Although everyone on the call can hear the squeaking, even to the point of distraction, the owner of the offending item of furniture, more often than not, appears sublimely unaware of the noise.
In many ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has enabled us to reflect more deeply on things and my squeaky chair revelation is part of that process.
In the same way that the person with the squeaky chair can become oblivious to its noise, so too can manufacturing staff become inured to the faults in manufacturing processes, procedures and plant. The ‘diligent’ member of staff might implement a ‘fix’, even believing they are ‘doing the right thing’, but all too often that happens simply in order to ‘keep things going’ rather than investigating and resolving the issue at root cause.
Squeaky Chair Syndrome is the enemy of efficiency, quality and sustainability. It can lead to customer complaints, machine failures, inefficiencies and frustration; but there are ways to mitigate Squeaky Chair Syndrome and they don’t involve the use of oil.
Automation is one part of the solution. Over the years we have conducted ‘root and branch’ reviews of our systems and processes to determine where repeat failures occur. This has led us to automate those parts of processes that are regular offenders – the dosing system for the whole of our complex cold-mix process is one example. The automated peeling of our English Bramley apples is, of course, the biggest illustration, but also the automated addition of ingredients in other processes is a further example.
Another element of the Squeaky Chair Syndrome solution is training. We spend a great deal of time making sure that our staff – at every stage from machine operation to quality control – know what ‘good’ looks like; imbuing them with the ability to recognise when deviations occur and to do something sustainable about them.
Not surprisingly, systems and processes also feature strongly in resolving Squeaky Chair Syndrome. Again, we invest considerable amounts of time reviewing every one of the hundreds of procedures in the manufacturing process to ensure they deliver against the end-product requirements. Of course, it is not enough to simply establish the right procedures. Procedures have a nasty habit of drifting over time, so we also review them repeatedly, to eliminate any deviation.
The final, and most critical, element to resolving Squeaky Chair Syndrome is that of ‘awareness’. We like to believe that everyone throughout the Business is empowered to be a positive observer, aware and alive to everything going on around them. If something doesn’t look right, our people can raise the flag at any time for immediate action to be taken. Being aware is one of the most essential skills that anyone, in any form of business, can and must have.
So, the next time you are in a virtual meeting, facing the ubiquitous PC screen, and you hear a persistent squeaking sound, I hope you will think about this blog post. After all, that annoyingly squeaky chair just might be yours.
MD of Fourayes, Vice Chairman of British Apples & Pears and Fruitician