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Do Your Employees Dread Coming to Work?

Feb. 16, 2016
A culture change focused on personal and structural issues can help turn around a workforce.  

It's not often that I talk to a CEO of a manufacturing company that tells me that some of his employees used to dread coming to work. Aside from the level of honesty that a comment like that requires, it shows an understanding of what his employees feel. Wanting to correct that situation, as well as the accompanying productivity improvements that can result from happy employees, he called in MAGNET. This Cleveland-based group helps manufacturers accelerate growth through best-in-class services.

MAGNET showed up at LEFCO Worthington, a specialty wood crating manufacturer, suggested a number of operational improvements, and told CEO Larry Fulton that a culture change was needed.

Fulton had experience at a large manufacturing company before creating this smaller company, and felt that the traditional top-down directives might not be the best course of action.

"I wanted the employees to understand that I cared about them," says Fulton. "So I invested in a variety of improvements to make their workspace more comfortable."
Fulton calls these improvements—which included cleaning up and then repainting the workspace, making sure there were no safety issues, and making ergonomic changes—infrastructure improvements.

Next he tackled the personal side. He started recognizing employees' birthdays with cakes. He sponsored "thank you" luncheons to show his appreciation for the good work that employees were doing.

Once he felt that employees understood that he was investing in them, he was ready to form a safety committee to encourage employees to become involved with improving operations. Small groups were created and metrics were devised.

"These small groups became a comfortable place where employees felt free to suggest improvements," says Fulton. "We made it clear that these teams, comprised of employees and a supervisor, were making the decisions. It was not a question of management dictating projects. The employees became very engaged and really enjoyed the fact that their suggestions were acted upon and things improved. They are now very happy to come to work each day."

A particularly important part of the process, says Fulton, is that the metrics employees are focusing on are things that they can affect, such as scrap rate, on-time delivery and project profitability.

These teams meet monthly, but without an expectation that each meeting must produce new ideas. There is no such pressure on these groups, and in fact the company provides a higher level of compensation for employees who participate in these groups.

All of these improvements have also resulted in a very low turnover rate for the company in an industry that has a high turnover rate.

"With this new culture in place we can now focus on broader goals such as even higher levels of quality and production," says Fulton. "In fact just the other day I was walking around the plant floor and employees were talking to me about things that need correction. We would never have talked about that before."

About the Author

Adrienne Selko | Senior Editor

 As Senior Editor for MH&L  Adrienne covers workforce, leadership and technology. 

She also manages IndustryWeek’s Expansion Management, exploring how successful manufacturers leverage location to gain competitive advantage. Her coverage includes the strategies behind why companies located their headquarters, research institutes, factories, warehouse and distribution centers and other facilities where they did, and how they benefit from the decision.

In the past, Adrienne has managed IndustryWeek’s award-winning website, overseeing eNewsletters, webinars, and contributed content. 

Adrienne received a bachelor’s of business administration from the University of Michigan.

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