Miracle Stories

A Case for Culture

November Edition 2020

Soft Gel Technologies builds an already strong culture into a challenge-busting powerhouse. Most Redzone customers will talk about the dramatic changes to their culture after starting on the Redzone journey, but what about those who already had a robust, team-oriented culture? For Soft Gel Technologies, winner of the Redzone 2019 West Coast Team of the Year Award, Redzone enhanced an already close-knit, collaborative culture and accelerated their maturity as a continuous improvement machine.

“Soft Gel is a custom manufacturer of soft gel, liquid filled capsules, and we specialize in difficult to encapsulate formulas.” Says Steve Holtby, Soft Gel’s President and CEO. “We really specialize in doing unique-to-market items that are difficult for other people to encapsulate. We have very specialized equipment and very specialized technical people who can do things that other manufacturers won’t even touch. We do a lot of small, custom runs and focus on bringing more value versus battling it out over pennies.”

“We were culturally in a really good place when Redzone came to us,” Steve adds, “But what I tell other CEOs who visit us, is that by giving every employee a voice – and they use it — it gives them ownership. Once they have that ownership and begin to see that their ideas and suggestions are incorporated, it gives them pride. And once they have pride, the rest becomes easy!” Steve  continued (with genuine pride in his team on his face), “And when people have pride in what they’re doing, their work becomes more than a 9-to-5 or graveyard grind. They look at the numbers and come together as a team and the growth becomes exponential – in both business and people growth.”

Gelling Together

Soft Gel had already advanced beyond the traditional siloes that often form in mature companies and the result is a longer than average tenure of a dozen years or so across their 120 employees. When they discovered the Redzone Production System, it uncovered opportunities for improvement that might not have been visible to the team before. Looking back, they had already tackled the low-hanging fruit, and didn’t really think there were significant gains to be had. When the team began to embrace the enhanced communication and data available to analyze and support decision-making, some unexpected outcomes emerged.

Valentino Lascano, Plant Manager, continued, “I think it’s a lot about how we do it. The way I describe Soft Gel is that we’re able to take on the challenges that we do – the hard to encapsulate materials – is because of the teamwork. It’s because of the expertise. It’s why we don’t have a high turnover rate.”

“It’s because of those people that have been here the longest that we’ve gelled as a team. We know what to expect from each other. We know our roles and responsibilities and we execute those to the best of our ability. That is why I think that when we see a challenge; when we know we’re going to go up against a hard deadline or something like that; that we pull together and can pull off miracles.”

Super Supervisors

And Val isn’t alone. In fact, he has surrounded himself with a strong team of supervisors who came up through the ranks, starting on the production line as Spreaders and have grown into supervisors.

Isaac Pitones is a production supervisor who has been with Soft Gel for 13 years. “I’ve seen a huge difference since when I first started here.” He says. “For some reason, the supervisors I worked for were very territorial and didn’t let one team into the other teams’ area. When I got promoted, I said ‘I don’t want to be like that. I want to hear from every team member.’”

“When I started getting more data to help me understand the challenges we faced with tough products, I started to see the opportunities to make them better. I’d talk with my team like, ‘Hey, let’s do this or let’s do that. Let’s work it out together.’ We as a team would use the data to support our ideas and work with R&D to improve our processes.”

Anthony Allman is an Encapsulation Supervisor who started at Soft Gel as his first job and considers Soft Gel his second home. Anthony explains, “This is where I learned to work. This is where I worked my way up into management. And I’ve seen the company change. For example, when Redzone came in, I started feeling like there was more trust in us – the frontline supervisors – to start making decisions.”

Anthony adds, “Redzone really helped us dig deeper into solving the tougher problems. We were always ‘trying this or that’ but now we can test it out. We can try everyone’s ideas to see which ones work best. I learned to trust that operator’s idea because we could track the results. Now, nobody cares who the idea came from, we figured out how to do it better together. This was a huge shift from the early days that Isaac described, when we just ‘did what the supervisor told us to do.’”

