Continuous improvement, grassroots-style: Inside Clopay Building Products

Frustration is a frequent spark for innovation, and that’s right where some product staging employees at garage door manufacturer Clopay Building Products found themselves.

The process for staging and processing Clopay’s sectional door configuration bundles – unwieldy boxes that group door components for eventual installation – entailed comparing a printed list of the day’s shipping requirements with a string of numbers on the boxes themselves. It was time-consuming task, one process technician Brice Johnson saw a way to improve: Why not provide a visual cue for the carts that needed pulled that day?

The solution wasn’t fancy, but it did the trick: Walk the floor of the massive manufacturing operation today and you’ll see youth soccer training cones perched on stacks of the bundles. Problem solved.

Joey Fransway of Clopay Building Products

This front-line problem solving is something that might not have happened as frequently as a few years ago at Clopay Building Products, but it’s happening today thanks to a grassroots continuous improvement movement at the Troy-based company shepherded by Joey Fransway, Director of Quality, Environmental Health & Safety, and others. Fransway and his team will be opening their doors for an inside look at their journey on Tuesday, April 10, as part of The Ohio State Center for Operational Excellence’s sixth-annual Leading Through Excellence summit.

‘On a path’

Fransway credits the company’s COE membership as a driving force in its continuous improvement push.

“We’re still on a path, and that path is through connecting with other people through the COE,” he said. “We want to learn from others.”

Clopay Building Products is one of about 20 manufacturing companies that make up COE’s member roster, but it holds the distinction of being the largest manufacturer of residential garage doors, and one of the largest makers of commercial sectional doors, in the U.S. The company employs about 1,600, more than 1,000 of whom are at the Troy operation. The residential and commercial garage door market, according to Griffon, has been estimated to be about a $2 billion business, making Clopay Building Products a major player – thanks in no small part to its exclusive deals with Home Depot and Menards to supply residential garage doors to their stores throughout North America.

Clopay Building Products’ growth has created challenges and opportunities in operations and design. Volume is up, but so is the diversity of products, which range from standard to hand-crafted high-end.

“People used to look at garage doors as a thing that got them in and out of a garage,” Fransway said. “Now it’s an extension of themselves.”

The core tenet of Clopay Building Products’ continuous improvement push has been to empower employees at all levels to solve problems. That’s entailed a rollout of visual management boards throughout the plant, coupled with regular stand-up meetings, along with added touches such as group get-togethers to view TED Talks. The foundation of it all is a “Blue Belt” lean/Six Sigma training program rolled out a year ago that has enrolled more than 60 employees and graduated more than 20, Fransway said.

An example of Clopay Building Products’ visual management on the floor

“We’re focused on getting everybody down that path to continuous improvement, getting information to people on the floor,” he said. “If this is just top-down, it doesn’t do us any good.”

Buy-in is growing at the Troy operation, but this isn’t just happening inside Clopay Building Products’ four walls. The company is heading upstream, too, connecting suppliers to its Blue Belt resources and tying it to its existing supplier certification program.

The locker room

Back inside the Troy operation, a major focus has been on uniting employees to drive collaboration and innovation. Post-it Notes have helped. Fransway and others have transformed an area of the back office previously used for storage into what’s called the “Quality Locker Room,” a hands-on hub for tracking initiatives using visual boards and Post-its.

“When you’re just making lists on the computer, it never goes anywhere,” Fransway said. “When you’re in this room you’re a part of it.”

With its mix of front-line empowerment and visual management, coupled with a relentless focus on quality, the Clopay Building Products continuous improvement initiative is a benchmark in “starting from scratch” and using existing resources – along with relationships like COE – to drive cultural change.

When the company opens its doors in April for the tour, attendees will have the opportunity to see the Quality Locker Room and take a guided tour of the plant, which will stop at about 15 different stations on the floor to highlight how continuous improvement initiatives are being embedded throughout.

It’s a great deal of progress – but like any journey to excellence, it’s far from done.

“Where we want to be is nothing like where we are today,” Fransway said.

Seats remain available for the Clopay Building Products tour. They can be claimed by registering for the summit by the Monday, April 2, deadline.

