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Wire Company Creates a Map to Improve Their People Development System

workforce development in Tennessee

A system that is difficult to see is difficult to improve. An organization’s internal workforce development system is hard to see. But it is a system, and it can be improved. 

Last year the leadership team at Mid South Wire made a commitment to address the challenges hampering their efforts to find, train and retain people to help the business continue to grow. 

MSW has been producing wire products in Nashville for multiple industries since 1967 and has enjoyed stable growth for many years. However, they recognize that times have changed, and new challenges have arrived regarding workforce development and retention. These challenges require new ways of thinking and new behaviors from internal systems. 

In December, UT Center for Industrial Services came alongside the MSW team with a management approach called the Optimized People Development System (PDS). The Optimized PDS focuses on continuous improvement of an organization's internal workforce processes using systems thinking, lean thinking, and learning organization concepts. 

                                        the optimized people development system for workforce development

Constructing a clear picture of what is happening in the five functional areas of the system helps to remove assumptions, identify gaps and opportunities, and facilitate dialog among all stakeholders. To get to this starting point, the Optimized PDS begins with a current state map.

Thirty members of the MSW team helped to identify tools and data that their current system used. They looked at the way services of the PDS were delivered and they noted who is involved in the delivery. They expressed views, critiqued structures, and cataloged struggles. At the end of this two-day exploration, they had a more complete view of the current practices they were using. 

Group of people in a classroom

During the discussions both in front of the emerging map and during Gemba walks (in lean terms this means we went to the place where training happens) around the facility, it was clear that various stakeholders were seeing some parts of the PDS that they had not encountered before. They also heard how other stakeholders perceived the system and learned that each of them had more to do with the overall success of the system than they had considered before. 

 “The mapping exercise was a key part of understanding the current state of our processes and it is imperative that you know and understand this so that you can reconstruct a system that will lead to improvement,” Operations Manager David Roos said about the mapping experience. “We clearly were doing things differently in our various departments and we needed to standardize our practices. The mapping made this clear and we can now move forward with improving.” 

Process Control Manager Steve Slagle added, “While doing the mapping exercise, we found out that we all have the same goals but are doing things differently to accomplish them. The mapping exercise showed us that if we had a more specific plan laid out, we could focus on other areas and improve efficiencies, employee relationships, customer satisfaction, and potential new employee development toward a career with us.”

Of course, the current state isn’t the destination. Such a map clarifies a starting point and kicks off a strategic discussion about how to improve by applying lean thinking concepts and how to become a learning organization. 

How did the mapping exercise help MSW with this? “You have to know where you are and where you have weaknesses so that your efforts can be applied to the areas that need the most attention,” Roos observed. “We were doing some things well and others not so well. We can now move forward and apply our time and resources to improving the processes that will have the most impact in achieving our goals.”

Will Simpson, Project Coordinator, found that by, “Capturing what we do, the mapping exercise opened the discussions for everyone to verbalize what they think needs to be changed and improved.  At the end of the exercise, everyone clearly saw how interconnected the systems are by observing the relationships between each part of the system. This is crucial for us to be able to wholistically improve.” 

The dialog that the Optimized PDS process initiates is one of the most important elements that this management approach affords. That dialog can result in long term value. 

“As a company we lacked a centralized process that focused on developing our employees, and to truly improve this function we asked UT CIS to step in and help us,” Simpson said “With the changing trends of the labor market, we believe we can market our employee development process as a means to attract the right talent and retain our employees by keeping them engaged and motivated at work.”

The MSW team has just begun their PDS optimization journey. As they work to streamline the PDS and build a learning organization, they will need to continue thinking in systems terms. This means seeing the whole PDS, not just the individual areas. Their current state map of the system will be a great reference point along the way. 

An organization’s internal workforce development efforts comprise a system that is hard to see in operation. The Optimized PDS by UT CIS can help with visibility and with bringing all stakeholders into the conversation.