Encouraging employees to solve problems

January 8, 2014
By: Vicki Bell

Yesterday’s “Fabricating Update” e-newsletter featured an item about a soft skills gap—how manufacturers are finding that their current employees and potential hires, are deficient in communication and problem-solving skills.

According to a recent survey of hiring managers and human resources professionals, many employees lack basic presentation and communications skills needed to be successful in their current positions, a deficiency that doesn’t bode well for professional advancement.

The survey also showed that, in general, the manufacturing workforce is asking for direction from supervisors or managers rather than initiating new ideas or solutions and problem-solving.

This last statement had me wondering if the survey took into consideration workplace culture, and whether employers encouraged or discouraged employee input and problem-solving. After all, it doesn’t take much for ignored and belittled workers who might have really good ideas to shut down and adopt a “why bother” attitude.

The newsletter asked readers to share their experiences regarding employee input. Steve, who works for a large company that makes industrial machinery responded: “Yes, we do encourage problem-solving skills on the shop floor. We also have a program called Ideas Are Free, in which the employee is required to submit two cost-saving ideas per month and implement one of his or her ideas per month. This program has been successful in finding better, faster, and cheaper ways to manufacture.”

Steve did not mention whether the company offered a monetary incentive for this requirement. And what happens when an employee runs out of ideas? A 25-year employee would have to come up with 600 ideas, one of which eventually might be “let me go; you’ll save my salary and I’ll save my sanity.”

I’m not saying that Steve’s company’s idea stinks. It’s probably constructed in a way that is rewarding for employees. At the very least, they likely know they will be heard and their ideas respected. Plus, working to help the business save money also helps save jobs. And that’s a good thing.

Problems extend to more than technical issues on a shop floor. There isn’t a single workplace I’ve ever known that is free of people issues. Some problems, such as concerns or complaints about harassment, discrimination, violence, or other serious workplace problems, always should be dealt with by management. However, there are many problems that can and should be handled by the employee.

If you’re thinking you could and would like to do more to help your employees solve their own problems, this article on progressivebusinesspublications.com might be a good starting point.

Follow fabcomlady on Twitter.

Become a fan of The Fabricator® on Facebook.

Vicki Bell

Vicki Bell

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8209