 

Ohio State men’s basketball Coach Holtmann joins COE summit keynote line-up

The final keynote announced for next month’s Leading Through Excellence summit is the latest high-profile hire in the world of Buckeyes sports who’s off to an auspicious start.

The Ohio State University Center for Operational Excellence is thrilled to announce Buckeye Men’s Basketball Head Coach Chris Holtmann will serve as the morning keynote on the final day of the April 10-12 summit. He joins fellow keynote speakers Charles Duhigg, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Power of Habit; Karen Martin, author of Clarity First; and Bradley Staats, a researcher and author of the forthcoming Never Stop Learning.

Coach Holtmann’s keynote slot last year featured a visit from Buckeye Football Head Coach Urban Meyer.

The announcement comes just weeks after Holtmann clinched Big Ten Coach of the Year honors in his first season with the Buckeyes, who are 24-8 overall and 15-3 in the Big Ten. Holtmann, who’s won Coach of the Year three times now in three different leagues, coached the Buckeyes to a 9-0 run out of the gate in Big Ten play. That’s the first time that’s happened for seven or more games in nearly a century, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Check out his full bio on COE’s summit website.

In his keynote, Coach Holtmann will be sharing career and leadership insights – and some thoughts on the season – as well as taking questions from the audience.

“We’re thrilled to have Coach Holtmann take the stage at our sixth-annual summit,” said COE Executive Director Peg Pennington. “This event is all about developing team-building and leadership skills, and Coach Holtmann has shown he has a lot to offer in both.”

The four featured Leading Through Excellence keynotes are among more than 40 sessions offered at the summit, which is more than 80% booked a little more than a month out. The dynamic mix of workshops, tours, breakout sessions, networking events and keynotes is COE’s signature annual event, which is open to the general public as well as employees of member companies.

Check out the summit website for more details on sessions and pricing …

 

Huntington, Fisher leadership keynotes available in full-length, “ShortCut” streaming formats

How can we drive the results we get as leaders by changing the questions we ask?

What does it mean to be a leader of vision, of purpose?

The Center for Operational Excellence explored these critical leadership questions in its final event of year on Dec. 8, featuring keynotes from a top leader at Columbus’s Huntington National Bank and a renowned management researcher who recently joined the faculty at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business.

Fisher professor and management expert Tim Judge closed out COE’s final event of the year

Both keynote addresses from Jeff Sturm, Huntington’s executive vice president and chief continuous improvement officer, and Tim Judge, Joseph A. Alutto Chair in Leadership Effectiveness, are now available in the Digital Content Archive of COE’s members-only website in their full versions, along with their presentation decks and a 15-minute video cut. The latter version – dubbed “ShortCuts” – is part of a new member benefit being rolled out throughout 2018, in which notable COE presentations will be available in a shorter format, suitable for breaks or team “lunch and learn” discussions.

Other available ShortCuts include September presentations from LeanCor CEO Robert Martichenko and Goodyear executive Billy Taylor, with at least two more coming in January.

Access all of these versions in COE’s Digital Content Archive by entering your unique, validated member username and password (Don’t have one yet? Get that here). The Digital Content Archive, which includes more than 100 past presentations, is just one part of the broader Members Only site, which also offers:

  • Exclusive access to session livestreams;
  • PDF presentations from COE’s annual Leading Through Excellence summit; and
  • A newly debuted MBA student resume book offering.

Goodyear’s Billy Taylor: ‘Engaged, empowered people are your greatest asset’

Billy Taylor wrapped up a three-year stint running Goodyear’s manufacturing plant in Lawton, Oklahoma, with more than a few reasons to be proud.

Under his leadership, safety improved, processes streamlined, and projects racked up millions of dollars in savings. The turnaround job was enough to win the coveted Shingo Prize Silver Medallion for Operational Excellence, what’s been dubbed the “Nobel Prize for operations.”

It was, Taylor thought, his ticket to world headquarters.

The powers that be had other things in mind, dispatching him from one challenge to his next: A plant in Fayetteville, N.C., where demand for tires was outstripping the production pace by nearly 20 percent. In Taylor’s first two weeks walking the floor as plant director, he made it his mission to “seek to understand before I sought to change.”

The diagnosis: “I had great people but they didn’t understand what winning was,” Taylor said.

