I believe I have the best job in the world running Hampton Affiliates. My favorite days are when I leave the Portland traffic and my office behind and visit one of our sawmills. I recently visited our sawmill in Morton, Washington, and I thought you would be interested in what I typically do on these visits and why they are so important to me.

The residents of the Cowlitz Valley call it “God’s Country”—you can understand why when you see the sun shining on the trees and local reservoir. On the day of my visit, there is a lot of excitement in the air at Morton. We are in the middle of a $13 million sawmill rebuild that will improve safety, recovery, and efficiency. Because Morton is an older sawmill, it is quite the challenge to find room for new equipment and time to install and start it up without incurring significant downtime. Our team has a great plan so that our customers and employees won’t be inconvenienced as we start up the new equipment. The new hog is expected to start up this weekend with the official start-up of the fully remodeled sawmill in late September or October.

When I arrive at any mill, I always drive around the boundaries to ensure we are practicing the 5S principles (sort, straighten, shine, standardize, and sustain) of Lean Manufacturing and are keeping our plant site clean so the community and our employees can be proud of our operation. With eight Hampton sawmill locations, water often flows along our plant sites, so I check out the water quality to ensure no wood waste is entering the stream.

Equipped with safety gear, I walk around the plant site alone to talk to our crew and see how we are operating. I like to start by looking in the basement to again ensure we have pride in our facility and are keeping it clean to mitigate the risk of fire. I also gaze upward to look for any fine wood dust that is not being cleaned near the roof or sides of the building that could catch fire if not monitored closely.

Starting at the log infeed of the sawmill, I walk my way through the sawmill, boiler, dry kilns and planer to see how our lumber is being processed. I survey areas in the mill that could be a safety risk and look for machines that are not operating well or producing sub-standard lumber. Walking through the mill gives me an opportunity to talk with our employees and get their feedback on what can we do at Hampton to improve operations. The best ideas for improvement often come from people closest to the production process. I also like to answer any questions that our crew has about the company or our strategic direction. With our continuous improvement focus (aka HCI), I also look for non-value added processes or waste that we can improve upon or eliminate.

At each mill I also take the opportunity to talk to our human resources representative about employee morale and how we are progressing at hiring and training a quality work force. At the end of my visit, I sit down with the mill manager, share my thoughts, and ask a lot of questions. My observations usually revolve around safety, but we always talk about how we can get more competitive. A Better Way Every Day is not just a slogan at Hampton, but reflects how we strive for continuous improvement.

At the end of the day, I am reminded that we have a great company because we have great employees. No wonder my job is so easy!