Twenty years ago I was a buyer for a manufacturing firm. I loved that job! The administrative and engineers’ offices were upstairs with windows looking down on the manufacturing floor.
During the initial interview I asked, “How often does the buyer meet with the engineers who design the parts and machines you sell?” The answer: “Everyone meets once a week.” Then, “How often does the buyer meet with the guys who run the machines that manufacture parts and components you sell?” After a long pause, the Vice President’s response was, “Why would you need to meet with anyone on the manufacturing floor? The engineers should be able to answer your questions.” I immediately asked, “But what if their machine breaks down? Or they think that something is not acting right? They are trained machinists, right? They each work on a designated machine five days a week?” He asked, “What would you do?” I replied, “I would come into work in jeans and visit each of our 21 machinists and the foreman before changing into business clothes and sitting down at my desk. The engineers can walk 20 feet to my desk at any time with a list of what they need for new machines. The guys downstairs will tell us what we need to keep our own manufacturing machines running. Plus, they must feel isolated down there. Don’t you visit them?” He looked at me quizzicality, sighed, grinned and hired me on the spot.
Every morning I would visit the 21 machines, check-in with the foreman, head upstairs, change into business attire and source what we needed. I knew every employee by name, knew their wives’ names, children, pets, birthdays and what sports teams they followed. I knew what was important to them.
If a machine was malfunctioning, I would get down on a roll-around board (yes, I’m sure there’s a name for it…) with the machinist. We would get under the machine and try to figure out if a screw was stripped, an LED was out or a spring was loose. Sometimes, we would don one of those headband lights (they laughed when I said that) and look deeper into the machine. We tried to get to the “heart” of the problem like machine doctors. I had a clue since I grew up in a family deeply involved in construction and manufacturing, but I had to earn that respect.
Our efficiency and production numbers grew. Within 30 days people from upstairs were visiting downstairs more often. Engineers would ask machinists for advice on design. Secretaries would join the crew for lunch. We learned each other’s names and became a team. The floor you worked on no longer mattered.
The economy was sluggish at the time. Everyone I worked with and everyone I met was afraid of the “pink slip” or a business closure. The engineers and machinists worked so well together that after a year, management decided to cut costs and decentralize buying. They never needed a buyer; they needed to build a respectful, co-operative communication loop. They needed to become a team.
Anyone can perform tasks knowing that the result is a paycheck. When you demonstrate respect and appreciation at every level of an organization, you will experience the seamless results of being a team. Every single person who works with you is an individual with a name. When individuals are recognized as a component of overall company success, they work harder and become invested in every component of the organizational machine.
Communication, appreciation, and respect are important elements of a healthy return on investment that is unfortunately unfamiliar to many companies. The same elements are frequently taken for granted when they exist in a department or division of a large company. If you are a leader in a small company, greater success may be as simple as taking the time to learn everyone’s names. If you are a leader in a large company, mandate that managers do the same. Smile and greet people… Ask an administrative assistant for help with spelling or grammar, ask a machinist to explain the aspects of a design you may not fully understand, ask an engineer to lead efforts to plan an employee appreciation party. Engage! I, and more importantly, your employees, will respect and appreciate your efforts!
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