Isaac continues, “And the best part is that that team dynamic applies all the way down to the operators. Jose Casas is a lead in blending and when Redzone first came out, he took the initiative to show his team and even on other shifts that ‘This is the way you do it.’”

Redzone really helped us dig deeper into solving the tougher problems. We were always ‘trying this or that’ but now we can test it out. We can try everyone’s ideas to see which ones work best.

Valentino chimes in, “Take Luis Navarro, for instance. He would shy away from doing doctors rounds using the iPad. Younger teammates like Danny and Ivan noticed he was missing some of his checks, so they started walking with him, showing him how to do it. And so, after a week or two he got more and more comfortable with it, because they made sure that he was okay with it.”

Anthony adds, “This is a little emotional for me, but when COVID first hit, my entire squad didn’t want to come to work. They were scared. I tried to keep myself together, but I was stressed out too. Then my lead, Hector Escobar rolled up to me and said, ‘Look, I’m gonna be honest with you. I don’t want to work either. But if you’re going to stay, I’ll stay with you.’ That rocked me, but we went to talk to everyone and calmed the team down. That was my miracle that day.”

And that deep, team culture persists up through all the levels of the business. Anthony adds, “I used to keep my issues to myself because I didn’t want to bother management, but now that we have communication in Redzone that everyone sees, I’ve learned that managers and leadership actually care what we’re doing and want to help. They genuinely support us and that was a big shift for me personally.”

Steve weighs in, “And I think part of why it all works is the culture that had already been built, and the trust with those employees. Redzone helped us level up our culture but bringing a system that creates so much visibility like that can bring fear. And we all acknowledged that at the beginning. But because we had worked through that, the team bought into the system, and saw, ‘Hey, we’re all working to make this better for all of us.’ Because the culture of the company had already shown that we care about our people.”

Eyes on the Prize

Is it any wonder with a culture like this that they won a Redzone 2019 Team of the Year? Despite the business already running well, they posted a 48% productivity uplift in their first 90 days and have continued to chock up additional wins with Compliance (10%) and Maintenance (+10%).

When asked how the team felt winning the award, Valentino recalled how he felt running up to being nominated. “We had seen companies take that award and receive that type of recognition, and that was great to see them do it. But we looked at each other and asked, ‘Why weren’t we recognized? What’s it gonna take for us to do it?’ because we knew we had a team that could win. So, we said, ‘2019 is going to be our year!’ and we rallied our efforts toward that goal!”

Valentino continues, “That was our singular focus because we realized that we had come so far. We had done so much. We were so different than we were from previous years that more than wanting it for me, I wanted it for us. It was for us, and we did it!”

Isaac adds, “I will say that the frontline teams were really happy. Everybody was yelling and screaming. So, it was great to be honest. Super great.”

“All I saw were smiles,” adds Anthony. “It definitely brought pride and joy to the company. Definitely.”

I will say that the frontline teams were really happy. Everybody was yelling and screaming. So, it was great, to be honest. Super great.

“It’s easy to think, ‘Okay, we won the award. Now what?’” says Steve. “Except, now it’s a matter of, ‘Hey, how do we do that? Look what we saved. Look what we did.’ And that’s where the award adds to our already strong recognition of the team.”

So, what’s next for Soft Gel? Steve sets the stage, “So, now COVID has brought us a lot more business. But we haven’t had to hire a whole bunch of new people.”

“Why? Because these guys have figured out ways to be more efficient so that just allows us to take advantage of that and say, Okay. Now, the company can become stronger as we move forward without having to just throw more money at it, because we have people that have thrown themselves into it and already made it as efficient as possible.”

Valentino adds, “We’re still finding opportunities. That’s why we’re still on the Redzone journey with the Continuous Improvement modules. It almost seems never-ending, if you will, because if we’re constantly looking for ways to do it better, then that alone is going to put you in a position where you’re always striving to be better. So, with action behind that mindset – there’s no shortage of opportunities. That’s what jazzes me up, to be honest with you. It’s the possibilities. It’s like there’s so much more left to be uncovered because we haven’t tapped into all of our potential yet. And Redzone has really helped us see those possibilities.”

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