In 1979, McDonald’s launched the Happy Meal, ESPN hit the airwaves for the first time, and Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” became the first Top 40 rap single. It was also a year when Amway undertook a massive hiring effort for its Ada, MI, manufacturing facility. Forty years later, that wave of new employees is moving on toward retirement – and taking its skills and knowledge with it.
Seeing the approaching predicament that the company was going to face with its labor force, leadership knew it needed a comprehensive, sweeping plan to reskill its workforce and modernize its culture in order to attract and retain new talent and move to a high-performance team model. That was the genesis of its ONE Team initiative, an employee-led program aimed at building employee engagement and retention while also giving the company a flexible, responsive workforce. It’s turning into a success story for its manufacturing operations, one that Manufacturing Leadership Council members were eager to hear about during an MLC plant tour of the Amway headquarters facility in early October.
Founded in 1959 by Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel, Amway today is an $8.8 billion company with 16,000 employees that produces over 400 products in six manufacturing facilities around the world, including in Ada, California, Washington, China, India, and Vietnam. Some of its key brands, which are sold through a direct selling model in 100 countries, are Nutrilite vitamin, mineral, and dietary supplements; Artistry skincare and color cosmetics; and eSpring water treatment systems and XS energy drinks. Amway has a robust manufacturing operation in Ada, with facilities for personal care products, cosmetics, nutrition products, and more.
To its address its workforce issues, Amway launched the ONE Team strategy about two years ago. At its heart, ONE Team is a change management initiative. Key aspects of the process for developing and deploying the program include involving teams and employees into all aspects of design work and implementation; transparent and frequent communication to all employees throughout the entire process; and partnerships and alignment with critical resources such as HR and executive leadership, with consistent messaging and support at all levels.
’A Tale of Two Cities’
In its current state, Amway is operating plants with two different work systems – a traditional role-based work system, where the work is title focused and defined to a specific role, and a skill development work system, where work is skill focused and generic roles are identified by skill level. The transition moves operations from 18 role-based titles, such as Custodian, Hilo Driver, Production Clerk, and Line Operator, to five future-state skills-based titles – Technicians I-IV, plus a Front Line Leader role.
ONE Team is the solution to numerous challenges that Amway has encountered with its workforce – improving employee skills for multiple tasks, increasing flexibility to allow the workforce to “flow to the work” vs. facing production holdups due to staffing shortages, improving plant efficiency through labor cost and overtime reductions, and giving employees a clear path to career progression with an eye toward engagement and retention.
The ONE Team skills and progression framework is set up on a three-team matrix: Mix, Package, and Warehouse teams, each with its own skill development system. Career progression takes place when an employee demonstrates both the technical and behavioral skills necessary for promotion. Once promoted, team members are expected to maintain those skills and conduct the job tasks at the current level as well as the levels below their position. Team members are put into a job rotation to keep skills sharp, and they do not “graduate out” from performing any particular skill.
Currently, there are 140 employees of the 1100+ total North American manufacturing employees in the new skill-based system, with rollout planned for additional facilities. Two operations have fully transitioned to ONE Team and two others are in the process to complete their transition by the end of the year. Two additional operations are slated to complete program design work and make their transition by the second quarter of 2020.
The Benefits of ONE Team
The teams that are currently operating under the new model are seeing high labor utilization rates, favorable financial performance measures vs. their targets, and higher levels of employee attraction and retention.
In addition to broader deployment of ONE Team, the company is also building a strategy for automation deployment that will move them towards hands-free materials movement and significantly reduce usage of low-skilled temporary labor. The Ada facility is currently deploying 31 cobots mostly for packaging and palletizing and is exploring self-driving vehicles and mobile conveyance tracking.
Asked what they’ve learned, Amway’s leadership says they have found it’s incredibly important to have employees included at every step of the journey, and to create a strong linkage to company values. They also say that top-down support is critical to success and that a dedicated core team is necessary to keep the transition going. Moreover, successful execution requires “doing it right” vs. being “driven by schedule.”
Amway says they will continue to seek opportunities for sensible automation deployment and will keep going full steam ahead with its transition to high-performance teams.