Combs offers suggestions for boosting morale, increasing productivity, and training your staff for advancement.
By Terry Combs
As a production-floor manager for too many years, I know how easy it is to get caught up in the day-to-day focus of getting products out the door and inadvertently allow the bigger picture of overall company success to fall from the radar screen. Just like the production supervisor who spends his days running a press and ignoring the rest of the production floor, a production-floor manager can lose sight of the long-term state of the company. Rather than focusing on planning, training, and other issues that impact the overall success of the operation, the manager can get caught up dousing the flames of a current crisis or maintaining the schedule at hand. The future well-being of your company depends a great deal on keeping your employees informed and motivated. Beginning tomorrow, turn your focus back to employees with these suggestions for boosting morale, increasing productivity, and training your staff for advancement. Your training is important Tomorrow morning, tell your employees that you are committed to training. You might say, "Despite how busy we are right now, we will commit time, money, and effort to improve your skills. Despite how busy we are with day-to-day production, we, as a company, are committed to the long-term education and growth of our employees." It's frightening how many companies are hesitant to train employees for fear that the newly trained workers will take their "secret" skills to the competition. This business philosophy seems to imply that we should teach employees just enough to get by and waste no further time or effort because in the end, these employees can't be trusted with highly sensitive information. In an even larger group of companies, managers speak about "training," but actually have little commitment to the idea. In verbal communication, training is a priority for most companies. But when it comes to taking action, training brings up the rear of the priority list on most production floors. Training is the first thing pushed aside when the next rush order hits. Employees get just enough training to get them by, and then they proceed hoping that the rest of the information will some how be absorbed through some natural occurrence of proximity and association. Both situations represent the same business philosophy--teach employees just enough to get by, and offer no further time or effort. The intention might be different, but the result is certainly the same--inefficiency, crisis management, and the perplexing fact that no one out on the production floor seems to have the will, desire, or potential to move up the supervisory ladder. No one seems to have what it takes to help you take the reins of production management. Do you have a crew on your production floor with not one person among them who has the potential to become a good supervisor or more? Maybe the fault is not their own. Maybe the fault lies in your own management philosophy. Tomorrow morning, block out 15 minutes of time that you will promise to religiously adhere to each week as your training time. These 15 minutes do not have to be packed with grandiose lesson plans, quizzes, and extraordinary examples of well-planned technical education. One subject, a handful of facts, and information that can be tucked away and retrieved when the next crisis rears its head can be the focus in your training sessions. In a year's time, you will likely have offered your staff more training than any other screen-printing facility in your area--probably in the country, for that matter. Training, even offered in small bites, one week at a time, and presented in a reasonable, logical, and positive light, will absolutely be reflected in improved production, quality, and company morale. And very likely, you'll find a diamond in the rough among employees, a person who just may be your next production leader. Your ideas are important Tell your employees that you value their opinions. Maybe you do value their opinions, but have not told them this. You might even think you've shown it by saying things like, "My employees know my office door is always open." Well, it's going to take a little more effort on your part. You need to walk out of your office, go out onto the floor, and solicit reaction and response from your employees. Ask for specific ideas and suggestions about the areas that concern you most. Ask for specific ideas about the areas that concern them most, issues you may not be aware of. The experience can be very enlightening for you. I'm not a big advocate of the old suggestion box. I've rarely been in a company where this dusty little box in the corner of the break room wasn't the landing ground for jokes and ridicule. In the minds of your employees, it's the black hole of unheeded ideas and suggestions. And this same empty lock box is the example that management gives for lack of interest or motivation on the part of their staff. Many an owner or manager has told me, "We used to get suggestions in there, but nobody cares anymore." It's your job to solicit ideas and suggestions. Once you have a good, solid, continuous track record with the staff in this area, then the ideas and suggestions will begin coming through that open office door you're so proud of. Maybe you feel you know best, and you don't value your employees' opinions at all. More managers should be honest enough to admit this to themselves. I'm certainly not advocating that you lie to your employees and solicit opinions that you have no intention of hearing nor heeding. They'll see through that in a second. Instead, reconsider your opinion. The employees burning the screens, pulling the squeegees, and shipping out the finished goods see first-hand the successes and the failures of whatever systems you have in place on your production floor. Regardless of the faith you have in their opinions, I guarantee that you can glean valuable information from employees if you will only give them the chance. Be patient. If this is not your style or reputation, employees will be wary at first. But if you make an honest and consistent effort, you'll be pleasantly surprised by the result. Successful companies are not afraid to look at the ways things are done and are willing to reinvent the production processes that have served them to date. This reinvention on the production floor will be best accomplished with input from the people who are actually doing the physical work, not only because of their valuable ideas, but also because of their integral part in making the process succeed or fail. If they don't buy into the idea, you'll never get it to work. Including employees in the development of an idea will give that idea every advantage to flourish. You are a valuable asset Tell your employees tomorrow morning that they are all important to the company and to the process of making the company successful. And then show them in the weeks that follow through your deeds and actions. I once heard a conversation in which a senior manager spoke with a production supervisor, telling him he would be included in interviewing candidates for a new management position. This was a strong message to the supervisor that he was an important part of the decision-making process. The problem was that several candidates were interviewed and given tours of the facility right in front of the supervisor, but none were introduced to him, and he was not included in the interviewing or hiring process. The senior manager responded that he simply forgot. But the message that the entire production floor took from this was that their opinions didn't matter and that not one of the production staff was important to the process. The fact that the top manager threw this opportunity out as a bone of participation, then snubbed the supervisor, only made the situation worse. Repairing damage such as this is a huge and often impossible task. Nothing is worse for morale and productivity than for your employees to feel unappreciated and disrespected. We have invested in you Tomorrow morning, tell your employees, "We invest in you every day. When we write a check for X dollars to our health-insurance provider, we are investing in you and your family. When we provide you with vacation and personal days off, we are investing in you. When we offer training, buy educational resource tools, and send you to trade shows, we're investing in you." I believe it is perfectly acceptable and reasonable to tell your employees just what it is you do for them and why. It is perfectly reasonable to tell your employees that they are as important an investment for you as any equipment and facilities your business has. In fact, they should be told that they are the most important investment you can make in the success of the business as a whole. We're in this together Tomorrow morning, tell your employees, "We, as a company, are in the business of making money, and we all benefit from this goal. We feed our families. We provide them with shelter, clothing, and a few of the better things in life. We all win together when we create a quality product, are efficient, and join together to help this company to be successful and prosperous. Yes, we're all in this thing together." You depend on them, and they depend on you. There's nothing wrong with telling them so. Everyone wants to be part of a group, part of the team. Your admission that you all have an interdependent relationship with one another is not only honest but also has a positive impact on your entire staff. Tomorrow morning, have a talk with your production staff. And keep the communication flowing in the weeks, months, and years that follow. The positive results you'll see from this effort will make it time well spent.
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