. . . .  

       IT WAS USUAL for the packaging operators in a certain plant to work without written
       instructions as they placed their product in cartons for shipment.  Folklore had sustained
       this process for years.   But, one fateful night, an operator started packing the product
       the other way up.  The change seemed innocent enough at the time:  It didn’t seem to
       make any difference which way up the product sat in the cartons.  It would fit just fine.
       The innovative operator informed the other personnel that there was now a new way to
       pack the product.
       THE QUALITY INSPECTORS, whose mandate was to inspect the product 100%, were
       told the
Same thing and gave their blessing to the new culture.  The inspectors were also
without written procedures.  The new “instructions” soon became routine for all
       five shifts.

      THREE WEEKS PASSED without event.  Then a call came in from the company’s large,
      multinational customer.  Their receiving inspection had detected an inexplicable problem
      which was suddenly rendering the product useless.  After a Q.A. engineer visited the
      customer site, the truth slowly emerged that the problem condition was the result of
      packing the product upside-down for shipment.  The large, multinational customer
      promptly returned three-plus weeks’ worth of product, which swamped the supplier’s
      warehouse and stayed on the books for many months.

      I have worked for several organizations whose management pleaded with me not to
      write process documents for manufacturing jobs.  In these environments the manufac-
      turing processes were entrusted to folklore, to verbal transmission from one operator
      to the next over a period of years.  What the manufacturing managers said to me was,
      “If you write it down, then we can’t change it.”  My response was that the precise reason
      for writing instructions was to gain control of change:  to permit purposeful change and
      to prevent undesired changes.  To keep manufacturing instructions in the realm of folklore
      is to confuse the uses of CULTURE and INSTRUCTION.

      INSTRUCTION:  Written instructions are the software which runs on the hardware of
      manufacturing operations.  It accomplishes specific tasks, and it can be revised swiftly
      to accommodate changes in specification, equipment, or personnel.  Its written nature
      makes it an effective training tool.  Written instructions can communicate a great deal
      of detail and keep it available for instant reference.  Written instructions almost always
      direct certain people as they perform specific jobs.

      CULTURE:  Consists of the beliefs and deep programming of the organization and its
      citizens.  If a company is said to have soul, that soul resides in the culture.  The culture
      is understood to apply to all employees.  Cultural elements may be written, verbal, or
      simply understood by all.  Culture provides general guidance rather than detailed directions.

      Examples of written culture include corporate statements of purpose, quality policies,
      and environmental policies.  Desirable unwritten culture might take the form of general
      respect for quality, or environmental responsibility, or easy access to management.  Equally
      cultural, although undesirable, is the animosity which often separates “management”  from
     “workers”, or harassment based on race or gender.

     Once an element has been added to a culture, it is all but impossible to change or eradicate
     it.  Changing a corporate culture has been likened to asking several hundred people at once
     to adhere to a strict diet.  Culture is literally a life-and-death matter for any company.

     Additions to culture should be made with great care and with a clear purpose in mind.



  January 22, 1999