‘Most leaders struggle with letting go’

The story of the successful Fayetteville turnaround was just the next step in a journey that eventually led Taylor to where he is today, overseeing all North America manufacturing for the iconic, $15 billion-a-year brand and Center for Operational Excellence member. Taylor shared insights from his decades driving transformational change during his keynote address at COE’s 25th anniversary celebration in September, where nearly 200 industry leaders gathered to ring in the center’s quarter-century milestone.

Taylor’s insights on leadership are rooted in a passion for engaging people, a core element of transformational change that’s become the centerpiece of his frequent speaking engagements.

“Great leaders respect their people,” he said. “If you make people visible, they will make you valuable.”

Reflecting on the Oklahoma and North Carolina plant turnarounds, Taylor said the crucial next step after defining winning was in giving his front-line employees a sense of ownership in executing on the plant’s broader strategy. Though essential, it’s not always easy for managers, he said.

“Most leaders struggle with letting go,” Taylor said. “People are not your greatest asset. Engaged, empowered people who own your strategy are your greatest asset.”

By putting that into action, Taylor said, he ultimately oversaw a transformation in Fayetteville that resulted in a 14 percent bump in tire production with a 4 percent drop in hours worked – “no investment, no additional equipment, just ownership.”

Sustaining this culture of continuous improvement, Taylor said, means building a regular cadence around recognizing people as they execute on strategy and “celebrating the process” that’s driving gains. And it’s something he says he still does as one of the highest-ranking leaders in the company.

“Now that I run North America, it’s still simple. I still show up to celebrate the process, and I never miss the opportunity to share best practices.”

Billy Taylor was a featured keynote at COE’s fall seminar along with LeanCor Supply Chain Group CEO Robert Martichenko, who stressed the importance of connecting different parts of the business to create a lean culture.

A 15-minute recap and full-length recording for each session are available in the Digital Content Archive on COE’s members-only website (authenticated account required for access).

LeanCor CEO: Collaborative ‘ecosystem’ perspective critical to business success today

When Robert Martichenko isn’t running his company, LeanCor Supply Chain Group, he’s probably thinking about lean. And when he’s thinking about lean, he’s probably writing about it, too.

While his passion for storytelling might be a source of productivity and relaxation, Martichenko also says it’s a key leadership capability that’s too often overlook or underdeveloped.

“As leaders, we have to work harder to tell stories,” he told a crowd of nearly 200 at the Center for Operational Excellence’s 25th anniversary celebration. “Anybody can put 10 bullet points on a slide and build 50 slides. What’s the story? Why are we doing this? What’s important? We have to become closer to the narrative.”

‘We are a business, we are a system’

Martichenko kicked off COE’s fall seminar and quarter-century celebration with a compelling narrative of his own: Where he sees the future of lean thinking and lean management in a business world changing by the minute – and leaving some destruction in its wake.

“Fundamentally, we’re going to have to do something differently,” Martichenko said. “At this point, what’s happening on the outside is happening faster than what’s happening on the inside.”

Martichenko’s insights for how companies can leverage lean concepts to survive and thrive in a disruption-rich world are rooted in his personal journey as a business leader. He began his career in the transportation and warehouse industries, where he identified a need to integrate lean principles and techniques across the entire value stream. He founded LeanCor 12 years ago to meet that need and has grown the business into a leader in advancing the world’s supply chains. Just two years ago, Martichenko was honored with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ Distinguished Service Award, the industry’s highest honor.

A supply chain-based “ecosystem” perspective is what Martichenko sees as a foundation for survival and growth today.

“The next frontier … is not about technology, or about apps – this is about core processes and functions and saying, ‘We are a business, we are a system, and as a system we need to manage it together,’” he said. “Do you really want to fail instead of getting three executives together and saying, ‘Can you please start collaborating?’”

What’s preventing leaders from the four core business processes — strategy, product life-cycle management, sales and marketing, supply chain operations — from doing this? Martichenko says it’s often a bias around our area of the business that skews our perspective and limits our ability to make the best decisions for the broader ecosystem.

“If you’re willing to step outside your safety zone, it will be amazing what you see,” he said.

Creating a culture with greater visibility and better alignment, Martichenko said, ultimately will generate the kinds of feedback systems that can enable the agility and flexibility businesses need today.

