Working practices are changing on shop floors and in offices of UK firms, often following the lead of Japanese working practices, be it through direct contact to a Japanese customer, education, or management coaching.
Labour agreements are key to changing working practices, with close working relationships with employees. With new facility start ups, frequently Company Councils are set up in dual roles of consultation and negotiation, in place of the traditional trade union bodies.
Quality techniques, managed by statistical methods, are introduced. Total Quality Management (TQM) spreads quickly from the customer to the supplier base. Continuous process measurement is insisted upon, with high visibility and openness of the results. If processes are shown to be poorly controlled, corrective actions have to be implemented and monitored.
Delivery control takes on a Just-in-Time (JIT) methodology, where inventory levels are brought to a minimum, stock turnover is maximised, and frequent small batches dropped at the customer track-side. No goods inwards inspection is required, and Kanban systems mean that parts aren’t manufactured if they are not needed, eliminating obsolescence and waste.
Supplier control is key, as partnership agreements are formed with “single source companies”. Once nominated as a supplier, the Japanese develop very strong ties, helping in training and development issues. Problems within suppliers are not viewed as being isolated, but are dealt with by joint customer-supplier teams. Where British companies play suppliers off against each other to beat down prices, Japanese OEM’s rely on trust.
UK management are frequently focussed on short term financial goals, but the Japanese take a much longer term view. UK firms have large general management superstructures, consisting of few specialists but many generalists, reliant upon formal meetings and committees, but with few formal documented procedures. The Japanese rely on collective decision making, knowledge creation, maximised worker flexibility, and invest heavily in training. The emphasis within the Japanese plant is for lean production and continuous improvement.
The use of Japanese management techniques are now embedded in many technology led UK industries, and are now progressing into the manufacturing and service industries where the efficiency benefits can be maximised.
In terms of management practice, UK companies dealing with the Japanese have benefited from methods such as TQM, JIT, Kanban, Kaizen, Advanced Quality Planning, quality circles, employee empowerment, and the Company Council. However, due to history and age-old developed working practices in traditional UK firms, many of the Japanese employment practices will be difficult to implement.
For those companies that embark upon the uplift of their management and control systems using the proven tools available from Japanese business, the gains in efficiency, quality, and costs can be dramatic and profitable. Wellmeadow Consulting have great expertise in this area and are happy to discuss any support requirements that you may have.
Wellmeadow Limited is a management consultancy firm in Shrewsbury, providing business support to firms across Shropshire and the West Midlands. We provide a mix of non executive director support, interim management and business advice on a part time basis for a variety of organisations, but mainly privately owner-managed firms (especially family firms). If you would like to chat over a business challenge you are facing for no fee, then we would be happy to speak to you on a no obligation basis. We understand that a decision to work with a firm like us will not be taken lightly, and may seem quite daunting. However, have a look at the about us page for some more information on how we work and feel free to contact us anytime 01743 234031.