The Book: The Great Workplace 2.0 — a Manufacturing Success Story
By Admin

February 1, 2011

Myself and my organizations have worked with and interviewed over 1,500 organization CEO’s, hiring managers and HR professionals over just the last four years. Our published results are not just professional opinion, they are based in fact.

My goal has been to find out what REAL (and transferable) characteristics Great Workplaces have from which we all can learn. Beyond the accumulated and analyzed characteristics, we have also found Shining Examples of Great Workplace characteristics being put to use.

Another Success Story:

I met the previous owner of this organization in the late 70’s when we both lived in the apartment complex called “Park Center” in downtown Cleveland. He was about 30, super-sharp, aggressive and hell bent for commercial success.

The company today employs about 120 people. They are a fast-paced re-manufacturer and manufacturer of critical components for the transportation industry. They are profitable, growing, ISO Certified and recognized as a leader in their field.

In their manufacturing area, they have almost NO turnover. Most hires are additions to staff, or replacements for retirements. There are replacement hires for people who “point out” (attendance) or who, after a FEW YEARS (not days and months), decide to go elsewhere. Turnover is about 10%, compared to about 20-25% in most industries that pay $9-$10 starting wages. This organization starts the majority of workers at $9.25 per hour. They are on the west side of Cleveland. They are privately owned.

The company has figured out that great people are critical to their success, and they have developed systems, philosophies and a perspective that make all of that work. As a side note, none of the people we have placed there in the last several years have left. Several have been promoted.

Here are our observations of critical components to their success:

1)    Their Human Resources Manager is hands-on, highly knowledgeable of the company, history and future. She walks the floor. She is highly familiar with job duties, managers, what background profiles do best in their environment and what skills should be used in certain areas. She is “tuned in”. When candidates for employment meet with her, she is a true “example” of the values, attitude and energy that are meaningful for success at this company. She exudes the most positive aspects of the organization. She tunes in to people and can talk for hours on why a good person would want to work at the company … all from the person’s perspective, not management’s. She is an exceptional example of “First Impression” for an organization.

2)    The employment interviews conducted by HR, line managers and mid-management executives are well-planned, insightful and pointed. They know what it takes to succeed in their facility, and they tell it, sell it and show it. They do not interview with the old standby “So tell me about yourself” opener, so common among people not trained in HR.

3)    Although the backgrounds the company hires into about 6 different job classifications are very similar, they know that certain skills are critical to the success of the person, and interview to find those skills. They do NOT look for 5-10 years of “Machining”, as an example. They don’t even look just for a manufacturing background. They look for mechanical concepts, basic math and work ethics. They look for personal characteristics that match the position to be filled and they look for people who get excited and interested as they describe their company and environment. They talk WITH the person as a potential contributor to the organization. They don’t talk AT the person nor do they “talk down” to that person.

4)    Management has designed SKILL and JOB training programs that will get good people up to high productivity (and low turnover) quickly. New people are trained for up to four weeks. They have direct supervision during training and are assigned a successful “Buddy” who stays with them for the first 4 to 10 weeks (and after due to friendships created). The supervisor is trained to have patience (but not the “Mr. Rogers” kind); the Buddy is trained to be helpful and solve issues, answer questions and is a “support mechanism” after the (rather extensive) training is over. Interesting though, the new employee begins to make a productive contribution in their first week. Most jobs here are assembly or disassembly (some are basic machine operations), and their productivity can affect the entire operation. Training here is NOT just a mechanical activity; it is an attitude and a collaborative one at that.

5)    During the interview process, the company has designed a short, but effective, “on boarding” methodology: they spend up to an hour explaining what the company does, the history, what their PURPOSE is (for the customer), what their expectations are for each employee, and what exactly the individual can expect from the company (this is also part of a recruiting firm’s accountability). They conduct a thorough tour of the facility showing how each area of the operation fits into the next. They support line managers to “sell” the company to the individual. Potential hires can see the faces of the people who work there, and those faces are serious, confident and focused. A potential candidate for employment will understand how their job fits into the entire scheme of the operation, how what they will do as an employee affects the customer, and how their personal success will affect the success of the entire workforce.

6)    When hired, the new employee spends the proper amount of time in HR getting signed in (even Interim employees). They receive a solid introduction to safety procedures and go through an in-depth checklist of “do’s and don’ts”. Then that person is assigned to their supervisor/ trainer (who helped in the interview process) who will continue where the initial interview left off: building a bond of productivity and respect. The new person is introduced to other team members, told about recognition and individual incentives, and begins their in-depth training.

7)     At this juncture one COULD assume that their manufacturing processes are intricate or complex. The fact is that each job a person can do is rather repetitive. Each job does require precision, attention to detail, use of power or hand tools and quality inspection tools. Each area has its own finite goals or numbers to hit, and one work area that does NOT hit their numbers will affect other cells and units.

At this stage, the organization has, by design and plan, done a wonderful job of “On boarding” new talent: They have the recruiting firm begin the process of selling, screening, pre qualifying, reference checking, drug testing and attitude screening. The company takes the hand off and continues the introduction of “what we do and why” and “Our purpose for our customers is …” that was started with the recruiter. They now reinforce it with “Why you (as an hourly employee) will want to work here, in this job”.

Managers, team leaders and Human Resources all have a stake in the success of the new talent: their customer’s satisfaction and their word. They approach the new individual as a person of VALUE, not simply a person to crank out product. The result is a more confident, secure and excited worker; an engaged worker who understands expectations and those expectations are fair.

Here is the kicker: beyond a superior Human Resources connection with the workers, the CEO walks the floor, knows the names of all workers, and sees to it that he engages as many people as his intense duties will allow. It is one of the things that TWO previous owners ago started and has continued as a expectation within the organization. Managers are taught to “catch someone doing something right” and make a big deal of it. They ask the hourly workers for suggestions, opinions and efficiency upgrades.

The bottom line for this organization’s success: They Connect, Engage and Collaborate with workers, vendors, their own staff and in the end … their customers. Yes, what they do takes time, effort, planning and trust. But NOT having to re-do hiring or re-do training pays for itself.

The characteristics of The Great Workplace this organization exhibits:

1)    Onboarding/ Immersion of New Talent

2)    Vendor Collaboration

3)    “Purpose” for their customers

4)    Tangible, Visible leadership

5)    Collaborative effort with Participants. A Collaborative Culture.

6)    A Sustainable Enterprise

7)    They do buy local (not evident here)

8)    Their profits are sunk back into training. It is a payback, not an expense

We are proud to work with this organization.

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