“All the technology we need for the supply chain to go from the supplier to the end customer is there,” he said. “What we don’t have is an equal amount of momentum from what actually happened back to the people in the business.”

Robert Martichenko was a featured keynote at COE’s fall seminar along with Goodyear executive Billy Taylor, who stressed the importance of people-inclusion processes in transformational change.  

A 15-minute recap and full-length recording for each session are available in the Digital Content Archive on COE’s members-only website (authenticated member account required).

For the supply chain ‘ecosystem,’ a sea change: In conversation with Prof. Robert Handfield

It’s not just the “bad news” – natural disasters, political unrest, sluggish global economic growth – that should worry today’s supply chain professionals. The “good news” is a wake-up call of its own.

Technology is bringing businesses and customers closer than ever, with wearable devices and social media producing torrents of instant feedback. Cloud computing is making information more accessible. The result? We’re drowning in data.

Prof. Robert Handfield (pictured, right) has watched this wave of change approach the field of supply management and come to a simple conclusion: Surviving and growing in the field of global supply chain management today means more than acting differently than before. It means thinking differently.

Handfield, a professor of supply chain management at North Carolina State University who runs the school’s Supply Chain Resource Cooperative, is headlining the Center for Operational Excellence’s Oct. 20 Supply Chain Symposium (event full: center members, join the waitlist here). There, he’ll be presenting insights from his new book, The LIVING Supply Chain: The Evolving Imperative of Operating in Real Time. In the book, Handfield not only charts the challenges the field of global supply chain management is facing but outlines a new perspective he says is critical to survival, one drawn from an unlikely source.

In an interview with COE, Handfield discussed the change swirling in the supply chain world – and had tough words for what’s considered “business as usual” today.

COE: You’ve watched the field of supply chain management evolve for more than 25 years. How would you describe the change you’re seeing right now?

Robert Handfield: What we’re seeing right now is a combination of cloud computing, a mobilization of the Internet of Things, and the emergence of faster and faster telecommunications networks – not to mention the rise of social media. All of these are combining to create this massive computing power, producing massive amounts of information.

But what we haven’t been able to do is figure out how to utilize and exploit all the data thrown at us in a way that allows us to better manage the supply chain and manage global events. We’re seeing more weather-related issues, more government-related issues, and the level of uncertainty in managing the global supply chain is going up.

COE: What does all of this change mean for the kinds of skills that will be critical for successful supply chain managers?

RH: You have to have people who love to learn. In this environment, you have to be able to learn new technologies, new ways of looking at the world. We’re also going to need people who are very strong in terms of building relationships and negotiating contracts. Solid analytical skills are crucial, too – not just writing code, but looking at data and being able to derive meaning from it, translate it into a decision.

COE: Your vision of the “new rules” of supply chain management is rooted in a living ecosystem concept. How does this reorient the predominant perspective out there?

RH: We pulled this idea of an ecosystem from Sean B. Carroll’s biology book The Serengeti Rules. In the natural world, organisms need to coexist, they’re dependent, and if you mess with the health of one part of the ecosystem you get an oversupply or an undersupply and things break down. There are some really great rules here to apply to supply chains – but it’s going to mean a change in the way people work.

Today, most procurement people are out to crush their suppliers on price, and that’s it. Suppliers are trying to go around procurement, sell to stakeholders, make better margin. These kinds of behaviors have to change. We have to be thinking about not just what’s happening in our own enterprise but what’s happening with customers, with suppliers, with our suppliers’ suppliers. How do we maintain a healthy ecosystem where everyone succeeds, is profitable and is mutually aligned?

COE: You’re pretty serious about how important velocity is to survival in the supply chain today. What are some of the biggest roadblocks in the way for organizations wanting to pick up the pace?

RH: The old ways of working are standing in the way: “We can do that, we have procedures and policies we have to follow.” If you go back and look at why we have these, they’re just getting in the way. To gain velocity, we need to be connecting people looking at the same data together so they can quickly make decisions that will make things flow quickly through the system. When that happens, customers are happier, sales increase, and more working capital is available.

COE: You also place serious emphasis on integrity in the supply chain. To put it simply: What’s so great about being “good?”

