Another Small Private Company Succeeds with Lean


Century Furniture is beating the odds (and so can you!):

Why are all of the great lean success stories coming from small, private companies you've never heard of?

North Carolina's Century Furniture has the following principles, among many, for fighting the tide of China outsourcing:

Principle 6: Cut the Fat. Leave the Muscle. Get LEAN!

In addition to the aforementioned 20 percent reduction in workforce – which hit management and workers alike – Century embraced lean manufacturing as a strategy. The company focused on getting rid of all waste, eliminating anything the customer wasn't willing to pay for. It streamlined and reconfigured its upholstery plants, reducing the distance an average piece of upholstery traveled from 908 feet to 522 feet.

‘That's a 42 percent reduction that results in the elimination of 1,300 miles each year,' says Maricich. ‘By the way, these items are pushed by hand. Not only does this save time, it reduces dirty upholstery skirts, fabric tears and broken furniture legs, not to mention employee fatigue.'”

Other than lean, which is a great strategy for countering the lower labor costs from Asia, it sounds like Century really focuses on leadership, rather than blaming their “turkey” employees.

Principle 8: Create a Culture of Trust.

Principle 9: Foster a Sense of Ownership.

Principle 10: Hire and Retain the Very Best People.

It's not just a matter of hiring the best you can get, you have to lead them. I don't think you should coddle poor performers — not at all. You don't have to insult them and call them turkeys though. You owe it to your top performers to get rid of those who don't have a good work ethic or won't participate in improvement efforts. You identify those people individually, not by setting arbitrary quotas and percentage targets.

On the other end of the employment spectrum, don't be afraid to cut people loose when the passion isn't there.

“This is not just for your benefit, but for theirs as well,” he adds.

“Not having passion” is different than being a turkey.

It's very encouraging to read about companies that DO have the leadership to make lean work, Century Furniture included. As the headline says, “so can you” – if you have leadership and you're not stuck in the quarterly short-term focus Wall Street trap of public companies and the multinational outsourcers like GE.

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


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