During the last 20 years, I’ve acquired or founded a dozen businesses in five different countries. Throughout this journey, I’ve had to deal with all sorts of problems. In hindsight, much of it could have been avoided. I have learned that big issues don’t just happen. They are the result of small, unattended problems that fester over time.
No matter how small or inconsequential they may seem at the time, problems should be addressed immediately. At The Mozaic, this is built into our culture. Not only do employees have the right to ask for help when they encounter a problem, they are obligated to do so. Problems are not allowed to go unaddressed. Problems are not allowed to be resolved quietly.
It is the responsibility of each and every employee to immediately bring problems to the attention of management. We talk about our problems openly. We celebrate the employees that bring problems to light.
In the Toyota Production System (TPS), the Andon Cord was an abrupt and highly effective way of dealing with manufacturing issues at the source. The TPS andon cord was a simple rope. Employees on the manufacturing line would pull the rope whenever they encountered a problem. This would stop the entire manufacturing line. Managers would immediately rush to the scene, ask why, and work together with the person who pulled the rope to resolve the problem and restart production.
Toyota employees who pulled the rope were thanked, not criticized, for stopping production. Toyota learned that fixing small problems quickly would avoid huge problems down the road. Toyota revolutionized the car manufacturing industry.
Amazon enables an employee to remove a product from the online store at anytime if there is a concern. This is Amazon’s andon cord, and it helps the company to address problems quickly. Amazon revolutionized the e-commerce industry.
I believe that empowering employees, in the right way, will have a powerful and dramatic impact on my business. By implementing our version of the andon cord, The Mozaic ensures:
- we never forget that the little things matter;
- we never form a culture of blame, but rather a culture of cooperation;
- our employees feel trusted;
- our employees know that what they are doing matters, regardless of position;
- our employees have coping mechanisms to deal with problems and stress; and
- that as a company, we are focused on our long-term success versus short-term gains.
I’m not quite sure what we’re going to call our andon cord internally. It may have a different name in each of our businesses. But rest assured it will be there. If the last 20 years are any indication, it will be pulled often. This time, however, each alarm will give me reason to smile. Because I know that each time I hear that alarm, it is an opportunity to gain a competitive edge.