While every manufacturing environment presents unique challenges and every production (and warehouse) manager faces different issues with their employees, one thing is for certain: A production environment where managers and employees have mutual respect for one another, have the same understanding of expectations, share the same goals, and work hard for one another is much better than any alternative.
But the harsh reality is, there often are disconnects between the management team and the production employees, who, ultimately, provide the labor, skills, and talents that power the company to its goals. In this article, I want to focus on great practices that help build strong relationships between production employees and those who directly manage them.
Build Better Relationships
In a large production environment with many unskilled and low skilled employees, it is tempting to assume that each employee's value is low, and their production is replaceable. It is this exact way of thinking that doesn't allow room for the proper management practices that encourage retention and increase productivity in employees. I propose a new way of looking at each employee: Every new employee is a potentially great employee, and often, they need to be treated like an amazing employee before they can become one.
Here are a few good practices that will help managers and supervisors build better relationships with employees, starting from their first day on the job.
1. Treat them with respect from day one. This should be as easily done as said. On day one, make sure you shake their hand, tell them your name, and repeat their name after you've learned it. Let them know your role and how you are involved with their day to day. Introduce them to the people they need to know and their roles. This practice makes the new employee feel welcomed, supported, and like they are about to become an important part of your team.
2. Clearly explain their responsibilities and your expectations for them. Many employees are seen standing around on their first couple of days at a new job, not because they're unmotivated, but because their leaders failed to integrate them into their new environment. Explain enough of their responsibilities to them to allow them to keep busy without having to turn to someone every hour asking for more work. Let new employees know who they need to turn to if they can't find you for questions.
3. Believe in them. Provide them the proper training, and be patient with them. Allow them time and chances to learn from their mistakes so they could see that you really do want them to succeed. This will motivate them to work hard for you.
4. Be understanding of their personal situation. There are employees who lack motivation and are regularly tardy or constantly look to take time off, and there are also employees who actually need to take time off to take care of important business such as immigration paperwork, parent-teacher meetings, childcare issues, etc. It is not a good idea to clump them all together. Recognize hardworking employees who need your understanding and support and give them the time flexibility they need to take care of their business so they could be more focused and dedicated to your company when they return.
5. Acknowledge your employees. This has been said a million times but has not been done nearly as often. Regardless of the work environment or caliber of talent, every employee looks forward to getting feedback on their hard work and achievements, no matter how big or small. A simple "thank you for volunteering to work late" or "great job on cleaning up the line" or "congrats on meeting quotas within your first two weeks" goes a long way in making your employees feel appreciated. Employees also like to hear "how are you" and "doing anything exciting this weekend?" from their bosses. Take the time to get to know them and they will return the favor with greater efforts on the production floor.
6. Share company goals, forecasts, and plans with your employees. After you've left the company meeting with upper management and stakeholders, plan to share some of what you've just learned with your team. An employee that sees the company's visions is more likely to feel accountable for doing their part to get the company to its goals.
7. Reward your employees. Pay increases, bonus pays, promotions, new responsibilities and challenges, and open recognitions are all examples of how you can show an employee they've done their job well.
8. Integrate every employee into the cultural and social work environment. Your employees spend at least 8 hours of their day around each other, so it's a good idea to encourage them to have positive interactions and build strong relationships with one another. If done successfully, you will not only have employees that are loyal to you, but they are also loyal to their peers. That alone should improve retention and increase accountability and productivity. Try planning company events that allow for team bonding outside of the busy work environment.
9. Create smaller teams for stronger bonds. If you have a large workforce, it might be necessary to break your team down into smaller groups and designate strong leaders in each group to help you connect with the employees more closely. The strong bond between each leader and his or her group is a reflection of your vision and efforts.
Over the years I've met a wide variety of leaders on different types of production floors, and frankly, many of them would probably scoff at the idea that their production floor could be turned into an ideal environment that fosters mutual respect and strong relationships between leaders and associates. At the same time, many leaders have proven that strong determination, along with patience, and the proper plans set in place, reaching such goals on the production floor is very possible.
While it only took me a few sessions to take notes for this article and an couple of hours to write it, the task of following through with these ideas takes great efforts and long term commitment from multiple members of the management team. I believe if these ideas are implemented over even a short period of time, a company's production environment can start to blossom and positive changes will be seen and enjoyed by all involved.
Are you a leader on your production floor? What are your philosophies and approaches to building relationships with your employees? What challenges have you experienced?