agreed-upon consequences and recognition without exception. Practices that are adopted by the team apply equally to the baler operator and the person with their name on the door. The first question to answer about consistency is, “What can we do to ensure we stay invested in this practice, regardless of backlog, labor constraint, or market volatility?” If we won’t take this first step, then we might as well invest in armored shoes.


If best practices are to be adopted as our way, they must first be understood and visible. Take ink management as an example. In most plants, the ink supplier has trained crews multiple times in the measurement of pH and viscosity. There may even be convenient measurement logs at each print station. However, on a trip press side, one is likely to find a coating of dust on the bottom of the measurement cup. While education and measurement are essential, compliance won’t happen until crew members are aware of how this practice will improve their experience. Once they see the data that shows that rework, jam-ups, and extended cleanups will be significantly reduced, they get motivated to “do it our way.”


Broken resolutions don’t happen because we change our minds about their value. They are broken by distraction, old habits, and avoidance of the discomfort that comes with forming new habits. Communication on the topic can be visual, on the screen, or a machine-side measure. No matter how sophisticated the company’s data management may be, it is most effective to involve the team in keeping score. In most companies, a measure such as overall equipment effectiveness is gathered and reported monthly. Ownership of the scores is made difficult by these mysterious numbers. Even those who have received classroom or online training (see AICC’s Packaging University at in measurement will benefit and comply more quickly if they participate in the data gathering and reporting. A line-side production-reporting dry-erase board has been helpful to many. It is redundant to the production coding at the machine terminal but involves more thought and visibility of data. Even if the numbers are provided by a supervisor, the act of discussion and writing in the uptime, the run speeds, and the number of saleable units produced will connect theory to practicality. Soon, the team is keeping score, diagnosing issues, and competing with other shifts.

Communication may also be verbal in a crew meeting or one on one. A conversation starter for many of these best-practice discussions is found in AICC’s Get to the Point videos. These two-minute explanations help the team focus and follow up with a discussion of the application’s benefits.


A resource on this topic titled Holding People Accountable is available on AICC’s Packaging University. Most people do not enjoy holding others accountable any more than they relish being held accountable themselves. But we can agree it is necessary for improvement. The distasteful feeling about accountability related to punishment and reward is likely incurred due to lopsided or late deployment. If we all agree upon a policy, then the supervisor’s job is to raise awareness of noncompliance evenly and in a timely manner. As a supervisor once said to me, “This is the employee manual. If you break the rules in here, you will have fired yourself. I will be the one to tell you about it.”


We all enjoy being recognized for
doing things well. The art of management is to know when and whom to recognize in view of their peers and who will appreciate a quiet thank-you. Incentives tied to gainsharing can be effective. Private and timely awareness and consequences for noncompliance are also motivational. As stated above, this will be nullified if the policy is applied inequitably. Recognition of exemplary behavior or noncompliance is most effective when it occurs quickly. This allows the positive or negative motivation to be perceived as proportional and fair. So, it is more like coaching and less like discipline.

Feel free to contact me with these or other culture challenges that are common to those who aspire to become highly effective manufacturers.

Scott Ellis, Ed.D., is facilitating a new AICC Continuous Improvement Group that is accepting new members. His books, articles, and other resources referenced above are available at Ellis can be reached at 425-985-8508 or