In manufacturing, we often hear discussions about the importance of company culture and its impact on the overall successful operation of an organization. What does this really mean? What makes a company’s culture good or bad? Finally, how do you improve company culture? I would like to make my points by highlighting the two fictional companies, BloatCo and Slimline Corp.
To begin, let’s first hear from Jim, the president of BloatCo.
“We have some serious problems with our quality, productivity and delivery. When it comes to corrective actions, it’s tough to know where to start. To be honest, our shop can be described as being in chaos most of the time. Many of the operators have radios blaring at their workstations. To make matters worse, tardiness is frequent and some of our most experienced workers are not concerned about coming in late and take their time getting back to their workstations after lunch. These people are prima donnas because they know it would be difficult or impossible to replace them. They set a bad example that others tend to follow. When there have been efforts to get them in line, the supervisors have been met with borderline insubordination. This leaves us without many choices because if we get rid of them, this will be even more detrimental to our operation.
“So, in general, our company is divided into two camps — the office and the shop. There is little cooperation between the two and we can’t make any headway toward improvement. In all it’s a pretty toxic environment.”
All I can say is WOW! BloatCo certainly sounds like an organization with a serious company culture problem.
On the other side of town, we have Slimline Corp who is in direct competition with BloatCo. Let’s listen to Phil, the General Manager, as he talks about his organization.
“When I started here at Slimline Corp, there was a pretty bad culture. It was very much like things were when I worked at BloatCo. It took a while and a lot of effort, but we have really turned things around. Today, our operators are actively involved in the forward progress of our company, working together with management. Our goals are the same and everyone works diligently to meet those goals. We are meeting our quality, productivity and delivery schedules. Things aren’t perfect, but we now have a culture where positive changes can be worked on by everyone.”
Now that’s more like it. How did Phil do this and what can be done to modify the behavior of the employees at BloatCo? The answer can often be found in changing the culture, but what measures can a manager implement to make this happen?
The following are some points to consider for optimizing the culture of your organization.
Patience and Perseverance
The first thing you have to expect with changing a company’s culture is that it will take some time and is not going to happen overnight. You must have a detailed plan and make the implementation of that plan a top priority.
A Vision for Culture Change
Next, it’s important to understand what culture change really is. It does not mean transforming your company into some type of utopia where everyone is in a perpetual state of bliss. Culture change must focus on a specific goal involving something you want to improve. This goal must be something that everyone understands. For example, creating a positive work environment is not really a tangible goal. On the other hand, improving delivery is something that you can really measure, which will genuinely impact the organization.
I’m sure that everyone is aware that managing change can be very tricky. People tend to lean on what is familiar. I believe the best place to start change is by instilling a positive mentality into your people. You need to get all of your employees excited about what they are doing. If they begin to believe that what they are doing is important, they will be more willing to adapt to changes in order to fulfill that expectation.
Avoid Change Overload
One mistake that is commonly made when wanting to implement change is having too many objectives on the company’s proverbial plate at one time. Organizations can only really effectively work on three changes concurrently, and culture change can be one of these. Just keep in mind that if there is too much going on at the same time, the efforts will become diluted.
Getting People Involved
Speaking of positive worker mindset, a good way to fortify this is to get people involved and have them feel that their thoughts and input are genuinely valued. Ask for their help. It is important to remember that production work in manufacturing can be tedious, causing operators to feel that they are just another part of the machinery. Getting them involved is a good way to effectively counter this.
I first learned how important it was to get the operator’s input back when I was a supervisor at Indiana Gear. On one occasion, the company had made a unilateral decision to buy a new gear grinder with no input from the operators, who felt it was the wrong machine. When the new machine arrived, they did not have a lot of motivation to make sure the machine worked as it should. As a result, in this case, the machine never really worked successfully and it was eventually sold. I’m sure there would have been a different outcome if the operators had been consulted. I’m sure at some level there was probably a degree of subconscious psychological sabotage that took place, which is just human nature.
