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Lessons  in success from three of the best.

Lessons in success from three of the best

Outstanding policies in research and development, design, and health and safety are paying rich dividends for three organizations that have built worldwide reputations for good practice in the areas of operations and production management.

Taylor (Fortune magazine, 17 March 2008) describes how a flat organizational structure at Honda has encouraged the development of an entrepreneurial and ‘quirky’ culture, where engineers are allowed to ‘dabble’ and the research and development department acts as a powerhouse for innovative design.

The result is a range of exciting products, from cars to generators and from snow-blowers to motorcycles. Honda is reckoned to be well ahead of the competition when it comes to fuel cells. And then there is the distinctive HondaJet, chosen from among dozens of aviation products for the Popular Science ‘Best of What’s New’ award in 2006.

The result of 20 years of aviation research, HondaJet’s natural-laminar flow (NLF) wing and fuselage nose help to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency. Its over-the-wing engine-mount eliminates the need for a structure to mount the engines on the rear fuselage – the conventional place for jets on executive aircraft – thus maximizing space in the fuselage for passengers and luggage.

More than 100 customers have so far signed letters of intent to purchase the HondaJet. The first aircraft is due for delivery in 2010.

US agricultural-equipment manufacturer Deere & Company is another business that has reaped the benefits of investing in research and development through good times as well as bad. The firm has come a long way since founder John Deere invented the first self-cleaning steel plough – a big improvement on cast-iron ploughs that farmers had to clean frequently – more than 170 years ago. But today’s innovations are scarcely less ground-breaking. For example, the company recently developed AutoTrac, a precise tractor-guidance system that uses global satellite positioning  technology.

Lane (Research Technology Management, January-February 2008) explains that ‘sustained investment’ is one of four strategies supporting innovation at the company. The others are taking a disciplined approach, adopting a broad perspective, and using compensation and bonus schemes to reward employees who tackle problems head-on.

Construction company Costain is another business unafraid to get to the root of matters. Cook (The RoSPA Occupational Safety & Health Journal, February 2008) describes the exemplary leadership on health and safety shown by the chief executive and other senior managers, which helped the firm to win 30 awards in 2007.

Safety training is mandatory and a specific safety section is included in every induction. Every day, on every site, employees receive a briefing on managing the safety issues associated with the operations being carried out on that day. Explicit scoring during monthly site inspections indicates how safety, health and the environment are being managed on sites, and includes issues such as competency, risk assessment and site tidiness. Costain also ensures its contractors are competent in health and safety by requiring proof that they have attended construction-safety training, and issues each worker with an easy-to-complete near-miss reporting booklet.

‘Safety must always remain at the forefront of our business’, said the chief executive. ‘We have both corporate and individual responsibility to ensure that our operations are properly and effectively managed in a safe, healthy and environmentally controlled manner.’