The two speakers for the Center for Operational Excellence’s Feb. 14 seminars couldn’t have been from two more different companies, but both emphasized a crucial truth about the journey of process improvement: You’re never too good to learn – or borrow – from others.
Take Pittsburgh-based grocery chain and COE member Giant Eagle Inc., whose President and COO, John Lucot, spoke to our crowd of more than 100 members and guests. The company has been in existence for more than three-quarters of a century, but Lucot said recent years have marked “the most exciting time in the history of our company.”
Emerging from an economic downturn in which consumers tightened the purse strings, Giant Eagle has developed new formats and transformed the customer experience. For proof, look no further than its Market District location a few miles from Ohio State University, which has become the unofficial epicenter of its neighborhood in a few short years. This has happened all while the company has aggressively maintained focus on health and safety and implemented lean principles throughout the supply chain. Lucot told the crowd that Giant Eagle has drawn inspiration from organizations ranging from the Cleveland Clinic – a gold standard in patient experience – to Alcoa, a fellow Pittsburgh company whose safety centric turnaround under former CEO Paul O’Neill is the stuff of legend.
And while Giant Eagle started down its road to operational excellence with an eye on removing cost and boosting efficiency, the balance sheet doesn’t rule the day, Lucot said.
“We never, ever talk about the financial impact of the things we do,” he said. “We are unwavering in our commitment to health and safety, and no one in our organization has the right to put money or anything else above those efforts.”
It’s that same focus on Giant Eagle’s employees and its customers that underlies a comment Lucot made that’s destined for the whiteboard: “We have no right to ask people to do things that don’t add value.”
Speaking later in the day, George McAfee, marine logistics manager at Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon Petroleum, shared the challenges posed to knowledge management and transfer in a work force with a widening generation gap and a growing share of over-55 workers.
With those dynamics, McAfee said, it’s even more crucial to develop standard procedures to capture and communicate processes so a company’s mission, vision and values don’t get muddled over time.
And echoing Lucot, McAfee said benchmarking – even outside one’s industry – is key to finding the right path.
“You must be willing to admit someone else might be better at what you’re doing,” he said.