RH: I believe it all comes out in the end. Organizations that do good in terms of building sustainable supply chains, improving communities where they’re buying, buying where they sell – they’re going to see the reward in the long term. It’s not just about being a good guy, a sympathetic character; it’s about business.

COE: Where do you see the role of operational excellence – specifically structured improvement systems like lean – in this forward-looking vision of the “living” supply chain?

RH: If you look at the idea of velocity, visibility is key: You can’t manage what you don’t see, and lean is really big on visibility. I see lean being really critical in bringing visibility to upstream and downstream supply chains and understanding what’s happening to the customer in the last mile. By making everyone aware of what’s happening in real time that gives them the opportunity to make decisions, to solve problems – and there are always going to be problems. You have to understand the customer situation in order to really optimize the supply chain, and that’s where lean really aligns.

Handfield’s presentation is the featured keynote in a half-day, morning event that includes networking time with Fisher College of Business graduate students, a follow-up presentation on supply chain data analysis from Aquiire CEO Mike Palackdharry, and a wrap-up discussion panel with leaders from Accenture, Cisco Systems and Kellogg Co.

Registration for this event is currently full but employees of COE member companies can join the waitlist.

September keynotes bring passion, leadership lessons to 25th anniversary celebration

(Keynote Billy Taylor delivering a keynote address at an event in Kansas last year. Photo courtesy Topeka Capital-Journal)

As the Center for Operational Excellence rings in its quarter-century milestone next month, the keynotes taking the stage are bringing nearly a half-century of transformational leadership experience.

The center’s fall seminar and official 25th anniversary celebration is coming up on Friday, Sept. 15, with limited seating still available for in-person attendance. Presenting and livestreaming will be two renowned process excellence leaders: Opening up the day at 10:30 a.m. is Robert Martichenko, CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group and an award-winning business leader and author. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. executive Billy Taylor takes the stage at 1 p.m. with his insights on “people-driven operational excellence,” which he’s presented to wide acclaim at conferences around the world.

Both keynotes bookend a networking lunch and official 25th anniversary celebration, featuring a tailgate-themed meal and special appearance by Brutus Buckeye, who will be posing for photos with attendees.

While both featured keynote speakers have traveled different paths along their more than 20 years in leadership, they both bring a passion for process excellence that radiates in their dynamic presentations.

LeanCor CEO Robert Martichenko

Martichenko began his career in the transportation and warehouse industries, where he identified a need to integrate lean principles and techniques across the entire value stream. He founded LeanCor in 2005 to meet that need and has grown the business into a leader in in advancing the world’s supply chains. A decade into his run at the helm of LeanCor, Martichenko was honored with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals’ Distinguished Service Award, the industry’s highest honor.

In his keynote, “Lessons in Lean, Lessons in Leadership,” Martichenko will share insights from his more than 20-year career of building cultures of continuous improvement, blending personal and professional experiences.

Billy Taylor, Goodyear

Taylor, a high-energy conference headliner, calls himself an “evangelist” for people-inclusion processes in organizational transformations. He spent years steering remarkable turnarounds at Goodyear plants before stepping up as director of commercial manufacturing, North America, in 2012. Taylor in 2015 took a senior role overseeing all North America manufacturing for the iconic tire brand.

In his keynote, “People-Driven Operational Excellence,” Taylor traces his journey from a fledgling plant manager to a top executive, outlining the philosophy at the heart of his drive as a leader: Operational excellence starts with empowering people and driving sustainable results through a bottom-up approach.

The pair of keynotes are part of COE’s anniversary celebration for a reason, said Executive Director Peg Pennington.

“The kind of leadership that can make the case for change, make it happen and then sustain it in the long term takes passion, compassion and a drive for continuous learning,” Pennington said. “Robert and Billy are that leader — they’re great storytellers, too — and I’m thrilled they’re joining us as we celebrate a major milestone for our center.”

COE formed in 1992 as the Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Management with four founding members, including current members Abbott Nutrition and Emerson Climate Technologies. One name change and 25 years later, COE is a network of 40 member companies pursuing process excellence by connecting with each other, with top business leaders and with faculty and student resources at Fisher.

All attendees at the Sept. 15 session will receive a commemorative COE anniversary item and a copy of Martichenko’s latest book, Discovering Hidden Profit. The event, open to COE members and invited guests, remains open for registration via live attendance or webcasting.

