NUMMI & the joy of Work
Recently I was able to find and old NUMMI episode from This American Life, where describes more less why GM wasn´t able to replicate the operational & cultural practices from its peer Toyota. Well, at least, they didn´t replicate that in a quick manner, but until the 2000´s almost 20 years later after the NUMMI plant opened in Fremont Ca, as part of a joint venture with Toyota. If you haven´t listen to this episode, I suggest that you do it. Clic here to go that episode, but please come back as i Have another suggestion on this topic.
After re-visiting this fascinating story, I was able to find other “New” podcast on this story. “The Bridge” is a podcast from San Francisco, and it mainly is about interest topics or issues that This City experiences. Some episodes explore the bay one street corner at a time, there´s another about Parkinson´s disease, homeless people and so on. The end of the season 1, talks about a familiar story for the Lean community: NUMMI. But explores the side effect of this plant´s closure. It is called the Life after NUMMI. If you haven´t hear it, i suggest you also do it by clicking here.
|New United Motor Manufacturing, in Freemont CA.|
The half hour show talks about what happened after the plant was shutdown. It examines the life of a couple of workers, they tell some stories about the jokes, the people they worked with, the struggles of finding another job. Please remember this car factory closed in 2010 when the recession was at its peak, and finding another job like that, was just almost imposible.
Although the podcast takes a couple of workers, I believe the represent the feeling and what it was like to work at NUMMI. The show opens describing the 5 year reunion from NUMMI employees. Sara Rogers, She was the tour coordinator at the factory, and worked there for 11 years. In the chapter she described the way she used to conduct the tour, and interact with workers as they assembled cars. At the beginning of the explanation she remembers explaining visitors the key values practiced at the factory: Kaizen, Kanban, Jidoka, Muda, Genchi gembutsu, etc. As she used to drive around the plant she named the people working at the worked stations. She remembers, the tour being about the factory and the people working within the factory, as she explains:
“ Here´s a tire, and here is Bob, working with a tire. Here´s an engine, and here´s Jason working with an engine”.
She used to tell stories about the people, she also says:
“ Those where the folks I worked for, you know I worked for those folks”.
The podcast also explains that during the various slumps car demand had through out the years, NUMMI never lay anyone off. When demand was week, one shift took classes about, safety, sexual harassment, history of Toyota and so on. Rogers remembers teaching about that last topic. And at this point, if you are listening, you can still hear the excitement in her voice, remembering all these concepts, stories and the fact that NUMMI never layoff anyone. Until the plant closed, and
“And the Dream ended”.
April 1st, 2010 a red Corolla was the last car that came out of the plant. She explains that she wanted to be there until 90. She had no plans to retire, and she wanted to be there forever.
I feel that there have been very few times where I´ve felt this same way. But I don´t remember feeling like that all the time. Typically in my case, there are times where you feel super motivated at job and there are some others, where you feel more like, you gotta do what you gotta do, is your job, and the motivation is pretty low. What place was NUMMI that a worker felt like working there was worth it doing it forever?
Ok, probably you´re thinking at this point; right her job was conducting tours. Is not the same as being assembling parts together every minute, attached to a work station, in a repetitive job. That´s true, but also, being a tour guide, doesn´t really help to change the world right? So, my thought is related about how good, happy environment it was and how was possible that those people would stay motivated to actually love their jobs. Is not that i don´t like my own job, but as I have explained before, at some point motivation isn´t at its peak.
So, to me the fact that someone like Rogers still remembers her work with such pride, tells me one simple thing, and is the fact that she felt joy at her work. She had a purpose, which as a consequence, Intrinsic Motivation. It is supposed to exist two kinds of motivations, according to the book Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates Us, written by Daniel H. Pink.
Intrinsic motivation and Extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation are all variables such as wage, benefits, the things we buy and would like to posses that come as a consequence of having a job. They are powerful, but they only do the trick in the short run. Cause as we know, the brain has a feature to adapt quickly to changes in our lives, so If you have a raise, it´s exciting, motivates you super high, but it only lasts for a short period of time. As the brain gets used to having more money on your wallet and accepts that as the norm. Intrinsic motivation is the kind of motivation that busts us in the long run. It requires autonomy, mastery and purpose to keep that kind of motivation driving our behaviour. Rogers describes how she conducted tours, and looks like she had the three (motivators) at her job. But, speaking from experience, this is not something you can easily have, or achieve or even look for. Must son us, work because we need to cover basic needs: food, home, health, etc. and if along comes some of the intrinsic factors just discussed before, is a bonus.
If you hear the podcast as the last Red Corolla was coming out of the line, you could hear people cheering and clapping with joy. I don´t think that was coincidence, and all those guys, weren't also tour guides. So to get to point, I believe is because the management style and system created that allow people not only cover the basic needs “extrinsic motivation”, but also, the deeper needs “intrinsic motivation” that help a worker stay focus, motivated and with joy in the long run, as he works.
|Dr. Edwards Deming|
This makes me remember Dr. Deming who put a great amount of responsibility on managers/management. Pointing that creating good systems is management´s job, allowing people to take pride and joy at work. I´m convinced a true Lean System can do that. I´m convinced that that´s what TPS did at NUMMI, despite what Labor Notes claims, I know Lean works and can be great for everybody.
Looks like for all the people who worked at NUMMI, things will never be the same. As Mario Mendes explains later in the podcast:
“It´s ok, It´s not the same. You get greasy and dirty. And is not like NUMMI”.
What also caught my eye, is the fact that Tesla Motors, bought the old building, after NUMMI was closed, for a really cheap price. Many of the workers from NUMMI, couldn´t make it to the new company. Which is really sad, as they had the skills, the culture, and the habits to help Tesla be more efficient, and perhaps, save some money on the training. Mendes explains it was really hard to get hired at Tesla as they weren't hiring people over 50. Same thing happen when I worked at Ford. When the Cuautitlan plant reopen, and I was hired back in 2009, most of workers where under 30. I believe it was because of budget, culture, and thinking that younger people would fit better than older people. I will go there on a future post, about the similarities Ford tried with Cuautitlan plant and NUMMI.
What do you think? Do you feel motivated with your the job/system you work in? What changes can we make to keep motivated ourselves in our current jobs?
Would love to hear your thoughts, please leave a comment below.