Do You Own Safety Shoes?

By Becky Ferrell

Over the course of the last several years working as a consultant, I’ve watched the faces of prospective clients when I introduce myself.  Some are welcoming. Others look like they’ve seen a bug. Most are somewhere in between. It’s not particularly offensive, I’ve been in their shoes.

During my lengthy manufacturing career, my colleagues and I watched many consultants come…and go. Their announced coming was greeted with groans or stilted smiles, and their departures with sighs of relief which were quickly stifled once the “improvement list” was revealed.  We often wondered: Do these guys realize how they are viewed by much of the workforce at the places they are contracted?  

At this point, you’re probably thinking…so Becky, you left manufacturing and entered a career that you felt this way about? What were you thinking? 


Not a “typical” consultant

Let me relate a recent interaction with a client.  

As we prepared to visit this new client, several pre-visit conference calls were held with various members of their leadership team. In each conversation, we were asked:  Do you have safety shoes? Replying affirmatively, we would move on with the conversation.

We arrived at the client site as we normally do and internally chuckled at the somewhat startled looks on the faces of the team greeting us. Startled? Why that?  Well, to be honest, we don’t look like the typical consultant arriving at a client.  None of us are dressed in suits; all of us are wearing casual or golf shirts and either jeans or casual slacks.  For all of us, the “obligatory briefcase” was long ago replaced by a business backpack, housing our laptops and other supplies. Not your Wall Street type.

The introductory meeting goes as normal, after which we ask to be taken to the manufacturing floor.  As we ask, we open our backpacks removing our PPE: well-worn safety shoes (unless we wore them in), hi-visibility safety vests, safety glasses, and hearing protection. At this point there are truly some incredulous looks, but few questions. Our hosts take us on what they expect to be a typical “wide aisle” tour, which rapidly evolves into periodic deep dives into equipment and operator work areas, observing multiple cycles of work at various stations, and digging into scrap bins.


Findings, with support

The assessment lasted a couple days, per usual.  

However, very little time was spent in the conference room allocated to us.  And at the end, there was the “normal” closing meeting, where we presented our findings. Only, what was normal for us was obviously a departure from what they had previously experienced.  Our closing was a listing of what we considered 8 top priority issues for their team to select from, accompanied by the offer to assist them and other members of the team in closing these gaps using proven, open-source techniques. Presentation method? Sticky notes on top of some hand-drawn maps and an in-process Value Stream Map of their process.

Probably no wonder the leadership sat back, smiled, and said, “You guys are different.”


And now you know why, when I left manufacturing, I jumped at the chance to join THIS team of consultants.


Need “different”?  At HVM, we are a unique team of consultants.  Give us a call – we’d love to help! And we’ll bring our experienced safety shoes!


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