Could military disciplines accelerate your business performance?

It is becoming increasingly obvious that the process of adopting digital manufacturing technologies – a must-have for improved productivity and output – needs top floor to shop floor buy-in, and delivering that requires deep culture change.

Kevin Magee of the Check-6 Performance Excellence coaching consultancy spoke to Nick Peters about the dangers of not taking culture change and training seriously.

Kevin Magee: No matter how much a business may want to adopt new paradigms in 21st century smart manufacturing, there’s still going to be people involved. And people will make mistakes.

Check-6’s core offering is to help businesses create an environment and culture where people make fewer mistakes. Management, the leadership, need to generate a culture where people can make mistakes without being in fear for their jobs.

Tell us more about Check-6 and its origins.

The company was founded just over 11 years ago by Brian ‘Bru’ Brurud, a former US Navy F-14 pilot. A very good friend of his is a wellhead drilling engineer in a large American petrochemical company who wondered if the same disciplines and procedures that prevented accidents and fatalities on an aircraft carrier could work on oil rigs.

F-14 jet fighter on an aircraft carrier deck beneath dramatic sky – stock image courtesy of Depositphotos.

An oil rig is a very dangerous place to work. People make mistakes and people die. In a military and combat environment that’s how we lose people in peacetime. In oil and gas, it was somebody not doing something, or failing to do something, or failing to work together in the right way, resulting in an accident.

Some manufacturers might think you are over-egging the pudding to say they need military-style processes in, say, an injection moulding company. Does this really translate into manufacturing?

Of course there are less fatalities in this industry than in oil and gas, for sure. But it comes down to the age-old three-legged stool of enterprise platforms and business strategy: people, process and technology.

Yes, if somebody makes a mistake on the shop floor, there might be an injury, and somebody has to have a couple days off work. We very rarely lose people in an injection-moulding factory! But it is not just the risk of injury, there’s waste too.

In a factory or shop floor, you’re part of a team that needs to work together. And if somebody makes a mistake, then you might have a machine down, you might take longer for a changeover time, somebody may forget to order the raw materials for that particular works order.

When people make mistakes in that kind of environment, it costs the business money. And that’s where we’re aiming with Check-6 in manufacturing.

There’s big hidden ROI on this that manufacturers might not be addressing.

Exactly. I was at a meeting recently at a manufacturing business. This 25-strong team is running the supply chain management and purchasing planning for a multi-billion-dollar British business, and the manager of that team is pulling his hair out because people are sitting at the same desk and emailing each other. They are making too many phone calls or emails, and they’re just fighting against each other rather than cooperating as a team.

This article first appeared in the May issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here


Kevin Magee will be hosting a roundtable discussion on ‘Accelerating Human Performance’ at Manufacturing Innovation Summit 2019.

This future-facing, one-day conference is focused on helping manufacturers put in place the people, processes and technologies required to enable transformational innovation within the enterprise and across the supply chain.  

Click the banner below for more information:

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After a two-hour discussion, what we’re going to introduce is the same principles that we at Check-6 use in planning, briefing, and executing a plan, and then at the end of their particular planning and purchasing shift, debriefing what’s gone on.

This is a critical area at the start of a manufacturing process that needs to work smoothly. If it worked at full efficiency, how much more efficient and profitable could they be? And it works no matter the size of the business.

One of the things that people get hung up on at work is the blame culture. What is Check-6’s philosophy around that.

Human beings, by definition, are not infallible. And you’ve got to accept that. I once went into an engineering consultancy to meet a senior engineering manager, who told me one of his team had just cost the business £50,000.

All he had done was send the wrong version of a drawing to a gearbox fabricator, who made the gearbox casing, well lots of them actually, to the wrong drawing, and all of it, costing £50,000 had to be scrapped.

The point was that this manager accepted the fact that the engineer had made a mistake, and the business coped with it. There are other businesses that would say, ‘You’ve just cost us £50k, you’re out.’ The interesting point is that he was one of the company’s best engineering gearbox designers.

How do you balance the preponderance of human beings to make mistakes against what it’s going to cost the business and the culture they’re in?

Manufacturers tend to be intensely practical people, and see things in terms of physical cause. Is it demonstrable that companies who adopt these kinds of human-focused procedures and processes, will actually improve their productivity, safety and the happiness of their staff?

Yes. Check-6 has got a number of fantastic references in the oil and gas industry. My job is to take that expertise and bring it into manufacturing. There is a demonstrable ROI in helping businesses create a structure and a culture within which people are operating more efficiently.

If a business decides the strategy over the next five years is to increase turnover by 20- 25%, what do you do? Do you build a factory that is going to increase your manufacturing capacity by 30-40%? Or do you use what you have at hand?

We believe very strongly that before you start investing millions and millions of pounds on expanding the company through more sites and more this and more that, let’s have a look at the way that you, as a business, are operating.

CROP - Oil and gas platform in the gulf or the sea, The world energy, Offshore oil and rig construction Bad weather in offshore oil and gas platform - stock image courtesy of Depositphotos.

It’s an extension of Lean in a way.

It is Lean, psychologically Lean. It’s mindfulness Lean. Lean and continuous improvement can’t be delivered unless the people who are doing those programmes understand and believe in it. And it’s exactly the same with making people work more efficiently in a manufacturing environment.

And it comes right from the top, from the leadership. How do you communicate why you’re doing things, the end result of what you’re doing, and get everybody on board?

You can have all the machines in the world, but without people on your side, you can’t make them work efficiently.

This is about making change stick. It is the key to delivering the improvements in the business that you’re looking for. That’s right at the core of what our business does because we’re looking at a multi-level and a multi-faceted area of coaching and mentoring from the top of the executive team, right down to the shop floor.

That’s how you make change stick. You understand what it is, you understand what’s coming, and you help organisations adopt it at multiple levels at the same time.


Kevin Magee is Director, Manufacturing Segment, Check-6 International Inc. – kevin.magee@checksix.com

[All images courtesy of Depositphotos]