When plant manager, Scott Crawford, sped into the American Greetings (AG) warehouse in a Bristol Motor Speedway pace car, the crowd of associates assembled there strongly suspected that the workday would not be business as usual, and they were right. This event marked the day that employees of the largest printing and converting facility for gift wrap in the world would declare a race to beat their own records, that of their competitors, and, in the process, win the battle against outsourcing. As he stood in the amazed crowd of over 700 associates, Jon Reynolds, traffic manager in the material movement department, observed that in his 14 years at the plant he had never attended a gathering of the entire workforce and he knew that this was also a first for people who had been employed there much longer. “I think that our plant had never tried to work on a common goal,” agreed Scott Felts, production department manager, “This brought everybody together.” The day, April 16, 2007, marked the grand kickoff to the Greeneville 200, a 200 day Racing Event that was designed with a lot of sweat equity and brainpower from a devoted steering team . . . yet it was only the beginning.
“It’s always Christmas here,” says Reynolds, describing the AG plant in Greeneville, Tennessee. In fact, hourly associates work from seven to nine months out of the year in this seasonal plant, printing, converting, and packaging millions of rolls of Christmas wrapping paper annually! So how did the manufacturers of a product that makes gifts festive for people around the globe come to gather at a stage decorated with a NASCAR race theme? It began when several managers attended a workshop called Accelerated Continuous Improvement (ACI) taught by Russell Justice, a specialist in applying quality management and positive behavioral principles in the workplace. Justice developed the 10-step process that he describes as the “fully blended mix of TQM methods and applied behavioral analysis,” an approach that was instrumental in earning Eastman Chemical, from which he has since retired, the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. “This approach is the best known method in the world today to accelerate improvement,” says Justice.