Quality Entertainment:
Morphing Work and Playstations

by Eric Nielsen

The Entertainment Economy (Time Books) suggests show biz drives the economy. Add today's 24.7.365 environment to the mix and the distinction between work and personal time becomes virtually non-existent.

Recognizing these facts, Sumitomo SITIX Silicon, Inc., a Silicon Valley supplier of epitaxial silicon wafers to the semiconductor industry, has integrated an entertainment philosophy to help manage goals and objectives in the pressure cooker high-tech market place. To cut to the chase, tabloid-like messages are used to reinforce what's important, highlight success and reflect on goofs while at the same time not stepping on the intellectual property rights of The National Enquirer. The message in all this? If production and quality goals aren't being met let alone listened to, odds are your script needs a rewrite.

At SITIX, when a problem warrants the identification of a whipping boy or girl, a fictional Mardi Gras masked employee named "Wafer Boy" accepts blame so time can be better spent fixing problems as opposed to conducting a congressional witch-hunt. Validating the effectiveness of this MTV approach has been simple. Production yield and quality are up, safety incidents are down and perhaps the single biggest across-the-board value adder - morale - has reached new heights and all this during an economic slump.

SITIX still uses tried and true management tools; however, it sure helps when a male manager walks around wearing lipstick, foundation and blush to highlight why makeup can't be worn in a Class 10 cleanroom environment. Likewise, as opposed to simply chanting the quality assurance mantra "quality pays," a slot machine was installed. To keep the focus on product yield an electronic dartboard was mounted as a "target." And a martial arts punching dummy serves as the vehicle to knock out the latest statistical process control (SPC) initiative. The aforementioned props are all tied to high yet achievable metrics which if met permit employees to toss darts, work the slot and give the mannequin a well-deserved uppercut. Gift certificates of increasingly higher denominations are awarded based on results that are achieved. And as most things in life are rigged, so too are SITIX's "gaming" devices. Everyone wins something.

Workers' Compensation costs are attacked via an aggressive safety program. From day one, it's made clear that an employee's health and well being overrides any production requirement. Republicans and Democrats can argue ad nauseum over the pros and cons of the latest ergonomics regulation. SITIX doesn't have time to and instead sticks to the message that the company can make or replace virtually any inanimate object. What can't be replaced is an injured eyeball or pair of hands if someone respectively forgets to wear safety glasses or request a cost-effective ergonomic keyboard and mouse holder.

Paperwork is attacked no less vigorously and SITIX has achieved ISO 9002, ISO 14001 as well as QS 9000. To help employees decipher a plethora of policies and specifications, analogies that hit home or more specifically, their paychecks help translate the bottom line. And to keep the central nervous system in shape, a number of employees toss a 15 pound leather medicine ball while still others play petanque, the French variation of bocce.

So what about Earth Day? To communicate environmental programs, film clips were used to drive home messages that would make Al Gore proud. During the panic surrounding the alien invasion in Independence Day, actor Jeff Goldblum still found the time to recycle soda cans. This served as a segue to acknowledge that although everyone at SITIX is busy, there is always time to recycle - even during an alien invasion! Similarly, the judge, jury and courtroom audience fell dead silent when Serial Mom's Kathleen Turner, on trial for her life, questions whether her neighbor recycles. When her neighbor says no, everyone let out a collective groan which in turn segued to an overview of SITIX's recycling and related environmental programs. The company's ISO 14001 efforts were facilitated by issuing an "Earth Pass" to every employee. The passes resembled those issued to the hoi polloi at rock concerts and besides being a nifty souvenir, it detailed SITIX's environmental management system (EMS) in an entertaining plain-English manner.

Like most companies, SITIX benchmarks to insure pay is competitive. And profit sharing metrics are designed to reward performance by tying them to production, quality and related indices. To keep everyone's eyes on the prize, during one profit sharing period, a countdown chart included photos of a facility engineer's worn shoes highlighting that said employee can't buy a new pair of Doc Martins unless everyone pitches in. Message: teamwork will insure that all employees receive extra cash. And since the engineer was such a good sport for showing his tootsies, he received a new pair of size tens.

To list all the approaches that have worked or more appropriately "have been worked" at SITIX requires additional pages. Not unlike "Carrot Top" the well-known comedian who's act consists of rapid fire "prop" jokes, if one of SITIX's techniques doesn't produce the desired effect it gets replaced pronto. And even when things do work they still get changed to insure messages remain timely.

Last but not least: Playstations. Some of SITIX's silicon wafers become the building blocks for the computer chips that wind up in Sony's bestseller. Once again, another opportunity to communicate the bottom-line. Leading up to the year-end holiday season, an American flag was posted with the header: "America In Crisis…The country needs more Playstations!" You guessed it, to help drive production, a Playstation, TV and game cartridge was handed out. There is no end to this story. In the words of 70's British rockers Emerson, Lake and Palmer: "welcome back my friends to the show that never ends." If you want to succeed in business consider doing likewise.


Eric Nielsen is a Manufacturing Manager at Sumitomo SITIX Silicon, Inc. in Fremont, California. He has worked in Silicon Valley high-tech firms since 1981 in staff, corporate and managerial positions and has also served as an operations officer in the US Army Special Forces. Previous articles have been published in Financial Executive; Occupational Hazards; and Silicon Valley Business Journal. Contact Eric by email: Enielsen@ssaf.sitix.com .


Wafer Boy being remanded for another faux pas


A clean (room) uppercut


Got silicon?

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Copyright 2002 by Eric Nielsen. All rights reserved.

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