In the largest quantitative research project of its kind, more than 1500 small and midsized manufacturing CEOs were interviewed (in February 2015) about their greatest barriers, challenges, and fears about growing their companies. The survey, conducted by TR Cutler, Inc., based in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, is the organization which founded the five thousand-member Manufacturing Media Consortium.
The results of the Manufacturing CEO Survey were surprising.
The greatest pain point causing anxiety, fear, and apprehension about manufacturing growth among these manufacturing leaders was speaking to their employees. More than four out of five (82%) said that speaking to their employees was difficult or very difficult.
When digging deeper, the data revealed that those manufacturing CEOs with a science, mathematics, or engineering background (more than sixty percent of the entire responding sample) indicated that they recognized this as a personal and professional weakness element in their leadership style.
Those CEOs with more general business backgrounds (many whom possess an MBA) felt more comfortable speaking with the employee workforce, however less so with the shop or plant floor employees and shift labor.
There were multi-cultural language challenges identified as well as age distinctions, with Millennials wanting constant approval, texts, and re-enforcement that they are valued, needed, respected, and some respondents said, loved and cherished.
One CEO said, “In my day (a 200 person Indiana manufacturing CEO, 58 years of age) you went to work, did a great day’s work, got paid, and went home. Now younger workers want constant approval and recognition and it’s so out of my comfort zone. Just don’t know what to say to them.”
Knowing what to say to manufacturing employees.
Knowing what to say is important. Knowing how and how often to communicate with employees are equally important. When so many manufacturing CEOs (all with fewer than 250 employees) report a weekly (in some cases daily) order, inventory, or delivery crisis, the notion of employee communication quickly takes a back burner.
Ninety percent said there is at least one order per week “at risk” whether due to production issues, inventory shortages, or labor capacity to produce product as promised to the customer. Such crisis management leads to a prioritization ranked by fires rather than what is in the best interest of the organization in the short and long-term.
While the same 90% of these manufacturing CEOs reported that their employees are their most valuable asset, few knew how to motivate and inspire employee engagement and assure employee retention within the organization.
Third-party manufacturing communication solutions.
Manufacturing leaders have little hesitation about hiring consultants to come and provide kaizen events to create lean manufacturing, best-practice process improvements. Manufacturing CEOs often outsource safety compliance to third party organizations, such as US Compliance (with more than 1000 firms using this service in lieu of hiring full-time employees to ensure OSHA, FDA, and EPA regulatory elements are met to avoid fines.)
Manufacturing leaders readily outsource payroll, benefits, and other services because there is great recognition that this “shortcut” allows the company to focus on what they do best: manufacture product and satisfy the demands of customers.
According to Louise Dickmeyer, President of Mankato, Minnesota-based, People Driven Performance, “Only now are manufacturing executives asking us to provide regular leadership communication strategies and content. Until now, they were embarrassed, uncomfortable, or unsure of the value proposition of regular, systematic, and deliberate communication. Without a culture of leadership guiding the way, employees gossip and create cliques, absenteeism increases, retention decreases, and great workers take positions with competitors.”
Dickmeyer’s firm (also known as PDP Solutions) is proactive in utilizing technologies on the plant floor. “It’s not enough that we create communication content for manufacturing employers if the employees don’t read, engage, and interact with the information. The concept may be analogous to hiring a third party payroll organization, however the data proves engaged employees with communication from manufacturing leaders stay on the job, stop gossiping, and see themselves as part of the solution. The whole us (employees) versus them (employer) mentality evaporates with this program.”
The monthly retainer fees to engage PDP Solutions is far less than the cost of replacing even one employee. Survey respondents were asked how receptive would they be to hiring a third party employee communications organization in 2015; 69% said somewhat or very receptive.
Denial of a leadership weakness is not a management strategy. Losing a single valued and quality employee due to poor communication defies the notion of lean manufacturing; keeping the best people eliminates waste (of time and money.) It may seem hackneyed to say, but if manufacturing executives have weakness in communication, it can become a strength, by engaging firms like PDP Solutions, which perform the function with ease, expertise, and experience. It means making lemonade out of lemons.