A funny thing can happen on the way to manufacturer profitability... respect! Leaders who know how to show it will also receive it and organizations will grow and prosper. Good leaders know how to lead but the great ones know how to lead with respect by making sure those around them are successful. In manufacturing, this charge must be achieved to build confidence, trust, and respect across the entire operation. When employees believe in the vision and credibility of the leader -- the workforce becomes resilient, capable, and loyal -- all essentials for organization growth and profitability.

Manufacturing environments depend on reliability of schedules, timely production of deliverables, and commitment to the vision. Credibility is built on a foundation of trust that communicates: "I've got your back" and that mentality is critical for employee motivation across all sectors of manufacturing employment.

And, yet, while many top leaders are able to articulate a forward-thinking vision that has immense share-holder value, they struggle with internal communications. By not understanding recognition and meaningful manager-employee relationships, companies lose their ability to optimize the performance of their workforce. For many execs, tangible goals are easy to promote while intangible efforts become complicated.

To simplify, every top exec should take this survey:

  1. Do people know that I care about them as individuals? Do they know I want them to succeed?
  2. How have I demonstrated that I am part of this team? Do I live by a different standard? Fairness isn't about equal pay, but it is about treating others consistently and professionally -- how am I doing that?
  3. Does the recognition I offer actually communicate respect?
  4. What is my motive for giving feedback? Is it really to improve performance or just to show someone who is boss?
  5. What is the ultimate goal? If I really want production and efficiencies to increase, how does a negative reaction help? Likewise, how does my positive response help to build and support the business initiatives?

These questions are drivers for recognition by leaders to take shape. Getting these answers right will mean stretching in ways that may be uncomfortable, and ultimately, require some sacrifice -- but well worth it. Here's why. To stay competitive, manufacturing plant managers need to move beyond "meeting goals" to "exceeding goals." They can only do that with a workforce that is motivated, loyal, and committed to not only keeping their jobs but keeping the entire company on top.

One plant manager has found success with twice daily meetings. He meets at 6:00am and at 2:00pm with twenty-five people from the shop floor. He regularly attends night shift meetings as well. He doesn't come in to speak, but to listen without rebuttal or rebuke. Then, he goes to work to make things better for the nearly three thousand people he serves. They call him by his first name -- not to make it easier for them but because it keeps him grounded and reminds him that he is part of their team. But beyond losing the formality, he demonstrates his role as team-member in other ways. In the hallway, next to the main meeting room, there is a board with lists of people that are making a specific and positive difference. Each one is given a meaningful award and recognized for their contributions to the business. This manager's name is up there with everyone else -- and it isn't at the top.

At this plant, respecting and appreciating others is more than a barbeque luncheon where leaders make a cameo appearance only to reappear again in six months. Leaders are expected to make those around them successful and respect isn't merely a value statement for the posters in the training rooms. On the contrary, in this environment, everyone is treated well by the exec team and the employees work hard and smart in return. New productivity gains and reductions in waste are happening on a daily basis here because each employee sees themselves as owners in the plant's success.

Great leaders know that in this challenging and very uncertain economy -- keeping employees motivated and morale high is essential for keeping productivity and retention high. According to an April 2011, Deloitte Survey, among employees surveyed on the topic of what workers expect and how leaders respond, only 35% expected to remain with their current employer. Among the same employee respondents, 45% predicted an increase in employee turnover from 2011 to 2012. Trust is created, loyalty is built, and best ideas flourish in a place where people feel like they matter. No one knows their part of the business better than the people facing the task 40+ hours each week. Bottom line is obvious yet too often missed. If everyone owns their part of the business, everyone does well -- from the ground up.

Great leaders can turn around a negative, low morale workplace by inviting new ideas from employees and implementing them. Once your workforce realizes that their opinions matter and they are visible to you -- they will have a renewed sense of pride which has the potential to build a renewed profit margin because we know satisfied employees have higher retention rates and lower absenteeism which are crippling costs in manufacturing.

The transformation, the cost savings, the efficiencies gained, and the sense of pride are all contagious. Manufacturing environments can be improved and outperform when leaders recognize the power of motivation and the response of respect. Once employee recognition is embraced -- companies can significantly increase production while reducing costs and saving millions in better efficiencies throughout the operation.

S. Max Brown is Principal of Leadership Directives at Recognition Management Institute, a division of Rideau, Inc.