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Mill Managers Forum: Managing Your Most Valuable Resource


March 1, 2006
By Pulp & Paper Canada

An interesting question was raised at the Mill Managers Forum during PaperWeek: those present were asked if they realized the difference in the amount of effort the industry put into optimizing equipm…

An interesting question was raised at the Mill Managers Forum during PaperWeek: those present were asked if they realized the difference in the amount of effort the industry put into optimizing equipment as opposed to nurturing its most valuable resource, its people?

Unfortunately, much of the recent interaction between organization and employees has been what is euphemistically called “restructuring” or “rationalizing” – usually translated as down-sizing the workforce.

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And yet, as Terry Law, one of the speakers pointed out during his presentation, “Business doesn’t make profit…people do.”

In his introductory remarks, Scott Travers, Chairman of PAPTAC’s Executive Council, stressed that the changes occurring within today’s economy should be balanced by supporting the relationship with employees and helping them find their voice. He pointed out that companies are dealing with smaller workforces which are rapidly ageing and reminded the audience of mostly mill managers that succession plans should be in place.

The topic of this forum was critical to every industry, he said, and this was an opportunity to listen and learn from a panel of experts.

Iain Thomson — Alberta Newsprint Company

As the general manager of the mill in Whitecourt, AB, Thomson first made clear what he meant by the title of his presentation Empowerment of Employees. The idea, he said, had been around for a long time but only if the employees were actually given the power or the authority to act, as per the definition of empowerment, would results improve in every part of the business. One example he gave was the elimination of the position of Safety Director at his mill. “People from the floor and mill are assigned to respond and be responsible to make safety work,” he explained. “Then one of us has to act.”

Other examples he gave were to have open stores and no salaried people at production/problem-solving meetings. He suggested asking for conclusions and actions plans with dates and the names of the people responsible. People on the floor should be the ones to make final equipment and supplies selection in purchases affecting their group.

The important question, he pointed out to the audience after listing the different ways employees could be empowered, was whether the upper management was willing to give away some of their own power.

Frank Byrnes — Human Potential Consultants

After a career that spanned being a teacher, police officer, through to executive and trainer, Byrnes founded Human Potential Consultants in 1989 to mobilize the human energy of working groups for business outcomes. In his presentation Training of Supervisors, he gave a practical description of how the human brain functioned and the importance of brain-compatible learning. Survival skills in times of change were important but these situations were stressful and had a negative effect on reasoning.

Team-building skills such as commitment, involvement and action could be generated through communicating strategically and this was a skill that was important in any organization.

Terry Law — Consultant

Effective communication was the message emphasized by Law in his talk on Communicating with Mill Personnel. “The best definition of communication,” he said, “is the sharing of information for mutual benefit.”

Since, he admitted, it was important to capture the full potential of the employees, certain key strategies needed to be in place. Many of these hinged on an improvement in communication. “People will understand what you say,” he said, “but only believe what they see.”

Another important factor was to consider whether managers can deliver. He answered this by saying, “Yes, but they needed to take time to gather facts, prepare, practice and deliver.

“There is no such thing as too much communication. Remember,” he warned, “if you do not improve, you’re falling behind.”

Gerry Murray — Atlantic Packaging

As the director of mills for papermaking operations at a successful company that was in the process of expansion, Murray spoke about Succession Planning from a position that many other mill managers would like to share.

The image he conveyed of the company policy was, however, different than that espoused by the preceding speakers. Murray described the Atlantic Packaging Vision as being a benevolent dictatorship and stated that this model worked for them. As an entrepreneurial, customer-driven company, he said, “Continuous improvement is our lifeblood.” He admitted that this created an aggressive, challenging culture, but added that it also gave high satisfaction, empowerment and opportunity.

It also meant having the right people in the right jobs at the right time.

Murray summarized by saying that there were several important considerations for a successful business plan. One was to have a formal succession plan in place, preferably to promote from within and to value employee loyalty and demonstrate company loyalty.

Throughout the presentations, the audience listened and reacted to the edifying presentations, obviously absorbing the differing messages into a form that might be applicable within their own mills. Along with the presenters, the group then broke up for round table discussions to compare and discuss their notes and opinions.


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