Role Reversal:

An Exercise

in Building


Production operators in Exteriors Cuautitlan Izcalli, Mexico, welcomed a “new” employee with a familiar face to the assembly line in late September. He was Mohamed A. Ali, the plant’s general manager.

Ali was participating in a “Day on the Shop Floor,” which enables management to better understand the needs and concerns of production workers. In this case, Ali was assigned to help build exterior panels for the Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV during his shift.

At the same time, shop-floor employees have the opportunity to become office workers for a day, getting a taste of what the job is like for a human resources manager or quality engineer. The yearlong program was prompted by a recommendation from the plant’s Employee Opinion Survey focus groups. As of late fall, 24 of Exteriors Cuautitlan’s 935 employees have participated in the program, including 14 managers.

Here are three different perspectives on how the program worked that day and why it can boost employee morale and collaboration:

Production Supervisor: Daniela Castanon Rosas

When my boss told me the general manager would be part of my team, I felt a little bit of pressure. But I didn’t treat him any differently than the other 25 people on my team. It’s all about communication and being a good teacher. Every day, I let them know their work is important. I always tell them ‘You’re an excellent team. Thank you for your commitment.’ Once or twice a month, I give them chocolate or lollipops.

When Mohamed arrived that morning, I handed him earplugs, gloves, a face shield and a wax marker. I told him his objective was to produce 22 parts per hour. Then, I gave him a thumbs up and said, ‘You can make it!’

As the day progressed, Mohamed was constantly checking the board to see if he was making his goal. He was sweating and anxious to meet his objectives. In the first hour, he produced 11 pieces, then 15 in the next hour. By the end, he was up to 18 pieces.

The most important thing is not how many pieces he produced, but his empathy for the workers.

Bosses have a certain perspective about the process, but it’s a different thing when you’re on the shop floor. The team was super motivated that the GM was on the assembly line, working shoulder-to-shoulder with them. He asked for our advice and support, which made everyone feel valuable. The experience allowed him to see the emotional and ergonomic needs on the line.

When it was over, he brought us chocolates and candy, and came up with some good ideas for improvements.

Production Trainer: Fabian Andrade Viguera

We go through a four-step process with 'new' employees like Mohamed, teaching them everything from standard documentation and quality instructions to how to assemble the part. The most important part of my job is to help new employees understand the importance of safety and quality.

I told Mohamed, as I’ve told the 100 people I’ve trained in the last three years, you need to make a quality product so we can avoid customer complaints and vehicle recalls. At the end of the shift, they get a written report card from me.

When he took his place, the other workers thought it was amazing. He spread good vibes up and down the line. Watching him make pieces was emotional. When the GM is next to you on the shop floor it builds confidence. Your first thought is ‘Our GM has the skills to make our products! We’re working together to create and make important things.’ That results in empathy. People are confident to go to the GM later and ask for support. They let him know what’s happening on the shop floor.

When it came time for his grade, I gave him a 9.9 out of 10. No one can get a 10. But I’m sure if he worked another day, he would exceed the goal.

General Manager: Mohamed A. Ali

I was not new to production on the Mach-E. I actually made some parts for the prototype in the U.S. When we made the active grille shutter for the Chevrolet Silverado at our division, I produced the first few parts on the line myself, so I could see the problems and challenges. This is my way of supporting employees. I also want my whole management team to work on the assembly line for any new programs.

We may be on the shop floor every day, but when you do the actual work, you sweat, and you see what goes on. During my shift, I was trying hard to keep up. It was very challenging. It gives you a different perspective. What I liked best about my day on the shop floor is that when I was struggling, the others came to help me. When they see someone is behind, they provide support. They supported me in every way.

Because of that experience, I identified two areas for improvement. One is a better way to locate the water bottle at the workstation. Another is to improve the way the rack is presented to the operator. We fixed both immediately. When my shift ended, I told everyone ‘My heart is with the team.’