Deming Company was Ahead of COVID-19

We recently sat down with Dick Steele, Chairman of Peaker Services and a Deming Institute Trustee, to talk about how his company is adapting to the new reality of how to keep an industry functioning – and employees safe – during a pandemic. What we learned was astonishing, but not exactly surprising!

Forward Thinking

Peaker Services, now in its 50th year of operation, remanufactures the diesel engine that goes into a locomotive. They also provide solutions for industrial customers that need to control large energy consumption, such as major hospital systems and power plants. They began the transformation to a Deming organization over 30 years ago. “Our understanding of Deming is the basis for what we do,” Dick says. “We’re thinking in terms of systems, and we’re constantly scanning the horizon. Part of our strategy discussions have to do with where we’ll be in the future and what it is going to look like.”

Preparing for the Future

Maybe that forward-thinking mindset explains why, when COVID-19 hit, Peaker Services already had a Pandemic Preparedness Plan in place. Remarkably, “that procedure was developed in 2012,” explained Dick. “That was three years before Bill Gates told us we should be looking at pandemics.” When asked what prompted Peaker to develop the plan, Dick responded, “It was actually part of Peaker’s Quality program. We get audited. And one of the [Quality] inspectors came in one time and asked us if we had a plan. I don’t think it was required, but Ian [our president] said, ‘I think that’s a good idea.’ I did not even know that we had it until COVID hit. But I was so proud to see that we had something that we could fall back on, and we were taking care of employees, customers, vendors, and the public. I think it’s doing a wonderful job.”

Ahead of the Curve

Indeed, about the time Michigan instituted a shelter-in-place order, virtually the entire Peaker Services office was working from home, and they were already implementing safety measures that other companies would soon scramble to put into place, such as contact tracing and temperature scanning. “Workers in the building itself have to come in through one door, and anybody that comes into the building gets a temperature scan and they have to fill out a little questionnaire – so that if something does occur, if somebody does show up with COVID-19, there’s a tracing mechanism to find out who’ve they’ve been in contact with. Where they’re building the engines, the buildings are quite large, so social distancing is pretty easy to do.” And Peaker is, of course, continuously updating the Pandemic Preparedness Plan in a plan-do-study-act cycle to make sure that the plan isn’t just a sign on the wall, but an actual procedure that the employees can and do effectively implement.

Making a Difference

“There’s no way of knowing if we’ve saved lives – I hope we have. But what’s more tangible – and also really important – is that I hope our employees feel empowered. We want them to have input into and control over how they look out for their own health and safety and the wellbeing of their families. In turn, we believe they are then better able to meet the needs of our customers. The aim of our organization is essentially to take care of the needs of our customers,” says Dick. “I’m paraphrasing, but that comes directly out of The New Economics.”

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