The Lean method: a win-win situation for the customer and the company

What exactly is Lean?
Lean is a business strategy and a way of working. It not only focuses on providing added value for the customer, but also on how Seacon Logistics can provide the best service at a favourable price. This results in a dynamic combination. Lean is an excellent tool for connecting both interests. Lean also eliminates wastefulness in every logistical process. It allows processes to perform faster and to be more cost effective. This has a positive effect on your company and the customer. 

Lean is primarily focused on the demands of the customer. As a logistics service provider, you’ll want to eliminate non-essential activities, as the customer might not pay for, or want them. To be certain of this, Lean provides the term ‘voice of the customer'. This means maintaining contact with the customer and understanding where their challenges and objectives lie. In doing this, you will be able to provide solutions faster. Of course, we prefer to have done this before the customer even asks. 

Applying Lean within Seacon Logistics
Working according to Lean principles leads to a change in working culture. We want to change our basic working principles, to something we refer to as desired behaviour. This doesn’t mean skill based behaviour, but rather how we want to work and perform as a company. To illustrate: Suppose that you're in India and you want to get to the airporf from your hotel. You indicate to the taxi driver that you only have two hours to get there. So while he needs to drive fast, he also needs to drive safely. In India, people walk on motorways, animals walk on the streets and people even drive backwards.  You might say: What kind of environment does the taxi driver need to work in and will they be able to get me to the airport safely and on time? 

We can apply the same example to the Netherlands. We need to get from Maasbree to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. Virtually everyone knows that the driver will use the motorway in the Netherlands, with high quality road surfaces, signs and speed indicators. The driver will safely arrive at the designated location without experiencing the hazardous conditions of the Indian roads. What would happen if you sent the taxi driver from India on an internship in the Netherlands? They would gradually adapt to the infrastructure provided by the Dutch road network. This is effectively what Lean and cultural change do. 

Facilitation within Seacon
We're facilitating these changes by applying various practical working tools. For example, a daily improvement board. By using this at the start of each day, we can evaluate the processes of the previous day and determine how we can improve on them today. If employees encounter any problems, we can use problem solving cards. These problems are reviewed by management and resolved together. By providing these tools to all Seacon employees, we will be able to create a bottom-up working culture. This allows us to accumulate all knowledge from the bottom up and arrive at an optimal solution. The greatest source of knowledge regarding company processes lies principally with the people themselves. If everyone eliminates a few minutes of wastefulness - even if it only means no longer having to search for a brush, a reach truck or anything else for that matter - then it immediately results in cost savings.

By introducing Lean, we want to create a culture where everyone feels safe, secure, valued and appreciated. We want employees to feel empowered to contribute or speak out. So not just physically safe, but psychologically too. It might be difficult to speak out on something that has been performed in a certain way for many years. Yet someone who has only worked at Seacon for two or three months has just as much right to speak on the subject as somebody who has worked at the company for a much longer period. A new approach can be created by looking at the problem from a different perspective. After all, just because certain activities have developed through routine, it doesn’t necessarily make them the best processes or solutions. You have to be allowed to, and dare to, question this possibility. This is the first step to creating more transparency within the company, which in turn leads to creating a sense of inherent pride and commitment on an individual level. This creates a positive culture, motivated to achieving success together. 

Setting cultural change in motion
There are several methods available for successful Lean implementation. We've chosen the ‘mile wide and inch-deep’ method. We want to set the cultural change in motion and this begins with the daily stand-up meeting. Each site follows the same process. This allows us to safeguard quality and immediately increase the multi-functionality of employees (think about the example of the taxi driver: wherever they drive to and from, they all make use of the same infrastructure). This also means that the process may be slow at first, but you wouldn’t want it to be the process of change to be instant. Successful implementation of a new working culture, and mindset, is one of the hardest things to achieve. 

Fortunately, the process has received the full support from Warehousing and the Board of Directors. During this process, due diligence and respect truly make the difference. This springboard allows passion and energy to develop. Someone points the way, but we will do it together. I really hope that, should we fall during this journey, it’s only a minor stumble and doesn’t mean we have to start again. 

