January 16, 2014
Metal fabricating shops that perform well have well-performing workforces.
It sounds too simple, but you’ll hear the same thing from managers in these high-performance organizations. Company owners and managers don’t debate about spending money on training programs that help to keep skills sharp and fill talent gaps within the company, and shop floor employees aren’t afraid to participate in continuous improvement activities or even customer meetings because they know their voices are valued. It’s a culture of quid pro quo—the employer invests in the growth of the employee, and the employee becomes more engaged in trying to help the company grow revenues. It’s a culture any enlightened shop either strives for or, if it has attained some semblance of it, tries to protect.
DeWys Manufacturing, Marne, Mich., has such a culture, and it’s one of the main reasons that the business is the recipient of The FABRICATOR’s 2014 Industry Award (read “Professionalism in precision sheet metal manufacturing” in the February 2014 issue). The shop has evolved to the point where everyone is seemingly OK with change of all types, from a new plant layout created during a holiday break to the formation of a new customer team named only hours after winning a new job. Employees anticipate, adapt, and accelerate forward. The company, as a result, isn’t weighed down by poor manufacturing practices.
In the late 1970s, when DeWys Manufacturing was founded, everyone worked side-by-side to complete jobs in a timely and quality fashion. That “can-do” spirit, as at many small companies, is the foundation of a positive company culture. Growth, however, is always a threat to erode that communal spirit.
“It was easier to maintain the culture when you were 26 to 50 people, but it’s harder when you grow to 150 people and three shifts,” said Jon DeWys, the company’s president.
When the company was smaller, relationships between co-workers was almost an automatic byproduct, but such connections are much more difficult to maintain with the constant addition of new faces. DeWys Manufacturing holds monthly meetings that everyone attends, but an event like that has its limitations. That’s why it took a dramatic step last year and attempted to make everyone realize that they can have an effect on overall business performance.
In 2013 DeWys Manufacturing implemented a bonus plan tied to gross profits. Any suggestion to help eliminate waste or find a more efficient way to boost production results in a higher gross profit margin for the company and a bigger potential bonus for employees. Company leadership wanted to make employees aware of how their actions could have a real impact of the business’s profit potential.
Jack Stack, founder, president, and CEO of SRC Holdings Corp., believes in the same type of approach. As described in his book The Great Game of Business, he practices what he calls “open-book management” in an effort to create a “business of business people.” The goal is to determine what the winning outcome for a business is and then teach everyone how to track, measure, and improve performance to achieve that outcome.
(For those interested in learning more from Stack and from other metal fabricators, consider attending The FABRICATOR’s Leadership Summit, Feb. 26-Feb. 28, in Austin, Texas. Visit http://fmanet.org/training/event/the-fabricators-leadership-summit-3/ for more information.)
Having previously worked for a company that practiced open-book management, I can say that it makes a real impact on employee performance. Everyone knows what the financial situation is and how their own actions can affect achieving that goal. The negative side is that the organization can get caught up in just tracking sales if someone with an inability to focus on the big picture is leading company and team meetings.
Having employees with some sort of financial stake in the business and with knowledge of how the business is run not only can make a metal fabricator agile, it can make it more profitable. They are on the frontlines with the customer and the first to build strong relationships or to see additional service opportunities, both of which can translate into increased sales. That’s a winning strategy for fostering a winning workplace culture.