How Snyder's-Lance Transformed its Plant Into High Performance Work System

Snyder's-Lance developed a culture of continuous improvement at the Charlotte manufacturing site to deliver the numbers with near-zero capital investment. You can, too.

By Greg Flickinger, Vice President of Manufacturing and Corporate Engineering, Snyder's-Lance Inc.

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The Charlotte, N.C., site of Snyder's-Lance (www.snyderslance.com) began operations in the 1960s and was expanded twice since to more than 1 million sq. ft. In August 2008, Greg Flickinger left General Mills after nine years to become director of manufacturing for Charlotte to build from scratch the kind of high-performance workforce he led at General Mills' Covington, Ga., cereal plant. Now overseeing corporate manufacturing and engineering, he was kind enough to share some insights on how teams work in Charlotte, with primary emphasis on the bakery, which produces more than 85 percent of the product coming from the site.

Our Charlotte site is very large and complex, producing 563 SKUs across branded, contract and private-label operations. The majority of the products are high-volume, single-serve format. The inherent operational complexity combined with the scale of nearly 1,000 associates provides the perfect place for a case study of leveraging structured processes to drive rapid and sustained performance improvement.

Many organizations loosely use the term "continuous improvement" simply to signal a desire to do better. Worse yet, some organizations have rewarded "activity" as opposed to "performance." Simply launching five Autonomous Maintenance teams or completing eight Focused Improvements or Kaizen events means nothing if it has not driven sustained improvement against the company's value stream.

Continuous improvement loses its meaning without a clear vision and a systematic method to achieve tangible results. We achieved significant results in Charlotte by leveraging the Total Productive Maintenance toolset (TPM) as our vehicle to transform culture and achieve sustainable results.

First and foremost, any initiative to improve operational or business performance must begin with culture. Cultural development begins with top-down leadership that is able to create ownership and accountability at the individual level of the organization. When individuals and teams begin to take ownership and responsibility, the cultural outcome is total employee involvement, which is the ultimate intent of a performance-based CI initiative.

When achieved, people have both the ability to make a decision and the support, processes and tools to act on that decision. This is the key to unlocking individual and organization-wide discretionary effort, and it can mean the difference between retention or turnover – and, ultimately, financial viability or bankruptcy.

Vision and mission
In the first month, we started with a leadership vision, a definition of the change we would pursue that could be defined succinctly: "To nurture a transition from a traditional work system to an employee-centric high-performance work system (HPWS) with a cultural foundation rooted in total employee involvement and focused on continuous improvement."

high performance work system pyramid
A high-performance work system is an outcome, supported by three interconnected triangles. If just one supporting triangle is weak, the structure will not sustain. This is a simplified version of the continuous improvement/Total Productive Maintenance tool pyramid, which is common in food engineering and operational management

TPM provided the structured processes that our people would leverage to improve the value stream. The effort is geared at creating a reliability-based organization across all functions.

TPM is not simply about equipment and maintenance. When applied broadly, it is truly an improvement methodology that works across all aspects of any business, whether it is manufacturing, finance, distribution or even a service-based business. Reliability, performance and ultimately shared equity is universal.

The details inherent in our vision shaped the foundation of a formal but very simple and direct mission: "Take care of your people and deliver your numbers." This statement was front and center in every meeting, every communication and every initiative that was undertaken. It provided the rallying cry and aligned everyone across the site with a concept that was easily translated into something real that people could get their minds around.

At the leadership level, we had to completely restructure the way the plant was led. We eliminated the hierarchical structure of supervisors, department managers and superintendents and instituted Team Leaders, Line Leaders and Technical Support Leaders.

The line leadership concept was the most critical role in the development of our culture of accountability. A line leader was assigned to each line and was responsible for the full value stream from raw materials and ingredients in the door through the finished product out the door. In between was line performance, sanitation, start-up and maintenance. In essence, each owned the success of all aspects of his value stream 24 hours a day. This created a single point of accountability -- so if the dough wasn't right, or if the packaging was off, there were no excuses and nowhere to point the finger.

Technical support became the support group for line leaders, providing expertise in areas such as reliability engineering, system engineering, changeovers and sanitation.

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  • This is great story! I am quite keen to know more details about the Line Leadership concept and how a single Line Leader manages the line for 24 hours. We are in the process of setting up a similar structure at our site and are not making progress as much as we want. I am wondering who can help me.

    Regards, Sethu

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