Fork-lift truck manufacturer and materials handling company Jungheinrich (GB) is one of the 10 companies participating in the pathfinder pilot.
‘A big benefit has been self-help,’ says Richard McKlintock Brown, a consultant and formerly executive for corporate development at Jungheinrich. ‘Through networking with other companies you find that a lot of experience already exists. You reduce the need to use outside consultants.’
Through the pathfinder network, Jungheinrich has adopted a staff survey system, developed by Natwest, to improve employee involvement in the company. Brown is enthusiastic about results like this from the pilot. ‘Networking allows for a pick and mix approach. You can take aspects of initiatives and apply them to your operations. Inclusiveness means you don’t have to hang your hat on just one initiative.’
Jungheinrich became involved after managing director Steve Jeffs heard about the Tomorrow’s Company initiative, and attended a Westec conference in Bristol. The company had done a lot of market research in European countries, providing it with a benchmark for its market, and for how the UK operation compared with those on the Continent. ‘As part of an international organisation with a strong European base, we realised our approach was not sustainable into the next century,’ says Jeffs.
Jungheinrich has about £60m UK turnover, and is part of a £1bn group. Jeffs would like turnover to rise by 50% over the next three years. But his team accepts that the inclusive approach requires a lot of investment in the future. ‘You can get a quick fix, but that would not work long term,’ says Brown.
The executives add that although the results of the pathfinder pilot may be difficult to quantify, significant changes are under way. The firm has done a lot of work with suppliers, which is already showing benefits.
To meet future customer needs, issues like a 24-hour operation over a seven-day week are being considered. ‘Customers will demand total service availability during that time,’ Jeffs predicts. For example, easier access to spare parts and short-term rental equipment will be needed, requiring longer opening hours.
Encouraging people to accept such change is crucial, and the pathfinder project has helped here too. At Jungheinrich, staff have been given a greater voice through focus groups. ‘Communication with the executive team has improved, and we have experienced a trade-off. When staff say what they would like to see, we ask what are they prepared to give back,’ says Brown.
He acknowledges that this may sound like a return to the days of union/employer dialogues, but says there is a significant difference. ‘The setting is much more informal. Employees approach issues with a wish list, not a whinge list.’
Radical change can be tough to implement. ‘For me personally, the pathfinder pilot and the Tomorrow’s Company network has put things in perspective. I have got a lot of support and motivation from seeing how other people deal with real change,’ Jeffs says.