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November 1998


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Soup's On

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by Peter Block

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by Gregory P. Smith


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Soup's On
Campbell's Sacramento Plant Creates Recipe for Team Implementation

The red and white label evokes memories of snowy days, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Comforting. Secure. Safe. But as a company, Campbell’s Soup didn’t get to be its size by playing it safe. From its founding in 1869—innovation has been key. Whether in the discovery of condensed soup in 1897, reducing the price of soup by two-thirds, or its captivating jingles such as “M’m! M’m! Good,” Campbell’s Soup success over the past century is largely a result of its people. No surprise then that when Campbell’s Sacramento, Calif. site needed an added boost, everyone got involved and the solution for its increased success was people and teams.

Campbell’s Soup’s Sacramento facility is one of five thermal processing plants in the world (four are owned by Campbell’s). The plant produces over 100 variety of soups, Prego sauces and V8 juices, to name a few. In 1996, leadership at the plant was looking for more innovation. They had already installed new equipment, the workforce had been downsized and the largely unionized workforce of 900 was due to begin another series of contract negotiations.

“We knew the next big steps in innovation and productivity were going to come from investing in the employees,” recalls Mona Earnest, manager, training and development. “Without training and without getting the employees to really work together, world class productivity levels would never be reached.”

Productivity Needed to Come from Man Not Machine
As with all great plans, research was the initial step. “We did a lot research in human resources. We benchmarked companies throughout the state to see if there were any unionized manufacturing operations heavily implementing teams. Of course, many weren’t willing to share information. We followed a hunch in terms of teams. We had already installed all the new equipment we could. We weren’t seeing the gains. Maybe it was because we forgot the people who were running the machines,” says Earnest.

Once the decision was made to implement teams, Campbell’s established a vision team. The vision team was composed of five management employees and one internal consultant. Their job was to define the concept of work teams and also provide information for the contract negotiations committee.

As a result the 1997 contract was the first to have team language. The wage rates were collapsed from 21 pay grades to 9, job classifications went from 260 to 49 and the contract created a steering committee and a design team to implement teams throughout the plant.

The steering committee was composed of the secretary/treasurer and the president of Teamsters Local 228 as well as the vice president of operations for the plant and the plant manager. The steering committee was facilitated by Earnest.

The steering committee, in essence, commissioned a design team. By joint agreement, the design team would meet for five weeks and develop the entire blueprint for implementing teams throughout the factory. “One key point was that the steering committee agreed that they would support whatever the design team came up with. They had the wisdom to see the need for a uniform structure for the teams, but didn’t want to dictate that structure,” reports Earnest.

Consisting of seven hourly and seven management workers, the design team met 40 hours a week for five weeks. The team was selected by the steering committee after a notice was sent to all employees requesting volunteers. One key learning according to Earnest was that the criteria for selection of design team members needed to be clearer.” We had close to 70 people volunteer for only 14 positions on the design team,” recalls Earnest. “By making our selection process clearer we might have avoided misunderstandings.”
The steering committee selected a team based on representation from all shifts, gender, ethnicity, etc. The design team’s work over the next five weeks included attending AQP’s Design and Implementation of Self-Directed Teams. “Not only did we learn a lot of content from the instructor,” recalls Earnest, “But it also gave the team a chance to coalesce as a team. To get to know each other in a different set of circumstances and in a different environment.”

Next Stop: Gas, Food and Lodging
The design team’s work culminated in a blueprint which became the employee handbook, entitled, “The Road to High Performance Teams.” Loosely organized around the metaphor of travel, it includes sections on Gas, Food and Lodging.

Gas refers to what it takes to get a team started on the road. It covers such issues as; what is a team, why do we need all these people on a team, what is required of a team, etc. Food refers to the concept of needing a supplement, which in this case comes in the form of training.
Campbell’s food for teams consists of “The Basic Eight,” an eight hour, mandatory training, where team members learn the entire plant operation. “This way no one can say, ‘This isn’t my job,’ because they see how they fit into the whole picture,” says Earnest.

"Teams are also sustained by the use of ‘team developers,’” continues Earnest. “These developers, Carol Ponce, Jan Gomez and Paula Lopez, are fulltime staff members in my department.”

Finally, the employee handbook, written by the design team, discusses Lodging. Lodging accounts for the resources the teams need. “For example, if we are going to have 65 teams in this plant, we needed to create 14 meeting/training rooms,” says Earnest. “We also identified the need for mailboxes and voicemail and the need for computers and computer labs for the teams.”

Once the design team had developed this blueprint, a key step was a random sample survey of each department to assess its level of acceptance of the new blueprint. “Basically, we were shocked by the response,” chuckles Earnest. “The survey showed how deep the support for this concept was. Part of it was people believed that leadership was serious since they were devoting the design team for five weeks to the blueprint and paying for a road trip to the AQP course for 14 people. They got the message that the company was genuinely interested in finding out what employees wanted.”

Management Teams Not Yet a Brand, But Still Key Ingredient
Yet as deep as the transition to teams went at Campbell’s, management work teams are still an illusion. “We are working on that, however,” suggests Earnest. “White-collar teams are a different animal. They generally show productivity results much later. We are planning to establish teams in support areas such as engineering, quality assurance, human resources, etc. But for now, it is mandatory for line supervisors to be on a team with their employees, as a voting member.”

And vote they do. Teams use a democratic process for everything in their area with the exception of hiring, firing and discipline. When teams have challenges in those areas, Campbell’s provides highly trained facilitators from the human resources area. “We do run into people who just don’t believe in teams. They say, ‘Hey I am retiring in two years, I am not talking.’ We say fine, ‘Just sit in a corner and know that your team is going to make decisions for your area,’” chuckles Earnest.

For 129 years, Campbell’s Soup has become a world-renowned symbol of quality and value. “We are a dynamic company where change is not just inevitable but mandatory. We embrace risk-taking. The status quo is simply not good enough,” says CEO Dale Morrison. And as big as we think Campbell’s Soup is—there is still room for growth. Consider the fact that Campbell’s supplies only 2 percent of the soup consumed worldwide. And that growth will come from people and innovators like those at the Sacramento plant.

“We are totally dedicated,” says Morrison “to building on our brand’s strength, our financial strength and our people powers to make a strong company even stronger.”

November '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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