Front Page
Boeing Frontiers
March 2004
Volume 02, Issue 10
Boeing Frontiers
Cover Story

Shared Destiny


Above: F/A-22 450.1 Wing Assembly Team, Seattle
By implementing Employee Involvement solutions such as cross-training mechanics, this team's area was the only position in this factory to have delivered 30 wings to the subsequent control code on schedule, with all jobs closed, and under budget. Among the teammates (clockwise from top right) are Rick Coates, Brad Honner, Mike Hoiseck, Chris Barger, Ron Robertson, Scott Goad, Joe Corpuz and Mark Nelson.


A February 2001 earthquake that registered 6.8 on the Richter scale shut down the entire Boeing site in Renton, Wash. More than 1,100 engineers were displaced, their building so severely damaged it could not be occupied ever again. Yet over the following three days, workstations were moved or damaged ones replaced, phone service restored, and every one of these people was relocated at a new desk somewhere else—even with the same phone number. How did Boeing respond so quickly? It was its people, according to Patrick Shanahan, now Integrated Defense Systems vice president and general manager, Army Programs.

"Everyone understood what we needed to do—to get things up and running. They worked together in self-formed teams, big and small. They made decisions for themselves," said Shanahan, who at the time was vice president of the 757 Program in Renton. "To me that was a huge 'Aha!' moment. I realized we're holding everyone back. Boeing people will be more involved, they will participate more, if we only let them."

What I do matters

Employee Involvement: It's a concept that's been evolving across Boeing for several years under names such as High Performance Work Teams, High Performance Work Organizations, Accelerated Improvement Workshops, and Lean activities. The practice, with more than 1,600 teams already in place and 18,000 participants, is a major component of the company's transformational goals. It's also a key to making Boeing a better place to work.

Shared DestinyEmployee Involvement is essential to the company's future for both human and business reasons, according to Laurette Koellner, executive vice president and Chief People and Administration Officer at Boeing: "Competitors can duplicate our technologies and processes; however, they can't duplicate our people. Our people are our competitive advantage." Employees who feel encouraged and engaged, who feel their input matters and are provided essential business information, generate better ways of solving problems and improve work processes, Koellner said, adding, "Employees who feel this way perform."

What exactly is Employee Involvement? Simply put, it is where people have the opportunity to be involved in the decisions that affect their work, including ways to improve their workflow and processes. Unlike traditional hierarchical "command-and-control," function-driven cultures, EI promotes collaboration by creating and supporting a team-based workplace, with teams of workers taking responsibility for managing, performing and improving the processes and projects they control.

To accomplish this, teams are provided clear expectations and control of resources, and they have access to the data they need when they need it to perform the work. Employee Involvement also means partnering at all levels, promoting innovation, including everyone in team decisions and using technology to share information.

EI is for use not just on the shop floor but at all levels at Boeing, and it can apply to almost any product or process, according to John Messman, director of Labor Relations at Boeing World Headquarters. "Everything we do as employees can be defined as a process," Messman said. "Who better to improve or innovate those processes and therefore contribute to greater shareholder value than the people who do them? This is a simple way to understand the link between 'what I do as an employee' and 'my contribution toward increasing the company's value.'"

Shared DestinyIn the end, Employee Involvement is about inspiring the organization toward success and improved business results. "The more decisions that get made lower in your organization, the stronger your organization," said Harry Stonecipher, Boeing president and CEO.

Take the 767 Struts Shop in Wichita, Kan. There, self-managed teams are given the information, resources, training and responsibility to manage their own shop as if they were a self-contained business; and they make more decisions in work-related activities. Although it was a major learning process, the 767 Struts Shop has been able to significantly cut costs, improve quality and keep schedule on line. The workplace atmosphere "is 100 percent better because we make our own decisions," said Don Swigert, a 767 strut mechanic. "Everybody is just cooperative. Because we've done a lot of cross-training, people know where to go. We don't have to send them."

The team also took on several functions previously performed by supervisors, while managers' roles have shifted toward coaching and acting as interfaces with non-shop entities such as Engineering. "They are really doing a great job of managing themselves. They are enthused. It's neat to see the mechanics really get involved and make changes," said Brad Asher, a mechanic advisor to Empowered Work Teams at Wichita.

Building on the success of the 767 team, the Wichita 747 Struts Shop also is transitioning to the self-managed team concept, and neighboring 777 and 737 teams began the process last month. "It's a huge culture change," said Ed Ledwich, a 747 strut mechanic, with "people learning they have the authority to do other functions they've never experienced before."

Shared Destiny"Everybody in this building knows there are other people out there who can build struts, so we have to do it better and more economically," Asher said.

Let my people grow

Accelerating the spread and scope of EI is "absolutely at the top" of the People organization's 2004 goals, Koellner said. "Our employees tell us very directly in the annual Employee Survey that what is important for them to achieve a high-performance work environment is high levels of Employee Involvement and engagement. This is not somebody in an ivory tower saying this. It is Boeing people telling us this."

Research by the human resources consulting firm Hewitt Associates finds that companies rated as "best employers" in its surveys demonstrate high levels of employee engagement. And companies with relatively high employee engagement scores also have high shareholder returns.

Look at the positive effect EI teams in Philadelphia have had on development of the RAH-66 Comanche, a critical rotorcraft program for Boeing. By adding their collective expertise and experience to the design, assembly and parts-handling processes of the Comanche, which is being built in partnership with Sikorsky, Boeing EI team members have significantly reduced projected cycle time and assembly cost. They've also headed off potentially damaging schedule delays, according to David Crane, director of Employee Involvement at Philadelphia.

