Author: Paul Henriques in: Business Solutions
Current news shows us one of the oft-forgotten keys points of a business. Yes, your suppliers matter. Yes, your customers matter. Yes, leadership matters. But without the agreement of your workforce, you just have a bunch of machines sitting around an overpriced warehouse gathering dust as your balance sheet gathers red ink.
This is to say that regardless of how differently your administration and your workforce are seeing a topic, this disconnect cannot be heard on critical issues that drive your business. Your company needs to work like a single organism, moving forward together toward a common goal. And in key topics, like skillsets, technological adoption, and work culture, the disconnect between management and the workforce are growing.
This growing gap between leadership and staff is most visible in manufacturing when you compare staff with higher education to those without, where staff that weren’t given a chance at school are feeling like Industry 4.0 is leaving them even farther behind, even if they are some of the most key workers.
So, what can you do to ensure your firm is moving forward?
There are two kinds of workers. Those that know and those that don’t. This is the first hurdle that you have to cross. Your staff that have advanced knowledge of their position after years of experience and bring the skills to make every day a bit smoother aren’t as worried. They know their worth and prove it every day. They have the time to add to their daily duties, tell you how things could be a better, are given freedom within their specialized area, and are happy to be there for you day in and day out.
Then there are those that are struggling. Maybe they are new to the shop or new to the position. Maybe the job they are doing isn’t quite right for their personal skill-set. Whatever the cause, these staff are more likely to be insecure in their role.
With new technologies always on the way, so too are the skills needs to perform tasks. You need to have a view of what jobs are stable, which job processes will need to be redesigned and if a new job description will need to be invented. This, of course, isn’t just about throwing good money after bad by over training or over hiring in hopes that the problem will resolve itself. Instead, you have to be targeted in your training by upskilling and cross-training workers wherever makes the most sense. To ensure your dollars are wisely spent, it is ideal to keep track of what skills are needed for a position, which workers are trained for it, and which are likely to be a good fit. Your staff need to know how their skills will be useful. As the markets change and the tools change, it is your responsibility as a leader to ensure you are anticipating change and communicating with your staff of the changes you need of them.
Allow your staff to try new things and fail. Allowing your staff to experiment in a better way to move forward without fear of repercussions for getting it wrong can lead to a lot of forward momentum while making the skill acquisition immediately visible to those doing the experimenting.
To summarize, improve your staff skill-sets by:
In manufacturing, technology is always seen as an asset. This has never been as true as with the new industrial revolution, where technology is being added everywhere, with things like sensors and cameras, bar code scanners, and semi-intelligent central planning and execution systems. For some, though, this technological revolution can be seen as a threat.
You need to start by appeasing those that are on the negative side of the technological fence by helping them understand the potential and the risks that come from new technology while hearing their concerns. After a while, you can begin to coach them on how this will be the better way forward.
There are always nay sayers and dissenters to any new change. And the bigger the change, the louder they are. Instead, focus on finding those that are excited about the upcoming change and want to work to add it in a way that is better for all instead of fighting it every step of the way until the new technology is rendered useless, or worse, unusable.
Find those that have a skill set that aligns with the new technological implementation and will understand how adding it to their toolset will improve their work life. By starting small, with targeted tech specific for a role, you can gain a fast ally that is willing to listen to how new items can improve how their time is used effectively while not costing them personally. With tech, it is always better to start with younger workers that have grown up with digital assets and are more likely to stay at your firm for longer, as opposed to those workers that may be very adept with the technology but are also closer to retirement age.
Technology improves productivity and this can lead many to fear that by being more productive others at the company may become redundant assets. To ensure that staff understand that the technological improvements will help them without excessively hurting others, you need to establish a culture of trust in your firm, which starts with opening communication and transparency between the leadership and workforce. You can do this by adding screens around the shop floor that show up-to-date dashboards and report results that directly impact the floor team. These indicators should also be covered at a glance during your morning stand-ups.
Also, be sure to include some members of your team when you are thinking about the different ways in how new technology can help your firm and how it can help those staff by freeing up their time to add higher value to your end-product.
To summarize, improve your staffs comfort level with technology by:
Better companies generate better ideas. Places with a culture of experimentation, where new ideas are encouraged and pursued, or where anyone can speak their mind about a certain direction without fear of reprisals produce more and better products. But even with this being a known fact, the leadership of most companies still fight against this simple plan of allowing some bad to receive tremendous good.
Here is where a disconnect is greatest. Even if you think you are a welcoming nest to these ideas, the ones that also have to feel and understand that trying and speaking up are good things are your staff. When staff feel afraid of being themselves at work and of expressing their opinions about a certain method, more often than not, your company loses.
It can pay to help them feel more included in the conversation. And not just with broad speeches about how the first will now be more accepting for certain ideas. Creating a work culture that is more “the buck stops here” is a great first step on building a culture of trust and creativity. If leadership starts taking ownership for problems that happened under their watch, then that will add confidence that a worker’s implementation may have missed the bullseye but still hit the target. Giving workers that confidence of trying and failing but being on the right track is important and leads into the second key step of the creative culture.
Your managers aren’t foremen or enforcers. They are, or should be, workforce supporters and organizers. Their role should be to focus on staff development instead of control. By giving your managers more one-on-one time with your staff, they can actively listen to their problems and concerns to help the staff member improve in a way that is positive for both you and them. This requires a lot of interpersonal time and empathy on the part of your managers so they can be better acquainted with their direct reports. One way to help improve these connections is to walk the walk and do the same. Show your direct reporting managers about your experiences and failures and of receiving negative feedback that helped you improve. Admitting to your faults is one of the best ways to encourage others to open up as well.
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