I’ve been designing and implementing shift schedules for over 20 years. I get excited every time I have the opportunity to design something from scratch for a place that hasn’t even hired its first employee. In 2014, leading ceramic tile manufacturer Dal-Tile broke ground on its newest ceramic tile production facility in Dickson, Tennessee, and I was asked to work with the new management team to design shift schedules for the facility. The biggest challenge in designing the right schedule for a new facility is trying to determine what schedule employees — who have not yet been hired — might want to work.
Think about it – not even the incoming management team was familiar with the surrounding area and the customary schedule practices in the region. They were all moving from different areas of the country to come together to start this facility. My schedule design process (the Coleman Consulting Group methodology) relies on carefully blending business needs, employee desires, and health & safety.
I visited Dal-Tile’s other production facilities to get a better understanding of the business needs and the health & safety concerns that would be faced by new employees. I thankfully rely on an extensive database of employee survey data when there are no employees to survey. If this wasn’t already challenging enough, the schedule plan had to account for growth from training all the way to full seven-day, around the clock production over a 12-month time period. That meant accommodating hiring, training, and the inevitable attrition of new hires who ultimately decide the work is not for them.
The long-term solution for the facility was a schedule based off of a 12-hour shift length that allowed employees to be off every other weekend, rotating from days to nights. This plan enabled everyone to experience the same work/life benefits and allowed the business to more efficiently manage skill balance while providing some five-day breaks for employees to enjoy time away from work without taking a vacation. This plan was fully implemented in 2016 with a number of ramp-up schedule solutions utilizing both 8-hour and 12-hour shift lengths used to take the facility from start-up in the summer of 2015 to continuous seven-day operation. The management team even employed shift rotations for both the hourly employees and managers during the training and ramp-up phase to acclimate everyone to all aspects of the final plan.
A number of policies were implemented so that the final plan maximized health and safety and addressed various financial considerations. Some of these policies included making the night shift slightly shorter than the day shift to reduce the impact on night shift workers, designing the workweek to balance week to week pay for all employees, and counter-rotating the supervisors to allow each team to be exposed to each style of supervision.
Dal-Tile’s Director of Manufacturing Brent Shoemaker commented that “When Coleman Consulting Group started this process in 2014, they exposed me to so many ideas and schedule concepts that I didn’t know existed. Our entire team here at Dickson have benefitted tremendously from the work we did with Coleman.”
This last year, a change in demand necessitated a short-term move to 8-hour Monday through Friday shifts. Given the choice of remaining on a Monday through Friday schedule or moving back to a 7-day operation on a 12-hour schedule, more than 90 percent of hourly team members preferred to go back to the seven-day schedule. More days off, better work/life balance, and feeling more rested were just some of the reasons they gave for desiring to go back to the 12-hour schedule.
In the fall 2018, the facility enthusiastically shifted back to seven-day production. Based on some additional feedback from the hourly team members, the old schedule was slightly modified to improve further what was already considered an excellent schedule. Going back to seven-day production means reduced costs and higher margins for Dal-Tile in Dickson — as well as happier employees. And a positive outcome means job satisfaction for me.