Shared DestinyAs the Comanche program moves into the Low-Rate Initial Production phase, the EI team is focusing on improvements to critical manufacturing processes to further reduce costs and optimize factory flow, Crane said, increasing customer confidence in the program. Another benefit is the team's tight coordination with Engineering, which fostered the design of simple, safe and easy-to-use shop floor tools that make the part right the first time, Crane said.

The upfront involvement and integration of EI teams throughout RAH-66 manufacturing development also generated a strong sense of pride by the workers involved. This "ownership" will pay benefits well into the future for the program and Boeing, Crane said.

Best asset is our team

EI ideas can be as simple as eliminated keystrokes of repetitive information, writes Peter Grazier, author of a best-selling book and a newsletter on employee involvement. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to find valuable improvement ideas. All it takes is awareness. ... Even 1,000 employees contributing a 1 percent gain in performance is the same as one improvement contributing a 1,000 percent gain."

But will individual Boeing employees personally benefit from EI? Absolutely, Koellner said: "EI really is about the work environment we come into every day." An Employee Involvement culture creates a positive work environment where people feel valued and listened to and know their contributions are key to their organization's success. As part of their function, EI teams support and encourage a safe, secure and healthy workplace and can eliminate or revise frustrating and unnecessary work procedures. Groups involved in EI activities at Boeing have consistently generated higher scores in the Employee Satisfaction Index on the company's annual Employee Survey.

Boeing goes network-centric

Boeing is modeling and conducting small-scale experiments of network-centric organizational models that could help promote, take advantage of and embed Employee Involvement principles—and lead to dramatic collaborative and efficiency gains.

The modeling features tools used in Boeing "integrated battlespace" simulations and applies them to organizational decision making, said Cheryl Park, director, Organizational Development, for Boeing World Headquarters. Laurette Koellner, executive vice president and Chief People and Administration Officer, as well as Phantom Works President Bob Krieger, have received briefings about preliminary work on the models.

The phrase "network-centric" refers to using the power of a network to access information from far-reaching resources in order to make timely and effective decisions. The resulting shared knowledge and capabilities provide users with increased situational awareness, greater overall capability and enhanced organizational agility.

Several small-scale experiments are taking shape at locations across the enterprise. These groups already are using "virtual" work structures at most locations, Park said. A Shared Services team led by Dave Clark, director, Enterprise Architecture, is helping support the experiments by developing a key enabler—information technology systems that support network-centric operations within Boeing.

The modeling and experiments seek to determine the benefits and attributes for network-centric organizations compared with Boeing's traditional hierarchical structure. "The goal here is reduce the number of organizational layers, to speed up the flow of information and to allow people more latitude in their daily work," Park said.

Specifically, the efforts are attempting to answer these questions:

  • Who and what expertise do you need to have in the network to get the work done?
  • Who should have access to group data and for what purpose?
  • What are the rules of engagement? What simple rules can be developed to define behavior of Boeing people working in network-centric organizations?
  • How will people respond in large groups without a high level of structure?
  • What robust tools and processes have to be developed that will allow team members to share information effectively and speedily?

—Paul Proctor

An Employee Involvement culture also encourages entrepreneurial thinking and promotes lifelong learning as members enroll in courses (many funded by Boeing's Learning Together tuition reimbursement program) to increase their business acumen or broaden their skills. Some EI teams determine and coordinate training and vacation schedules for themselves.

EI is not in competition with, but instead complements, Boeing's Vision 2016 statement, according to Koellner. EI teams work toward several desirable states, including the Boeing core competencies of detailed customer knowledge, large-scale systems integration, and Lean systems. EI also enhances quality and customer satisfaction and helps Boeing run healthy core businesses.

Listen to your teams

The role of leaders is vastly different—and more critical than ever—in an Employee Involvement culture. Leaders must "embrace" EI and shift from a reactive, day-to-day work view to a strategic, proactive role. In team-based organizations, the role of leader evolves to more of a coaching, mentoring and "information facilitator" function. Making sure everybody is aligned and working toward the same set of goals is a crucial success factor for leaders, according to Cheryl Park, director, Organization Development, for World Headquarters.

Leaders also must see that their teams understand the team-based culture and have a clear set of goals and well-defined boundaries. They must create an environment that maximizes the sharing of information while offering opportunity and motivation, including educational and professional opportunities. Most important, they must learn to develop and optimally use the skills of each team member.

A major part of a leader's job is to form and use the networks of experts and resources necessary to get work assignments completed on time with quality results, Park said.

Co-creating the future

Despite tremendous progress, there still is a long way to go to make EI a key attribute of Boeing. Momentum is building, however. Sessions on EI are part of Boeing Executive Program courses at the Leadership Center. EI practices have the strong support of senior management and business unit presidents, and will be a major focus of the People organization this year. Led by Ed Schaniel, director of Employee Involvement for Air Force Systems, EI focals from across Boeing are working to introduce, explain and infuse EI across the company through the Boeing Global Enterprise Employee Involvement Team. Both Schaniel's team and the People Process Council are studying whether a unified company-wide EI strategy is needed.

At the end of the day, EI is one of the most high-potential, cost-effective strategies Boeing has. Every employee has something to add when the work environment is right. And it's these ideas and efficiencies that can make a crucial difference to Boeing's success—even survival—in increasingly competitive world markets. "All of our new frontiers are not 'out there' somewhere," according to Shared Services Group Employee Involvement Leader Larry Kaler. With EI, "they just lie hidden in our minds and hearts. If we work together and resolve to overcome obstacles along the way, we will achieve powerful results—perhaps even a bit of greatness."

Shared Destiny


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