Grassroots COE benchmarking group growing as members share insights

hban jeff sturm
Huntington’s Jeff Sturm kicks off the January benchmarking session at the bank’s downtown Columbus headquarters.

Two-dozen leaders from 11 Center for Operational Excellence member companies are gathered at Huntington National Bank, overlooking downtown Columbus and looking to learn from each other.

One company distributes pharmaceuticals. Another is keeping the lights on in the room itself. Yet another makes forklifts. And another sells insurance.

Spread across a variety of industries, they’re allowing the rest of the group a look under the hood of the operational excellence transformations they’re all sustaining in the hope that their challenges and successes help others – and that they walk away with new insights, too.

hban benchmarking
Attendees of the January benchmarking session, which represent roughly a dozen COE member companies.

“We need help seeing things,” Huntington Chief Continuous Improvement Officer Jeff Sturm tells the group as the morning begins. “We base this on the idea that we’re better together and we need each other.”

This late January meeting marks the third occasion a group of leaders from COE member companies has gathered at a host company for an informal benchmarking session. At the meetings, attendees take advantage of the casual atmosphere to open up about some of the most crucial challenges in process improvement – sustainability, leadership behavior, metrics – and field questions from others. It’s a quick procession of slide decks and Q&As that offers a snapshot of how these companies are injecting structure and momentum into transformations that, in so many companies, fail from a lack of either.

Deb Lindway
Deb Lindway

The benchmarking group launched in August of last year at COE member KeyBank in Cleveland. Deb Lindway, Key’s enterprise director of Lean Six Sigma, reached out to COE about bringing leaders to its headquarters to connect.

“We’ve realized tremendous value from participating in COE events, but we wanted to pull together a subset of COE members from service-based companies to share our stories and leverage our collective experiences,” Lindway said.

Fewer than a dozen attendees from several member companies got the group started in August. A follow-up session in November at member Grange Insurance attracted a larger group, and now the gathering has doubled from its original size.

tim krall leanohio
Tim Krall

One regular attendee is Tim Krall, deputy director of LeanOhio, the group formed after Gov. John Kasich took office in 2011 and made process improvement at state agencies a key priority. LeanOhio joined COE last year and Krall is presenting a breakout session at April’s Leading Through Excellence summit.

Krall himself is a continuous improvement veteran who’s spent time at COE member Owens Corning along with Emerson Network Power and Sandvik, where he was serving as a continuous improvement leader when he joined LeanOhio more than a year ago.

“Getting a chance to meet with my peers from other industries really ignites my excitement for continuous improvement,” he said. “It’s great that others share openly both the good and bad, giving others a chance to learn from their experience.”

COE Executive Director Peg Pennington, who’s served as emcee of the benchmarking sessions, said she sees the gatherings as a start of something new – and potentially transformative – at the center.

“The most visible aspect of COE is its event roster, but COE is more than that – it’s a community of people committed to solving problems and learning from each other,” Pennington said. “I really see groups like this as the future of our center. It’s exciting to see these connections get made and keep growing.”

If you’re interested in becoming a part of the benchmarking sessions, contact Pennington at pennington.84@osu.edu.

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