This Thursday my family will continue a long, albeit corny tradition. We go around the table and tell people what we’re thankful for. It’s a refreshing respite from all the dreary news--about China, the European mess, the Fiscal Cliff, and all the uncertainty and dysfunction from our nation’s capital.
So what will I give thanks for? Yes, family and friends top the list, as usual, but I’m also one of those odd people who mentions his day job. Every day, I get to talk to people in metal fabrication. I enjoy conversations with few if any corporate buzzwords. They get to the point. They have great character. And when it comes to the productive economy, they work where the rubber hits the road.
I thought about this when visiting Cambridge Engineering, a maker of heating and air movement systems in Chesterfield, Mo., just west of St. Louis. The company hosted attendees of LeanFab Workshop & Tours, an October event organized by the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association.
One of our tour guides was Bruce Kisslinger Sr. Of the hundreds of shop managers I’ve met over the years, Kisslinger has one of the most memorable job titles: Vice President, Quality, Keeper of the Corporate Culture.
Several minutes into the tour, he put his job title into action. And it wasn’t just promoting continuous improvement initiatives--though he certainly pointed out many of them, including a custom-fabricated cart used to carry all sheet metal parts for a particular unit through welding, painting, and assembly. By the turret punch press and press brakes, workers also had installed what they called an “Education Station,” where certain scrapped parts were placed to educate operators on proper procedures and to troubleshoot problems.
Overall, the company has documented its procedures well, and everything is clean and organized. Nobody hoards tools, and everything has its place. But I’m betting that to Kisslinger, all that is secondary. Early on during the tour, he introduced me to a supervisor in the sheet metal department. “Ask him about his canoeing trips!” Laughter and friendly banter ensued.
To Kisslinger and everyone else at Cambridge, employees are people first, workers second.
Competitive worker pay is a must, but I believe you can’t buy trust. It’s something that’s earned not only through hard work, but also by treating each other not as “direct labor hours,” but as, well, people.
That said, this Thursday, when we go around the table, I probably won’t hear what people are thankful for; it will probably be about whom. I know it’s corny, but when you really think about it, what else do we have but each other?
Custom fabricating shops see all kinds of jobs, large and small. Flexibility is important. But when a small job results in multiple changes that require a revised quote and the customer isn’t happy, it might be better to let the job go. Yes, you need to please customers, but you also need to make money.
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