COE ringing in 25th anniversary at September seminar

The Center for Operational Excellence is ringing in a momentous anniversary with a celebration in September featuring two standout keynotes.

COE’s fall kickoff seminar – a formal celebration of its 25th anniversary – is set for Friday, Sept. 15, where Robert Martichenko, CEO of LeanCor Supply Chain Group, and Billy Taylor, head of North America Manufacturing for Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., are set to present. The sessions will bookend a tailgate-themed networking lunch … with some to-be-announced special guests.

LeanCor CEO Robert Martichenko

Both keynote speakers are renowned storytellers who bring a blend of personal and professional experiences to their respective stories of spending decades driving transformational change. Martichenko, set to keynote at 10:30 a.m. on Sept. 15, founded LeanCor with a mission to advance the world’s supply chains through training, consulting and third-party logistics. He’s emerged as a globally recognized thought leader in lean thinking and end-to-end supply chain management, as well as an award-winning non-fiction and fiction author.

Martichenko’s keynote, “Lessons in Lean: Lessons in Leadership,” focuses on what he’s learned while building organizational cultures focused on lean thinking and relentless business improvement.

Billy Taylor, Goodyear

Taylor of Goodyear, set to speak after lunch at 1 p.m., is a sought-after speaker and self-described “evangelist” for people-inclusion processes in operational excellence. In his keynote, “People-Driven Operational Excellence,” he charts his journey from fledgling plant manager to top leader at an iconic brand, offering insights on keys to building a high-performance, self-sustaining culture that’s the foundation for company-wide success.

Both sessions also will be offered to employees of COE member companies via live webcast, hosted and run by Mills James. Registration for webcast and in-person attendance – expected to reach capacity – will open the week of Aug. 7. Read more about both speakers on our website.

The event comes a full quarter-century after the founding of COE, which started in 1992 at the Center for Excellence in Manufacturing Management. Once narrowly focused on the application of lean in the manufacturing sector – and touting only four members – the center has grown along with the field of operational excellence to encompass the notion that process improvement principles are intrinsic to competitive edge for any industry.

Today, COE has a roster of nearly 40 member companies and engages with thousands of operations leaders across the country in the shared pursuit of building better processes in a culture of continuous learning.

July summer session takes deep dive into critical work-force challenges

The U.S. work force is at a turning point, with change swirling everywhere: Millennials are now the largest generation in the workplace. Baby boomers – and their decades of institutional knowledge – are nearing retirement after putting it off during last decade’s recession. Constant technological leaps are rewriting the rules for the skill sets that matter.

What does this mean for organizations trying to attract and hire today’s talent? How does this change the game for their ongoing efforts to build culture and develop their existing employees?

The Center for Operational Excellence is teaming up with three other centers for a pair of summer sessions focused on today’s greatest business challenges. The first, “Human Capital and Talent Management,” tackles these vital work-force development issues and on the morning of Tuesday, July 18, at the Fawcett Center.

At this session, gain insights on this issue from three compelling angles:

  • M. Gootman, Brookings Institution

    The Big Picture: Brookings Institution Fellow Marek Gootman will be unveiling results of a new work-force survey conducted in conjunction with the National Center for the Middle Market. The survey, set to be released in late June, looks at how middle-market companies – the fastest-growing segment of the economy – are responding to large-scale shifts in work-force dynamics to hire and retain workers.

  • The Ground War: Join talent management VPs Maura Stevenson (Wendy’s) and Kelly Wilson (Cardinal Health), and Kathy Smith, AVP Executive Succession and Development at Nationwide Insurance, for a moderated panel and audience Q&A session on how their organizations are responding to these work-force trends.
  • The Pipeline: Jamie Mathews-Mead, senior director of graduate career management at Fisher closes out the session with a look at how the college is preparing students to best meet companies’ rapidly evolving needs.

After the presentations, enjoy a networking lunch with members of other Fisher and Ohio State centers. Registration is set to open in June, with limited seating available for members and partners of each center.

The second summer session, set for Wednesday, Aug. 16, focuses on the explosion of data and digital disruption companies face and features a keynote from Jeremy Aston, senior director at communication tech giant Cisco. More details will be announced next month.

Check out all of COE’s upcoming events on our website …

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.