Fast Company

The Sentry Group Builds a Green Box

When Terry Smith implemented the Natural Validation and Planning System on the manufacturing floor, the workers took note -- this program wasn't going away.

For years Peter Naylor and Claire Crittenden have wanted to test their system in a substantial manufacturing company, companywide, with support from the top down to the lowest ranks. Terry Smith at the Sentry Group in Rochester, New York may give him his chance. Smith is vice president of manufacturing operations at Sentry Group, a $100 million manufacturer of safes and fireproof security boxes sold mostly through retail outlets like Wal-Mart and Staples. By nature, Smith is a shy man, in his mid-40s, with a disarming manner, warm, affable, and humble. In the past half-year, he's moved from skepticism to interest to wholehearted support for Naylor and Crittenden's program.

Smith is a West Point grad, a former army man, with a deep ambition to make his mark at Sentry. There's little small talk about him -- he doesn't linger on a topic. But he's a good listener, surprisingly warm and unassuming. When he praises somebody at work he says, "I'm tickled about that."

He came to Sentry from Mobil Oil, where he assumed a variety of line and staff positions, working directly with the VP for sales and marketing before he left. He has studied and taught a variety of other management programs, from Juran to Deming to Covey. He believes this program covers much of the same territory, but goes deeper than anything else he's ever tried. He intends to implement it throughout the entire company, and he has the CEO's backing. Several years ago, CEO Doug Brush went through the program, allowing another manager to implement it in what proved to be an abortive attempt. This has created lingering resistance to the program. Now the CEO believes Smith is the man who can make it work.

They've been using Naylor and Crittenden's system for less than half a year, but they're beginning to see results. Recently, one of Smith's staff in charge of capacity planning and inventory control -- Paul Baris -- drew the line about "invalidation" in the workplace.

His best worker, a woman, was in the middle of a standoff, shouting nose to nose with another worker on the shop floor. Baris walked up to the two of them, told them both to go home for the rest of the day, and then walked away. He was putting into place what Smith had introduced: the program's prohibition against criticism. It stunned both of the workers. There were tears. Sending them home wasn't exactly pleasant. It was a way of establishing the rules of the game. And when the woman returned the next day, she wept off and on throughout the day. Gradually she began to realize that she'd been sent home not as punishment, but as a way of waking her up to the new reality. Everyone in the plant took note: the program wasn't going away.

"It's painful," Baris says. "She's my absolute best nonexempt person. But she reamed somebody out because she perceived that he wasn't doing the job. He stood his ground against her. I sent them both home. In public. Now she's an angel. That had a profound impact beyond what I had imagined."

"It wasn't punishment to send her home," Smith says.

"No. I drew a line in the sand," Baris says. "I sat down and talked to her later. She almost got embarrassed because I was so effusive about how good she's gotten. She was smiling from ear to ear. At the staff meeting we talked about that, too. We talked about how things are so different since that incident."

Smith says, "They realize how much better this place will be now that you've drawn the line."

Later Smith explained how he came to adopt the approach. "I told my staff, I had to sit down and decide if this was the place where I wanted to stay. I needed to calm the chaos. It's a battle. My people are fighting for time. They're fighting for their lives day after day, running lean, flattening the organization, battling competition. From top to bottom, these guys are tearyeyed and overwhelmed. Now do I take on something else without knowing if it'll lead me anywhere?"

He did. And he's finding more and more ways to apply the system as he explores its potential impact. "We've come from being really sloppy. We aren't world class yet, but we can see world class from here."

Peter Naylor PeterNa@aol.com
Integrative Performance Technologies, Inc.
311 Alexander Street
Rochester, NY 14604
716-546-5650

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