North American manufacturing isn't dying, but it isn't thriving either. New data shows that even as the rush to outsource has waned, production facilities are still struggling to fill capacity.
In early October, the Institute for Supply Management said its index of manufacturing activity rose to 51.5 from 49.6 the month before, indicating modest growth. And yet even that may not be as good as it sounds. Total U.S. industrial production fell by 1.4% monthly from June through August.
Slower growth is taking a toll on manufacturing workforces. Factories added an average of 5,000 jobs monthly during the summer, down from 19,000 per month from June-August of 2011, The Washington Post reported.
Recent history suggests the lag won't last for long. Production will ramp up as managers scramble to hire and train, leaving a performance gap that needs filling. How to prepare? Here are five ideas for boosting productivity and output on the factory floor:
1. Reward trainers.First, model the behaviour you want. Then, train your floor managers to implement best practices quickly. But also don't stop there. Implement a series of small rewards for achieving milestones and be creative and personal in how you gift. Springing for a surprise lunch of favourite food is more meaningful than a gift card.
2. Reward small failures. Productivity is a process so treat it like one. Allow staff to team up and try small experiments for boosting output, setting aside rewards for both victories and failures knowing that anything that moves the floor closer to achieving permanent gains is a win.
3. Reward efficiency. Don't obsess over output at the expense of everything else. Structure rewards that allow employees to "bank" and use time saved via productivity enhancements as vacation or sick time. After all, a more efficient floor will have a much easier time ramping up output when a client calls with yet another urgent production assignment.
4. Reward partnerships.More isn't always better when it comes to developing and refining a manufacturing process, but there will always be appropriate moments to bring in outside experts. Think of a tooling vendor who might be willing to demonstrate an early prototype for your floor in exchange for an endorsement. Ask workers to submit ideas and then reward those that are picked up.
5. Reward outcomes. Finally, remember the endgame. Identify tangible, measurable goals before embarking on any productivity-boosting campaign. Assign leaders to implement the plan and then get prepared to reward achievements. In the process, workers will come to see that performance isn't just a corporate mandate but a shared goal that comes with shared rewards.
Cyclical industries don't come more volatile than manufacturing. And yet knowing and accepting that is half the battle. Design your factory for optimum performance by specifying, and then regularly recognizing and rewarding, the behavior that produces the outcomes you want. Clients will notice the difference, and so will your bottom line.
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.