Prioritizing People in Manufacturing – Why it Matters?
As the saying goes in manufacturing, “if you don’t have the people, you don’t have the products.” While it’s unlikely that one could find an executive that disagrees with this sentiment, manufacturing entities nonetheless often operate in isolated silos with inadequate communication and interaction between the production units and the corporate team. When this happens, you’ll find manufacturing workers that feel underappreciated, unheard, and disengaged from organizational goals. That results in an organization that isn’t living up to its potential, leading to inevitable retention, morale, and profitability issues.
To erase the corporate-manufacturing divide, leadership must establish a culture that demonstrates they care and value the perspectives of employees in tangible and practical ways. Doing so is not only the right thing to do for employees but also the smart thing to do for business.
Here’s how to make that happen:
Ensure Leadership Presence and Engagement
Culture starts at the top. To create a culture where manufacturing and corporate employees both genuinely believe that “we’re all in this together,” corporate leadership must have a consistent and meaningful presence on the manufacturing floor. A meaningful presence is not arriving at a site for a meeting just to have the senior-most managers go around the table presenting the state of their departments. A meaningful presence is walking the floor, listening, and authentically interacting with employees at all levels to reinforce that everyone is important and has important tasks to perform, irrespective of department or what part of the company they’re based in.
Time spent in manufacturing by corporate leadership must not be seen as something that can be easily abandoned when seemingly more pressing meetings at corporate arise. Leadership, HR, and select others should include manufacturing visits as part of their individual goals and metrics. It’s a good idea to set bonus related KPIs on presence and communication with the manufacturing unit.
Communicate Consistently and Effectively
Consistent, effective communication between corporate and manufacturing employees goes a long way toward creating shared ownership and alignment on what’s needed to accomplish business objectives. It also shows respect. Presence and communication create opportunities for corporate leaders to learn more about workers’ individual needs and objectives. Corporate leadership should have a regular cadence of meetings, no less often than quarterly, with all manufacturing staff to talk about what’s being done, where help is needed, and how everyone is contributing and valued. Other communications areas of opportunity include:
- Confirming the right feedback channels are in place and easy for manufacturing employees to engage with. Meetings with everyone in the same room are a great forum for soliciting feedback. Other channels, from old-school suggestion boxes to online idea incubators, provide opportunities for employees who are hesitant to speak up in a group setting to have their voices heard as well.
- If employees are doing a good job, tell them. Everyone appreciates acknowledgement. Don’t forget to implement and reward the manufacturing staff for a great idea. Ways to do that include acknowledging them in front of a big group, issuing gift cards, providing lunch with the President/CEO, and featuring them on the company social media accounts and internal newsletters.
- Asking how well are technology and the plant environment being used to communicate and reinforce messages? Fortify messaging by repeating key points across other processes or outputs that employees interact with. This could include offline messaging such as time clock system pop-ups, paycheck inclusions (not all have direct deposit), and plant signage. Online components like company email, messaging platforms (e.g., Teams, Slack, etc.), and video can also be leveraged.
- Ask how well employees with unique communications needs are understood and accommodated. This can include ensuring the availability of translated materials and assigned translators for non-native-language-speaking employees as well as bilingual human resources staff and the right resources for any employees with hearing, vision, or other special needs.
Put the Right Programs and Practices in Place
Employee recognition and development are also critical pillars of a strong culture in manufacturing environments. The right mix of these elements can determine whether a manufacturing employee leaves the organization for a nominal compensation increase elsewhere or stays because they feel valued and optimistic about the future where they are. Key program and practice questions to assess in manufacturing environments include:
- Are clearly defined paths for advancement and training programs in place to support manufacturing employees? Measure the extent employees are accessing them and whether the organization is consistently following through on rewarding employees or promoting from within when path/program steps are completed.
- Do you have the right equipment and corresponding training in place? Before installing new equipment, get manufacturing employee input and buy in, explain the impact and opportunity for improvement, and train them to operate the equipment safely. If you do not have a training program, create one or partner with a training firm. Train new employees with senior employees and incentivize the senior ones for training the new individual. Remember, not everyone who is new performs at the same level and pace as a senior employee.
- Are you being consistent with your performance metrics? Hire individuals who are qualified. If one person on the line is not performing at the standard, speak to them and notify them of the need to improve. Illustrate how their role and performance impacts the line. If you do not communicate and address production problems with affected staff, the rest of the manufacturing line will hold resentment and their productivity will likely go down. If you have a hard time hiring a specific skill, inform the staff, and pay applicable referral program payouts if they can refer a qualified candidate in. This will augment the efforts of your recruiting team.
- How consistently and visibly are successes and milestones celebrated? Celebrate and publicize successes such as new business, productivity achievements, anniversaries, or safety accomplishments as a team. Encourage staff to celebrate birthdays, hold potluck meals, and gather for other occasions to build camaraderie. Don’t forget about your second or third shifts. When corporate leaders and manufacturing employees actively participate in these activities together, employees notice and productivity increases.
- Do we have the right “health and welfare” programs in place for manufacturing employees? This goes back to understanding one’s manufacturing workers and their needs. Programs could include offering onsite health fairs, blood pressure checks or similar health screens where access to medical care may be a concern. For some groups providing access to financial, legal, and mental health resources is very meaningful. When an employee is going through a difficult time personally or within their family, help them out. It will make a large difference in the future when it comes to asking them to pick up additional hours at a moment’s notice or work on a long project.
Make Sure Manufacturing Employees Know They Matter
When corporate leaders do not engage with and value manufacturing employees in ways that they should, both employees and the business suffer. This type of climate manifests itself in disengaged employees, increased absenteeism, high turnover, trust issues, and productivity challenges to name a few. The good news is there are definitive steps that corporate leaders can take to build a culture in which manufacturing employees know they matter.
- Commit to being a caring and consistent presence on the manufacturing floor.
- Ensure steady, consistent, clear, and effective two-way communication to ensure alignment and employee feedback.
- Implement employee-centric programs and practices and don’t forget recognition as a key component of this.
Companies that get these steps right create a competitive advantage and set the stage for long-term success.
Need help in assessing or bridging your company’s corporate/manufacturing divide? Request a Free Consultation from a vcfo expert who can help you develop a plan to set the stage for long-term employee engaged success. We’ve partnered with more than 5,000 businesses in our 27 years and would love to share our expertise and experience with you.