Interview with David Stojakovich

 David Stojakovich, GKN

David Stojakovich, GKN

David Stojakovich is the Director, Lean Enterprise for GKN Hoeganaes; the worlds leading producer of atomized ferrous powdered metals, headquartered in Riverton, New Jersey, where since 2005 he has been working to “Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement.”

He is also a member of the GKN plc; Group Lean Steering Committee, headquartered in Redditch, Worcestershire, England. His personal Lean journey began in 1994 as a key supplier to Toyoda Machine Works learning the TPS first hand while working as Technical Director for Donsco Incorporated; headquartered in Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. He has deployed and implemented Frank Devine’s: World Class, Leadership Core Skills across GKN Hoeganaes since 2007 becoming a trained Leadership Core Skills workshop facilitator by Frank in 2008.

David holds a Bachelors of Science degree in Metallurgical and Materials Science Engineering (80), from the University of Pittsburgh; and a Masters in Business Administration (91) from the Pennsylvania State University. He is married to his wife Susan; has three children: Shanna, David, and Matthew, and resides in Cedar Brook, New Jersey.

David has 30 years of business experience behind him. In that time you are bound to come across numerous management and leadership courses and seminars. Finding one that works is a different matter.

Like most who have embraced the concept of Accelerated Improvement’s methodology, David feels the difference in the system is its unique combination of being memorable yet easy to apply. The difference between theory and practice is the key factor in why Stojakovich was so taken with Frank Devine’s methodology when he first came across his workshop at GKN’s Lean Enterprise Conference.

When dealing with the complexities of individuals working within an organisation, a ‘one size fits all’ approach will never succeed – particularly when an organisation is looking to implement changes to the way things have always been done. As Director of Lean Enterprise for Hoeganaes, the world’s leading producer of atomized ferrous powdered metals, Stojakovich has been enormously impressed by the impact Accelerated Improvement’s system has had on his organisation.

“Frank’s methodology provides an array of tools for the leader to manage properly. I consider it the engine that drives performance,” he said. New Jersey-based Stojakovich has become such a convert to the Accelerated Improvement methodology that he became a trained Leadership Core Skills workshop facilitator in 2008. That journey gained momentum when he realised how Leadership Core Skills filled the gap between the theory of improving management and practicality of implementing a new culture, “Lean Enterprise”, into the workplace.

“I started Lean Training with GKN in 2005 and a major element of what we were doing was Change Management Training, which was aimed at training its participants in management skills to become a change agent for Lean,” he explained. “For me, I felt that while the content was good, the manner in which that system expected you to apply that material in practice wasn’t sensible. They didn’t have a methodology to apply it. I felt it would never work and it didn’t.

“When I spoke to Laura Fetic, the HR & S Manager at Hoeganaes Corporation in Europe, about Frank’s methodology, she was very enthusiastic. “I then spoke to Frank in person at a GKN training programme in Lisle, Illinois. I saw him deliver and was very engaged by what he presented. “What I had finally found was a methodology that I believe could be implemented successfully across the world. He had taken years of information and resources and distilled it down to a very highly potent system that was very clear and understandable and could be worked with and applied to any job, anywhere.”

GKN Plc employs more than 40,000 people in more than 30 countries across the world so finding a leadership system that crossed cultural borders as much as physical ones was a major challenge for the organisation.

When Accelerated Improvement’s methodology was first introduced at Hoeganaes’ plant in Romania in 2003, Stojakovich was delighted with the results. “While the culture there is fantastic, its work culture is different to what we were used to in the west,” he said. “Subsequent to that we deployed Accelerated Improvement’s framework in other organisations within our set-up.”

Perhaps the most obvious difference between Leadership Core Skills and other management training systems is the approach of creating bottom-up and easily measured behavioural standards with the entire workforce as opposed to relying solely on the traditional top-down corporate values. Having studied the Leadership Core Skills model thoroughly, Stojakovich espouses the virtues of this aspect of the Accelerated Improvement approach.

“The Behavioural Standards approach is very different; it is all about engaging employees through one-on-one contact where both parties know exactly what is expected in behavioural terms because they have mutually established agreed expectations for performance and then providing a framework to openly discuss actual performance and measure progress,” he said.

“For many years senior leaders have been frustrated by why we cannot have the volume and pace of interactions with and between employees that drive continuous improvement; here constructive conversations and open debate on issues becomes the norm. Leaders become personally engaged with daily appreciation, coaching and, if needed, constructive feedback. If an organisation wants to change rapidly and have that change sustained bottom-up rather than only top-down, then working out how the staff can relate to each other through Behavioural Standards is a great start.

“What occurs is that the leaders at the site sort through how they deal with each other in regards to key elements of performance such as pace, self-esteem and developing trust. They work through how to talk to each other and staff and to provide real engagement with regards to performance standards.

“We talk about what issues or behaviours we can discuss with each other so we can find a consensus and plough through obstacles. It’s about setting the foundations in place so we can all move forwards.

“We also look for things we can use to monitor whether we are attaining our goals or not. So there are points where we can check and question where people are with their progress. That gives opportunities for the leader to recognise where they need to coach and find solutions to problems.

“This framework can seem unusual to some, particularly in relation to the sheer volume of appreciation, coaching and constructive feedback. We have to be able to check where we are in relation to the customer’s demands.”

After the success of the Leadership Core Skills programme in Romania, Hoeganaes were similarly happy with the results from implementing the system at their plant in Germany.

The company as a whole is firmly behind Accelerated Improvement’s methodology and is thrilled with the results it has had on the entire organisation.

“Our largest plant, in the US, was the last to deploy Leadership Core Skills but when they eventually did they took to it with great enthusiasm. Their site manager was so impressed he invited Frank there to meet with the group leaders himself,” said Stojakovich.

“In the last year our organisation has had to cope with the changing economy like everybody else and we’ve had to restructure and downsize. There are many things that have had an impact, including Lean Training and embracing Leadership Core Skills, but we’ve been able to achieve performance levels above and beyond anything we’ve done in the last five years.

“We had been nip and tuck for many years but since we’ve engaged our workforce to improve performance, we are seeing the results in the market place.

“I’ve been in business for over 30 years. I think Frank Devine does fantastic work and I’m a student of his. If you have this in place I don’t see any reason to have any other leadership systems in the workplace.”