Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Employee Engagement: Get Out of Your Office

It's been a long time since my last post - partly because I've been working and partly because I was working on one of my other blogs, Packaging: The Forgotten Medium.

My inspiration for this post - and for the next few - came from a meeting I had yesterday with a person in Human Resources, and we were discussing taking employee relations a step up into employee engagement.

When I moved from the world of Consumer Packaged Goods marketing into B2B sales and marketing, the general manager of the company I then worked for brought me into his office and gave me some of the best advice I've ever received.

He told me to buy some safety shoes and spend 30% of my time on the shop floor.  I asked why, because I  thought sales and marketing people needed to be out on the road in front of customers.  He said I needed to know everyone in the plant on a first name basis because, as part of the management team, we would be going out just prior to the Christmas break to extend our holiday wishes to all employees, and he wanted it to be more than just a perfunctory handshake.

Our plant had two unions and a history, under previous ownership, of bad  management-union relationships.  There'd been a few strikes in the past and the current owners wanted to make a fresh start.  Our GM told me that, in the past, it was like there were two worlds in the plant - shop floor and office - separated by a wall.  We needed to break down that wall and make the management more accessible and responsive to the union personnel.  Knowing everyone in the plant on a first name basis was an important part of this.

I followed his advice and remember putting on my safety shoes in preparation for my first time on the shop floor by myself.

I'd already been introduced at an all-employee meeting as a new member of the management team, so everyone knew I was the new kid on the block.  I'd also been around through the plant a number of times, but never on my own - usually giving customers a tour with my boss.

I walked up to the first of several laminators we had in the plant and approached the operator.  I asked him what this machine could do and how it worked.  For the next hour, I was taken on a thorough tour of the machine by the operator and learned a lot!  I appreciated the tour and what I could see was a sense of pride the operator had in his machine centre and a willingness to share that.

This was the start of a process of learning how to make a plant work more effectively, and my next few posts will be structured around this topic.