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Three takeaways after having coffee with hundreds of Temiscaming employees

Dany Gagnon
July 27, 2017

I talk for an hour or so with groups of five to seven employees at a time, about six times a week, to explain our transformation project. The objective is to personally connect with everyone at the Temiscaming site, and make sure we are all heading in the same direction.

So far, I have spoken with about half of our 800-employee workforce through these sessions, which we call “Coffee with the Vice President.”

Overall, I find our people are very receptive. It is the first time most have had a conversation with the manager responsible for the site, and they appreciate the opportunity.  The sessions have opened my eyes to the thoughts and feelings of our employees, as you’ll read in the takeaways below.

The sessions are eye-openers for employees, in other ways. We have made a point of mixing people from our different operations – pulp, paper and specialty cellulose – and from different departments. This has given employees a new perspective on their co-workers.  We also hold the sessions in different parts of the site, which sometimes means that employees with 30 years of experience see another part of the operation for the first time!

Takeaway #1: Employees are aware of the need for transformation

I have been pleasantly and positively surprised at the broad acceptance of the need for the transformation – to change the way we work to become more productive and more efficient.  People say things like, “We were due for a change… Inefficiency has been tolerated and sometimes we have taken advantage of that… It has been too easy at times…”    

Ultimately, employees realize that inefficiency puts the Temiscaming site at risk – and puts their jobs at risk as well.  And our people have a taste for making changes for the better.  They also understand that any future investments or spending must be undertaken in a disciplined way.

Speaking with small groups – focusing on mainstream employees – has also highlighted the importance of positive, proactive communications.

Too often management spends too much energy on responding to criticism and negativity – we are better off focusing on solid, positive content when speaking with employees.  Good communication is part of the transformation.

Takeaway #2: Employees need something they are not getting

I have discovered a major dilemma through these conversations: Employees are not getting the leadership they need from our frontline supervisors – and this is not the supervisors’ fault.  

This situation has come about because management has generally selected supervisors on the basis of technical skills, rather than leadership skills.  And up until recently, the company has not systematically developed the leadership skills of our supervisors.

Employees need supervisors who are informed and equipped with the answers, along with the ability to communicate all this to mill floor employees. For this to happen, management has to provide supervisors with support and clear expectations that go beyond technical matters.

We need to make frontline supervisors the center of gravity at the site – leaders on the mill floor. We are helping to make this happen through a training program for managers and supervisors here at the site. It is designed to develop their leadership skills – including communication skills.   Both managers and supervisors get the same training, so they are on the same page.

Takeaway #3: Employees want to be involved in the transformation

I often hear comments like, “We’re starting to understand what you mean by transformation... We see that we need to improve operations to reduce costs… We are willing to be involved…”

I love to hear this positive attitude – and many employees have shared good ideas that can help us be more efficient and save money. What I emphasize is that we have to be systematic and well-organized to have any significant impact when we implement these ideas.  

I use this opportunity to talk about TPS – the Tembec Performance System. In simple terms, it is a methodology for achieving superior results in a manufacturing operation. We can use TPS to implement good ideas across the site in a disciplined manner.

We have been piloting TPS at Temboard (our paper mill), where 50% of employees have been involved in one or more TPS workshops. Now Temboard is entering the expansion phase and our specialty cellulose operation is starting its TPS journey. I am eager to see TPS fully deployed.

The last word

Many employees are saying they want to see management and the union working together for the common good of the site.  

This comes after a period when the relationship was tough.  Employees want positives! To my mind, management and the union have no alternative but to work together. And we are doing so through a mediation process, where we have an agreed-upon list of action items that help us move forward.

About Dany Gagnon

Dany GagnonDany, who joined Tembec in September 2015 with a mandate to lead the transformation, is building on his success leading change management programs in the automotive, brewing and agri-food industries. He is a mechanical engineer with a specialization in aeronautics and has a certification in process management. His global perspective reflects his experience working in the US, Asia and Europe, as well as Canada.

Temiscaming site, in brief

  • One of the largest forest products manufacturing sites in North America.
  • 800 site employees – 80% unionized under one collective agreement / 20% staff.
  • Three main mills that manufacture different forest products: specialty cellulose, high-yield pulp and coated bleached board (containerboard); and a chemical products facility.

Temiscaming transformation

The objective is to make Temiscaming a highly-competitive world-class operation for the long term. This will enable us to meet customer expectations for quality and reliability, as well as community expectations for sustainability, while ensuring profitability for Tembec.