You Need a Touch Plan for Culture Change in a Manufacturing Plant

Joe Kuhn
A desire to improve the reliability of your plant will include culture change. Do not be intimidated by this reality. I employ a simple change model introduced to me by Partners in Leadership titled “The Results Pyramid.” It is empowering in its simplicity (see figure below).   


Let’s begin at the bottom of the pyramid. Our experiences create our beliefs, our beliefs drive our actions, and finally, our actions produce results. Your culture encompasses all of this, and there is a progression. Consequently, you can change your culture by creating new experiences, and you create experiences one at a time. Imagine if you could create one new experience a week in your plant; 52 weeks later, the culture can be changed. Simple right? Well, not so fast; let’s look deeper. 
To ensure the new experience is recognized by the culture, it is critical that the change agents and leadership connect the dots — remind the target group of the plant’s past culture and detail how the new experience fits a new culture. For example, let’s say your plant has 100% reactive maintenance (old culture), and you create a planned work crew dedicated to preventative maintenance. Your goal may be to get to 80% reactive in three months. Tell them the experience, the new belief, the new action and finally, at three months, tell them the result. Connecting the dots needs to take place in meetings, emails, postings, celebrations and one-on-one discussions. This step establishes creditability.  
It is common to have a mob mentality in meetings — believe me, I’ve been there. Often the most negative people speak, driving the discussion into the ditch. I like to quote a buddy of mine here, “It takes a carpenter to build a barn, but any jackass can kick it down.” To combat this reality, I strongly encourage you to develop a Touch Plan. A Touch Plan is a disciplined approach to winning over people (the culture) one person at a time. I first heard the term Touch Plan in a presentation by the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller, and I adapted it for creating a reliability culture and retained the name. A Touch Plan includes all interactions (or touches) to win over the culture: 
  1. Meetings — standing meetings and change introduction meetings 
  2. Postings in common areas (lunchrooms, by time clocks, etc.) 
  3. Email and publications to employees — at home or work 
  4. Rewarding and recognition of new behaviors — group and individuals (best-practice suggestion: handwritten notes to homes) 
  5. One-on-one discussions 
Most plants do a decent job at items 1-4 but fail to prioritize and execute on number 5. Think about this for yourself. Imagine a leader, two levels higher in the organization, coming to your workspace to see what you are doing and connecting the dots to a new culture. While this is impactful, it’s also time-consuming. By dividing and conquering, however, you can make this manageable.  
Here’s another example: Imagine you have 100 craftsmen and nine plant leaders, but 10% are a lost cause — they are against everything. Do not focus on them. This is a trap most leaders fall into; they spend all their time on the poor employees. Focus instead on the 90% — this can be career-changing. Assign 10 craftsmen to each of the nine leaders. Each leader commits to having a one-on-one discussion in the next month with each person on their list. This ensures no overlap of discussions and everyone is “touched.” In the discussion, talk about what they are presently doing and move the conversation to the culture you are trying to create by discussing new experiences, beliefs, actions and anticipated results. Ask the person to give this a chance, specifically ask them to give you 90 days to prove the new culture, and then commit to circling back in this period. People are won over one at a time. Each month, rotate the 10 people assigned to each leader so everyone gets a new perspective and sales pitch. This discussion can be just five minutes, and ensure you hit all shifts if you are 24/7. I had the list of the 90 on the back of my office door, and each month, we would report on contacts made and missed. Those missed were targeted in the next 48 hours.  
To see this in action, let’s look at a hypothetical discussion between Jim, the maintenance manager, and Jane, a mechanic. 
Jim: How are you doing today, Jane? 
Jane: Fine, I wish I could stop fixing the same alignment problems every day. 
Jim: I know. But we just bought some new equipment and have trained people on laser alignment. I have instructed my supervisors and have a commitment from the production managers to take the time to align shafts right the first time. 
Jane: I’ve heard that, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Production has always driven this plant — and driven it into the ground. You’re not the first person to try to improve things. It’s always the flavor of the month. 
Jim: I hear you. I’d like you to give me 90 days to win this battle. After 90 days, I will come back and ask you if you notice a difference. Deal? 
Jane: Deal. 
Jim: Well, I need to go. Have a good day. 
“Touching” employees became one of the highlights of my week. It kept me wallowing in reality and not just the opinions of the conference room. They solidified my resolve to create new experiences. Culture is people. You don’t change people with tricks and gimmicks.  
Following is an example of a worksheet to log and review employee “touches." To download a sample touch log, click here.  


Recognizing and rewarding employees for demonstrating new behaviors through their actions needs to be formalized. Most do a great job with this, especially with groups. However, there is an opportunity to be outstanding by utilizing best practices. Again, I heard this from the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller. Best practice is to handwrite a “refrigerator worthy” note on an inspirational card — resembling a birthday card or wedding invitation — and mail it to the employee’s home. The note details observed actions or results, connects the dots to business impact and thanks the employee. Do not mass produce these notes; write everything by hand, including the address and signature. There’s a good chance the employee’s spouse will ask about the card and its contents, and this produces a sense of pride.  
Here’s an example of a handwritten note: 
Mark, I just wanted to take a minute to thank you for your craftsmanship on the bearing replacement on the HDC press last week. This bearing fails twice a year, costing us $50,000 per year in downtime, labor and materials. Your idea to improve the installation and lubrication is expected to take the life to 10 years, saving us $500,000. You have also volunteered to train others on the design.  
As you know, we are in a very competitive business. We need skilled craftsmen to both maintain and improve our performance. I’m glad you are on the team.  
Thank you. 
Joe Kuhn, Plant Manager 
Acme Industries 
August 19, 2022  
These cards need to be rare — not everyone gets them. They must be genuine and specific to an individual. As a plant manager and maintenance manager of a large plant, I set a goal of two per week, and 100% of the recipients circled back, sought me out and shook my hand — some nearly in tears. Some had the card with them, folded up in their back pocket. This is huge, folks. Here is a link to the cards I utilized:  
In my 35 years as a leader and change agent, I have found a Touch Plan is very often the critical difference between the program of the month and the creation of a lasting culture of reliability.