Dale Gehring is Chairman of the Board at the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME). Based out of Portland, Oregon, he is a typical AME member. His day job is a senior lean practitioner, while outside of this he spends countless hours and days volunteering for AME, supporting AME members in advancing themselves and their origination through the promotion of lean thinking and enterprise improvement methods. In this interview he speaks to Lean Management Journal’s Jon Tudor about the volunteer network and introduces some major changes happening at AME.

Jon Tudor: What is the main purpose of the Association for Manufacturing Excellence (AME)?

Dale Gehring: AME is a not-for profit organisation that supports more than 4,000 senior and middle managers who wish to improve both their organisations and their personal performance. Our purpose is to inspire a commitment to enterprise excellence through experiential learning by bringing people together to share, learn and grow.

JT: AME has been operating for more than a quarter of a century. What has been the main reasons for its longevity?

DG: One of our core values is volunteerism and over the years this has been a key to the success of AME. This is an organisation run and driven by volunteers. They have a passion for improvement and come from all areas of industry, consultancy and academia. In total we run more than 100 seminars, conferences and events across North America, and
our international annual conference attracts participants from more than 30 countries. People volunteer to develop their own capability and to also develop the capability of their people. Looking outside from their organisation is one of the best ways in accelerating their professional development and own organisations. What all of our members share is a passion for excellence and of our five core values. We see this passion as essential to our purpose.

JT: How have you been able to continually attract so many volunteers?

DG: Engaging and welcoming everyone involved with AME is a core value we all share, and this too has helped us to continually attract volunteers. For many of them, the personal interaction is core to their involvement, whether this be through the mentoring relationships that happen or the networking events. A key area is the benefits volunteers receive. Whether you are a business leader or middle manager, you are able to speak to people who have the same challenges, peer to peer, and they all have a passion for lean and excellence. People also feel good about helping others find answers to the challenges they have, and this feeds on itself.

JT: In October you have your international conference, what is the main challenges of running this event?

DG: What the annual conference does for our volunteers and members is get everyone charged up. The whole week feeds the soul for anyone who is passionate about enterprise excellence, and it works. The major challenge is actually finding ways of sustaining that energy and charge once the members return to their region.

JT: What changes have happened at the AME?

DG: Like many organisations there can be a risk of, at times, being too internally focused. So 18 months ago we made extra efforts in going out to our members and looking at ways of broadening the sphere of influence and understanding of AME members. We interviewed and consulted on a large scale and as a result we enhanced our vision to create an entire system that supports enterprise excellence. One research finding in particular was a real concern held by the majority of our members. It was of the ongoing skills shortage in manufacturing, and the image of the industry in determining that manufacturing is actually a positive career choice. As a result of the research we have also created programmes such Adopt a School, in which we promote manufacturing as a desired career path at a local level across the AME regions.

JT: What are the biggest challenges faced at AME?

DG: Focus and selection of activity is the biggest challenge as we have so many ideas and opportunities we can pursue. As the majority of members are manufacturers, we are used to creating and making things, we know our combined energy and capability means that when we put our mind to it we can achieve literally anything. Therefore, the problem then comes when deciding what we do and what we don’t do. The focus on the selection of activities is probably our biggest challenge.