Culture of success

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A major training programme has been at the core of establishing a common culture for NYK, following the merge of its two large divisions. Japanese owned logistics giant NYK merged its UCI and New Wave logistics divisions a few years ago, to form a new business, NYK Logistics. The plan was to create an organisation which would bring together the best from both businesses. Since then it has worked hard to establish a consistent corporate direction.

One of the difficulties the merger threw up was one of culture. All companies have a pervading culture, says Nigel Farmer. The joining together of two formerly independent businesses meant there were two distinct cultures within the same organisation. One of the biggest challenges for NYK has been establishing one common culture from the two brought together in the merge.

In response to this, it launched a training programme in partnership with Cranfield University’s Centre for Logistics and Supply chain Management. For some years the business has run a number of middle management and first line management programmes. This particular programme is based on key elements from Cranfield’s MSc supply chain management degree, and is tailored to meet the needs of NYK.

The programme involves training in technical aspects of operational management including supply chain management, inventory planning, designing distribution centres, physical network design, change management and performance measurement. So far two groups of around 20 senior managers have gone through it, with the next group scheduled to start in January. The course is the next step on for NYK’s senior operational managers from the middle management training programme, which in turn follows on from the first line management training course with TACK International, providing a clear progression route to ensure that employers at all levels are given the knowledge and skills they need to achieve their full potential.

Farmer says one of the aims of the Cranfield programme is to give staff from all areas of the company the opportunity to meet more, and encourage them to work together, and learn from each other. Now the most difficult stages of the merge are behind them, the company plans to continue improving its technical core competence while bettering relations between employees.

NYK is committed to improving the managing and leadership skills of its staff. The company funds its own schemes, seeing training as an investment. “It’s not a matter of saying we must do more, it’s a question of how are we going to do it and what are the priorities.

“A fundamental issue is the relationship between boss and subordinate, as that is the biggest influence on how someone feels at work. So the more you can get managers to encourage, develop and motivate their staff, and who can vary their styles, the better the chance of moving your culture on in whatever direction the business needs,” says Farmer.

It’s never easy to find suitable people for management roles, as there just aren’t enough high calibre people available and competition is high. When it comes to attracting new general management talent, the industry’s image can let it down, he says. When recruiting suitable people for management roles, Farmer points out that it’s more important for them to have relevant experience rather than qualifications. The candidate must be able to provide evidence of experience in management – not necessarily of the exact role he or she is applying for, but related to that field.

For example, if applying for a site manager role, the candidate would need to have experience of warehouse or transport operations, though not necessarily at site management level. It would be preferable to bring in people who have experience of NYK’s type of operations, and who could provide evidence of managing teams successfully.

Whether they have a relevant qualification is more of an extra bonus, than a necessity.

One of the key skills the company looks for when recruiting its managers, is behavioural attributes. NYK expects its managers to be able to lead well and motivate their subordinates. To do this, good interpersonal and communication skills are vital.

It goes without saying that the happier people are, the better the service they deliver. This means that employees need to know that training will be available to them through the company, if they should want it. Farmer says improving access to training for people who want it, and getting appropriate accreditation for it, are both goals the company plans to work towards.

Currently there is no clear career development path in the company. But this is one of the areas they plan to work on. Farmer says, at the moment, one of the best chances an employee has to progress, is to deliver in their current job. Employees must be able to show drive and commitment to help determine their own career path. It can’t just be up to the employer. NYK has launched a development programme for graduates.

The scheme comprises an induction and work placement programme which sees them out on the road with drivers, shadowing warehouse operatives and visiting all major operational sites before spending six months each in planning, warehousing, transport and project roles.

The programme also comprises a series of modules covering leadership, team working, project planning, creativity, assertiveness, communication skills, presentation skills, human resources and employee relations, business management, and financial awareness.

Farmer says the scheme is still in its fledgling stages, but they’re looking to develop it further in the coming years. He says in the past they’ve made the mistake of recruiting graduates too quickly to ensure job spaces are filled fast, without assessing their long term credentials. Now the focus will be on attracting high calibre graduates who have the potential to progress to senior levels in the organisation.

The majority of female employees in the company are based in finance and human resources, with a growing number joining sales and marketing. But this number drops off at the more senior levels. Farmer says one of the problems is that there just aren’t enough women in the industry who have the necessary experience to come in at a senior level.

This is a problem facing the entire logistics sector. An alarmingly small percentage of women work in the logistics sector, compared to other sectors. But encouraging more women to adopt logistics as a career must be sector driven – it can’t be achieved by a single business. Of course more can be done, and should be, but ultimately, “you can’t sell a picture that’s not the reality,” says Farmer.

Nigel Farmer
Nigel Farmer has been director of human resources for NYK Logistics for a year, and is responsible for 4,500 employees. He is a fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
He graduated in Geology from Imperial College, London.
Throughout his career he has held a variety of senior roles in human resources in the manufacturing and retail sectors. Over the years he has racked up experience in Courtaulds Textiles, Carridan Consultants, Bombardier, Wickes, and more recently RHM Foods (now taken over by Premier Foods), before joining NYK Logistics in 2006.

Focus on customer needs
Staff from all areas of NYK Logistics participated in a series of training courses set up by the Institute of Operations Management – now part of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport – designed to help instil a better understanding of its manufacturing customers’ businesses. The institute runs a series of short courses which provide practical knowledge of the latest manufacturing techniques and working practices, from the latest lean techniques to value stream mapping.

A cross-section of employees from shift managers to site managers from the automotive, manufacturing and retail businesses, attended the courses.

Gwyn Thomas, NYK’s director of internal logistics, said: “While NYK is not a manufacturing business, it is our ability to demonstrate an in-depth understanding of the challenges facing our customers which enables us to ‘think outside the box’.”

Investing in NVQs
NYK plans to invest more in NVQ qualifications and, says Nigel Farmer, some of its sites are already actively involved. Driver NVQs are underway at two of its sites, and it’s now working on a third. Another of its sites is involved in office and administration NVQs and one of its warehouses is now actively engaged. Most of these are level two. Farmer says the company will be looking to make this more consistent across the rest of its sites. But the challenge will be taking the pockets of good practice and applying it across the rest of its sites.

NYK makes students sit up and take notice
The University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) has introduced a logistics management module to the final year of its retail management degree course and has also increased the emphasis on supply chain management in its MSc information systems management.

Post and undergraduate students from the Cardiff School of Management at the UWI, paid a visit to NYK’s Tamworth distribution centre, the UK distribution hub for TV retailer sit-up channels. The aim was to show them the fast retail supply chain in action.

The students saw for the first time how more than 10 million units per year – from electrical goods to jewellery – find their way from point of origin, mainly in the Far East, to the homes of sit-up channels’ customers in the UK.

Senior lecturer Pat Cleary, says: “For the students, the visit helped to bring theory to life. From my own personal point of view, it is also extremely useful to get real feedback from industry to ensure that we are teaching the skills that employers are actually looking for.”

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