Pulp and Paper Canada

Paperweek International 2003: Mill Managers’ Forum: What’s in the Toolbox for Today’s Mill Managers?

March 1, 2003  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Mill Managers' Panel (l to r): Alan Procter

Although the theme, What’s in the Toolbox for Today’s Mill Managers, had a technical ring to it, the panel of the annual Mill Managers’ Forum agreed that the most valuable resource in a mill consisted…

Although the theme, What’s in the Toolbox for Today’s Mill Managers, had a technical ring to it, the panel of the annual Mill Managers’ Forum agreed that the most valuable resource in a mill consisted of the human aspect.

This view seemed unanimous.


In his brief introduction, Dennis McNinch, chairman of PAPTAC, spoke of the toolboxes of 25 years ago, compared with the ones of the present day. “Then,” he said, “the demands of mill managers were quite different; it was more sledgehammer mechanics. Now all mill managers must have a proficiency with skill sets and techniques.” He then introduced the distinguished panel of guest speakers.

Bob Collez, general manager of Augusta Newsprint in Georgia, began the discussion with Engaging our Workforce and immediately focused on the people involved. He pointed out that millions of Canadians were employed, either directly or indirectly, in the pulp and paper industry.

In his own mill, he said, the management thought that they were doing a good job with the employees until a survey showed them to be startlingly wrong.

So the management decided to “clear the decks” and build a new foundation of trust, respect and freedom of expression, together with the staff. They committed to safety because, as Collez explained, “we can all get aboard for safety.”

One of the first steps was to motivate the employees and this was done through actively demonstrating that the management cared for them in an uncompromising attitude towards safety, health and well-being. On a more individual level, relationships were built and time was taken to get to know each other through personal contact.

Management provided vision and boundary lines through putting in place a process by which the employees felt that they were a valuable asset since their suggestions were taken seriously and developed into action plans.

“Expect great things from employees,” said Collez. “Don’t tolerate poor performance.”

All of this works smoothly when there is good communication. This included meeting all staff members regularly, telling them about the business, listening to them and giving them feedback. Collez concluded by saying that this also meant involving the unions.

Rob Fitzgerald, managing partner and CEO of Competitive Edge Management in Calgary, AB, spoke of Continuous Improvement.

He agreed with the previous speaker. “You can’t have continuous improvement,” he said, “if you don’t do what Collez said.”

Fitzgerald had several additional methods for a better relationship with the work force. Methods for improvement, he suggested, included focus, measurement, sharing information, opportunity identification and leadership coaching. “But all these things,” he warned, “don’t just happen. I can’t believe that some people are still selective in information sharing.”

Measurement of performance is positive, he stated, because it reinforces accountability.

Michael Groves, engineering and environmental manager, Bowater Produits Forestiers du Canada Inc. spoke of Culture Change.

There is a culture gap, he pointed out, citing his own experience as an example, between the people hired 25 years ago and the work force that is being hired now. This needed to be bridged. The dynamics for change at his facility’s recycling pulp mill included: reduced layers of mill management, the increase outsourcing and employees surveyed asked for more autonomy. Communication with employees stressed the strengths of the mill and the weakness, which included lack of autonomy. Implicating employees in culture changes is essential and Groves quoted from Gung Ho! by Kenneth H. Blanchard. There are three ways to proceed to success: Spirit of the Squirrel (each person is important to overall success); Way of the Beaver (workers need to believe that they are in control of achieving their goal) and Gift of the Goose or, in Grove’s explanation, “cheering each other on”. This principle states that people do better when they are congratulated for success.

Dave Keenan, department manager of Newsprint Technical Services at Abitibi-Consolidated in Thorold, ON, continued the theme of the importance of people to the industry by speaking about Fostering Good Customer Service Relationships.

Relationships, he explained, are built on trust and respect. It is necessary to build trust with floor workers and operators.

“Those are the people who produce your product so that it’s better — it’s important to build a relationship with them,” he said. It’s also good to find a person of influence in the group — you may be surprised by someone not necessarily in high administration.

On the other side, it is also necessary to develop a good customer relationship by actions and reactions to their requests and problems. Help them solve the problem the way you would like it solved; in effect, treat the people the way you would like to be treated.

Bruce Kerr, vice president – Technology, of Kruger, Inc. spoke of Effective Benchmarking.

“Benchmarking is an important tool but why?” Kerr asked before answering his question by saying that people should know how they are doing, how is the group doing and how can everyone improve.

The way to benchmark is to compare not just to everybody else but to compare to what is possible and practical. The absolute must be kept in mind.

Do not, he warned, let yourself be seduced by “doing well-enough”.

Benchmarking gives us a snapshot of our world. It clarifies and presents a precise target but must not be used as a goal.

Alan Procter, of Alan R. Procter Consulting Inc., presented Finding Solutions, in which he explained the inclusive problem solving process developed by himself and Oliver Schlake, a professor in Business Strategy at National University, San Diego.

To begin, Procter quoted Henry Louis Mencken: “For every complex problem, there is a simple solution — and it is wrong.” He cautioned that finding creative solutions to critical operational issues is difficult but vital in order to achieve competitive leverage. Most often, he said, the answers lie hidden in the collective internal wisdom, experience and personal networks of the “problem owners” and their organization. He described Competitive Solutions — a systematic software-supported process that will organize this knowledge into multiple Solution Options and a path forward management strategy. Important benefits are the building of a coalition for change among the “problem owners,” the uncovering of unexpected hidden solutions, and the ability to integrate the chosen solution into current organizational planning.

Procter finished with a quote of his own: “The barrier to creative solutions for our accelerating business environment is the status quo mind-set.”

The panel forum was followed by a round-table discussion the mill managers discussed the ever-expanding tools available.#text2#

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