Different types of Lean belts
Lean contains different types of ‘belts': yellow, orange, green, black and master black belt. Karl has received a theoretical certification. This has already been of great benefit to his personal career. At Seacon Logistics, we've chosen blue belt as the name for the entry level. We consider it important to be socially responsible (Seacon Blue), which is why we’ve used our company colour for the entry level belt. By implementing different colour belts, we want to offer our employees the opportunity for further growth. Hopefully, one day we will have our own black belt certified employees, who are able to run large projects independently at Seacon. This means that we're ‘self-supported'. We hope that this outlook will help to bring new people to the company.

For this process, we’ve entered into a three year partnership with Rick Schrijnemakers from Leanmakers. As a company, we don’t want to be dependent on external parties. That’s why our current supervisors and managers are shadowing him as co-trainers, in order to then provide the training themselves. This way, we can create the widest possible support network and reduce our dependence on external parties. We hope that we can support every employee to reach their highest level of performance. We've also designed a Seacon Lean logo, in collaboration with HR and our marketing department. This clearly states our vision: ‘Improving ourselves every day'. We started at Warehousing. I’m extremely hopeful that we will continue to expand Lean implementation throughout all divisions within the company. 

Experience of our employees
Of course, to allow the Lean philosophy to truly take root requires more time. But we’d like to create a safe, structured and standardised working environment that allows every warehouse to thrive. To achieve this, the first step is ensuring that employees are made aware that improving work processes is just as important as the work itself, which they proudly perform on a daily basis. Understanding this is an significant step. We have already organised a session in which people have been certified. You could tell by some of the reactions that employees really feel that they are achieving something special, that there is an understanding as to why we are implementing these changes and that employees want to provide added value to our company. We have to make sure that our vision, and our plans to achieve it, are clearly understood by everyone. As we begin the journey together, we must never lose sight of this vision. 

Seacon has been a singular presence in the market from the very beginning. Our success is partly due to our firm belief in a socially responsible company policy. By implementing Lean at Seacon, we want to distinguish ourselves even further and become more attractive as an employer. We want to make people even more enthusiastic about joining Seacon, and more importantly, to remain with us for the long term. By taking these steps, we are returning to our roots: being social and socially responsible. 

Smart hard work
A warehouse is a dynamic environment, an environment which lends itself perfectly to the concept of optimisation. Together with our colleague Rene Bloem, we’ve thought about how to create a specific Seacon-wide working method. We think, and fortunately many others do too, that Lean is the right step to achieving this. Based on our intentions to create a family identity, everyone at Seacon works incredibly hard and we're all motivated to achieve the highest level of success. And yet it’s not just about hard work, it’s mainly about smart work. And this mindset is precisely what we want to change. We want to achieve the same amount of work, or potentially even more work, with the same people. This also helps to make it easier to anticipate current developments surrounding the labour market. 

We're already a few months into this transition and the effects on some sites are already noticeable. This is enough to give us goosebumps. On a stand-up meeting board, we also gauge employee satisfaction. At a certain time in the day, everyone is given the opportunity to express their feelings. This enables us to create a safe working environment, in which employees can share their feelings and emotions. This is discussed and also resolved centrally. 

For the supervisors and management, this provides a good insight into the working environment. Lean creates a dialogue and leads to discussions on process analysis and improvement. This perfectly suits our intentions and shows we're on the way to successfully implementing these methods. This is really exciting and makes us even more enthusiastic! At Seacon, we must ensure we maintain our focus on implementing these changes. Because everything you give attention to will continue to grow. 

Growing towards becoming a learning organisation
Together, we must ensure that we become a learning organisation. We recently witnessed a stand-up meeting at one of our warehouses. It’s great to see how employees feel they're being listened to, and that areas for improvement emerge from these daily meetings. For example, an electric pallet truck (EPT) with a broken wheel is quickly repaired because it is reported immediately. It might only account for 1% of driving equipment, but it is nevertheless work equipment. 

This evolution will result in satisfied employees, happy to go to work, but more importantly, satisfied with their achievements when they finish for the day. Enough to give us goosebumps, as the sense of teamwork is fantastic. Eliminating wastefulness will lead to faster and more efficient processes at Seacon Logistics. As a logistics service provider and chain director, this is extremely important to us. Contributing, growing, meaningfulness, authenticity and a transparent working culture, these have and always will be, integral values to Seacon’s working culture. It is with this mindset that we look to, and head towards, the future. 

21 November 2022

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