Create an edge by embracing a culture of experimentation, identifying the areas of greatest need and then leaning on employees with experience to teach others.
After months of inconsistent demand, North American manufacturers may soon get help from federal regulators.
In Canada, a new program called "Factory of the Future" aims to dole out some $380 million in aid to local manufacturers. The country's National Research Council (NRC) Labs will lead up the effort while also providing expertise and related resources. In the U.S., Congress passed a bill allowing for aid to be given to workers affected by trade deals that open borders and increase competition in the manufacturing sector.
The assistance comes at an interesting time. New data from the U.S. Commerce Department found that non-military capital goods orders excluding aircraft -- otherwise known as "core capital goods orders" -- rose 0.4% last month after a 0.3% slip the month prior. For factory managers, the mix of aid and better economics could create an opportunity to invest in new manufacturing technology. Here are five tips for getting the most out of those bets:
1. Embrace a culture of experimentation. Your factory is at its best when employees are both willing and able to implement new technology fast. Skills help, but there must also be a culture of experimentation in place. Recognize and reward employees who show initiative in pitching new ideas or tinkering with processes. You could even create an "innovators club" where each month management identifies and rewards an enterprising worker for helping to improve best practices.
2. Identify the areas of greatest need. Of course, you also want to focus effort. Share productivity numbers and related financial details with your team, noting weaknesses that management is keen to fix. Then ask employees to submit ideas for how to plug the holes. Take the best among the submissions and offer the "winners" small chunks of time to work on their side projects. Reward breakthroughs accordingly.
3. Find your trainers. Some experiments will be with technology a portion of your workers will have used previously. Enlist them to be your trainers, helping the rest of the floor accelerate adoption of new gear. Set metrics for how fast and efficiently you want to get new systems online and then reward those who meet (or better yet, exceed) targets.
4. Develop a curriculum. You'll also want to capture training sessions. Whether documented in a manual or captured in a short video or audio presentation, be sure to leverage the knowledge of your experts in order to bring new technology to the floor faster. In the long run, that's how you'll outperform competitors.
5. Recognize and reward success. Employees don't expect to be bribed, but they do expect their contributions to be recognized -- and where appropriate, rewarded. Keep this in mind as you search for new ways to squeeze efficiency out of the floor. Develop a formal recognition program that's easy for managers to access and implement. Appreciated workers will always perform better than their anonymous peers.
For most of us, innovation doesn't come naturally. Factory managers are no different, and that's OK. You can still create an edge by embracing a culture of experimentation, identifying the areas of greatest need, and then leaning on employees with experience to teach others. Capture those sessions for developing a factory-wide curriculum and then roll it out in stages, recognizing and rewarding success as you go.
Your odds of creating the Next Big Thing won't improve much, but you'll be better prepared to implement it when it comes your way.
John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.