Company culture—an organization’s DNA—contributes to people’s behavior, interactions with each other, decision-making, and how they perform their work. And even though culture incorporates the shared values, goals, attitudes, and practices of an organization, it’s often overlooked.
When I was a supply chain leader for Shell, the global group of energy and petrochemical companies best known for its gas stations, we created a culture around ESSA (eliminate, simplify, standardize, and automate). Since then, I’ve carried the ESSA methodology forward into my current role at Management Controls and all areas of my life.
Companies that weave the ESSA approach into their culture are setting themselves up for success by decreasing unwarranted, time-consuming processes. In doing so, they’re increasing efficiencies, reducing time for getting tasks done, and controlling costs. This is especially true when ESSA is combined with digital technologies to help manufacturers succeed.
For efficiency's sake, workplace processes often must improve
According to the National Association of Manufacturers, total output from U.S. manufacturing was $2.5 trillion in 2021. This equates to 10.7% of the country’s total output. The sector has 12.5 million manufacturing jobs and relies heavily on contractors.
To maintain growth the manufacturing industry realized in 2022, Deloitte suggests that “leaders should leverage digital solutions, adopt strategies for the future of work, and drive supply chain resiliency.” Before getting into digital solutions, I’ll touch on how ESSA helps improve how work is done and how that relates to supply chain resiliency.
Especially amid the ongoing labor shortage, manufacturing leaders are always looking for ways to ensure fewer errors in work, fewer handoffs, and quicker outcomes for customers. ESSA works if it’s adopted and implemented companywide—starting from the top and trickling down to every employee and contractor.
Understanding how ESSA turbocharges the manufacturing workspace
Consider these four components of eliminate, simplify, standardize, and automate:
- Eliminate removes non-value-added activities from any process. For example, traditionally, 1) an employee submits an expense report with receipts. The report then 2) manually goes to the finance team to ensure compliance with company procedures, 3) to the employee’s supervisor for approval, 4) back to finance for processing, 5) and payment initiation, 6) and to the employee via a check. Steps could be eliminated and restructured by using a mobile app or web interface—from expense report submittal to automatic payment into the team member’s bank account.
- Simplify streamlines tasks. The above example streamlines a process by eliminating unnecessary steps. With the ESSA approach, the four adjectives in the acronym are interrelated and often overlap.
- Standardize involves performing responsibilities the same way everywhere: between regions, locations, classes of business, and departments where applicable, and with vendors, employees, and contractors. Consider the benefit of a contractor, for example, working for several of a manufacturer’s sites and knowing the job will be performed the exact same way. Work gets done quicker and more efficiently with a consistent, systematic approach.
- Automate uses technology to replace manual, time-consuming tasks. A warehouse management system, for example, automates everything from inventory tracking and management to order processing to picking, packing, shipping, and receiving. In doing all this through automation, workers are freed up to do more value-adding jobs.
It’s easy to see how this methodology helps manufacturers overcome talent challenges and supply chain bottlenecks for increased efficiency and resiliency.
What must be done to create an ESSA culture
When implementing the ESSA approach, it should be engrained in the company’s culture from day one for new hires and contractors. For that to happen, there must be buy-in from the C-suite on down, through mid-level staff such as chief information security officers all the way down to entry level.
At Shell, my managers and leadership did this with me, so it became something I practiced every day—at work and at home with my own family. I, in turn, reminded my direct reports to practice ESSA. If a team member had a day when feeling overwhelmed by all the tasks that were stacking up, I would ask what could be eliminated, simplified, standardized, or automated?
It's a mental shift, and repetition helps people get there. It also empowers them to come up with better ways of performing work and getting their jobs done on time and on budget.
ESSA equally benefits contractors, vendors, and customers because they know exactly what to expect when working for or with a manufacturer. It’s a win for all.
The technologies and the important role they play
Although ESSA is primarily a strategic and operational approach, technology plays a significant role in enabling and supporting its implementation. Consider how robotic process automation tools help streamline and automate tedious, manual tasks like filling out forms, while workflow automation software creates, visualizes, and monitors workflows, ensuring standardized processes are followed.
Data analytics and business intelligence tools identify areas that could be simplified or eliminated and measure the effectiveness of standardization and automation efforts.
Since effective communication and collaboration are essential to ESSA, tools like project management software, team communication platforms, and document-sharing systems can help coordinate these efforts and share knowledge across teams.
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems can help standardize and automate various business processes, such as inventory management, order processing, and financial management. They can also provide insights and data for decision-making related to the entire manufacturing process. Not to be left out, API connectivity and data integration platforms can help connect and synchronize data between different tools and systems and are a critical component of ESSA.
While technology plays a critical role, ESSA’s success depends on the commitment and participation of all employees.
Enjoying the change that results from these improvements
ESSA and smart technology solutions can help manufacturers drive process improvements, greater efficiency, and growth. For example, integrated contractor spend management solutions can eliminate manual data entry, replace paper timesheets and invoices, and provide cost-efficient, compliant invoicing to stay competitive. It can easily track labor, equipment, rental equipment, and materials costs, giving management real-time visibility into these areas.
When processes are streamlined, simplified, standardized, and automated, in addition to being paired with advanced technologies, organizational culture thrives. Employees experience heightened job satisfaction. Customers and vendors benefit from superior service, and this positions manufacturers for better business performance, outcomes, and growth.