An Inspired Workforce – A Strategy for Small Manufacturers

By Tim Waldo, CIS Workforce Development Specialist

(Originally posted on Tim Waldo’s LinkedIn page)

In rapidly changing workplace environments, a pressing challenge for all manufacturers is to explore ways to get most, if not all, of their people contributing their best efforts. There are unique challenges in this for the small manufacturer, but they also can enjoy certain advantages over their larger counterparts.

For the small shop to intentionally set out to increase employee engagement can be challenging. The process takes time and it may mean bringing in outside resources to help. Some key areas of focus will be recruiting, examining the current team, setting up meaningful metrics and training.

From the start, smaller shops should work on defining what it looks like for an employee to be fully engaged. It may actually look very different for different roles in the company. This may be one of the areas that takes a while, but that investment of time here will pay dividends when you match the right person to the right role.

Today’s job market is very much an employee’s market. Demand is outstripping supply, and workers are confident and emboldened. Even so, the need to recruit well is still vitally important. Setting up a great performance management system and then putting the wrong people in it can be costly for small firms. Be specific, be selective and be patient when recruiting. It also pays to start before the need arises.

You may already have some great success stories just waiting to be told. Look closely at your current team and try to identify those who are only marginally engaged. These could turn out to be some of your best stories of engagement. In another 2017 article for Gallup News, the authors suggested, “Many employees who are not engaged want a reason to be inspired. They are the “show me” group that needs an extra push to perform at their best.” http://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/208487/right-culture-not-employee-happiness.aspx

It is also important to understand what needs to be measured. In the same Gallup article, this statement is made; “Measuring workers’ contentment or happiness levels, as well as catering to their wants, often fails to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement: improved business outcomes.” Each company is different, therefore, the metrics should match the organization and its goals while providing accountability for the employee.

They go on to suggest, “This means focusing on concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development and promoting positive coworker relationships.” If the employees are to be stakeholders in the opportunities at hand, they must also be accountable.

Some people are not at a place in their lives where they know what they want, and are not ready to work hard to attain it. Many of us have been there. Getting 100 percent engagement from every single person is unrealistic. Research suggests that the best companies average around 70 percent engagement. Keeping engagement efforts grounded in reality will prevent any crippling staff losses caused by unrealistic expectations.

Training is essential in creating an engaging workplace. Employee engagement starts at the top…but doesn’t stay there. Train the leaders, certainly; but for the small maker, one important component of the strategy is to have every member of the team promoting the concepts of engagement. Train the team, and have them take some role in engaging new hires. This promotes engagement throughout the ranks. Certainly everyone can play a role in sustaining an engaging workplace.

Small makers typically allow more involvement if various aspects of business operations. Focusing on this and making it a more visible part of the system of engagement will allow opportunities for team members to learn and to contribute in meaningful ways.

Workforce engagement has to be customized to each company. Small producers must get creative in their search for the building blocks to an engaging culture.

The stakes are high at all levels; from the manufacturers, to the communities they live in, all the way up the chain to our country as a whole. That’s the topic for the next post. Until then, please add your thoughts, comments and ideas.