In manufacturing, there is often a lot at stake in the process of getting a quality product out the door. Sometimes, tempers can flare. This is how people can be from time to time, but when aggressive behavior goes over the line of acceptability, you get bullying. If this is allowed to happen in your company, whether it is a supervisor or the CEO, just be aware that this will undermine all of your other positive measures. Nothing will kill worker enthusiasm and eagerness to contribute faster than a manager who throws his weight around while having temper tantrums. This should not be allowed to continue if you hope to improve your culture.
Communication and Access
On the other hand, positive and open communication is essential. It is important to talk to people to establish a relationship. This not only applies to formal meetings, but informal one-on-one discussions. Managers should walk the shop floor every day and talk to people, learning about them, what they’re doing, and any problems they may have. This is an important step for providing the employees with the opportunity to interact with the manager, which they might not otherwise have.
Promote the Company
Another point about keeping workers enthused about what they do involves the promotion of your company. Most organizations are very adept at promoting themselves to their market and customers. In many cases, it is just as important to share this promotional message with each of your employees. Someone running a machine way in the back of your plant may otherwise have no way of accessing this information. Be sure they are exposed to this messaging by posting photos of the end products on the bulletin boards. Also, place copies of your brochures and other printed collateral material throughout the plant and office. If there is a new promotional video, make sure they are able to view it as well.
Accountability may seem like a tired old topic from a management course, but it is essential. Having an environment of accountability is much more than holding people’s feet to the fire when they mess up. In reality, it should also mean rewarding and acknowledging people’s accomplishments, and providing coaching when there are problems.
Cross-training may take some extra focus and effort, but it has many benefits. If an operator is off sick when a hot job needs to run, there will be someone to fill in. If at all possible, have someone trained on the equipment operated by one of the “prima donnas” who use their knowledge as a means of holding the company hostage. Cross-training will go far in helping to diffuse this. Finally, when workers have the opportunity to perform other functions on the shop floor, they will benefit from getting a broader perspective on the manufacture of your product and the importance of their primary operation. Plus, you might find that they excel in another area that you did not anticipate.
As much as we’d all like to avoid resorting to disciplinary procedures, it is a necessary part of any environment where leaders need to ensure that everyone is working together effectively toward a common goal. However, it must be done right. This is why a Progressive Disciplinary Procedure, which is fair, must be in place and followed to the letter.
Here are some key points about this type of procedure.
Here is an approach I used when starting a disciplinary procedure for behavior. I would begin by privately explaining to the employee that the part of my job which I disliked the most was disciplinary action. I would then say, “You were hired to follow company policies, be productive, and not disruptive. I was put in my position to ensure company policies and procedures are followed. I want to do my job, so if you don’t change, you will be forcing me to discipline you!”
Many organizations look at incentive programs when working to change their culture. It has been my experience that culture change can not really happen without incentives, both positive and negative. In all, the positive incentives are what you should focus on.
The go-to incentive is usually financial in nature. Remember that financial compensation is usually only a short-term motivator. For example, adding $100 to someone’s paycheck, which is subject to withholding, is always welcomed, but soon forgotten. Then compare that to the president handing someone a crisp new $100 bill and personally thanking them in front of their coworkers when goals are met. The latter will have dramatically more impact. What it comes down to is that when an incentive is tied to recognition when goals are met — that is powerful.
You might also consider profit sharing, which is also a strong form of incentive, and if goals are not met, the profit sharing is gone.
Working with other people toward a common goal is the basic framework of a manufacturing operation. Ensuring a positive environment that runs smoothly can be very tricky, but taking measures to promote an optimal culture is a powerful step toward ongoing success.
It is my hope that these points give you some ideas that you can implement to maximize your manufacturing operation. Finally, I would like to acknowledge the following individuals for their valuable input in the development of this article. This includes Steve Carroll of Ken Mac Metals, and Wayne Hanna of Brad Foote Gear.
A Final Word
If you have any questions or comments, I would look forward to hearing from you. Also, if you missed any of my previous articles, just search for "Arvin's Angle" on the Gear Technology website. If you’d like for me to send you a copy, please send me an email or just give me a call.