While many manufacturing companies grapple with how to successfully attract and retain a qualified workforce, Web Industries appears to have found a formula grounded in a simple philosophy: People need to know that they are part of a greater purpose.
The fact that the Marlborough, MA-based company, a provider of flexible material converting and end-product manufacturing services, is 100% employee-owned certainly underscores that point—by way of people’s pocketbooks.
But Mark Pihl, President & Chief Operating Officer stresses that it goes much deeper than that. The main point, he says, is that people everywhere want to have purposeful, meaningful employment. And that can be difficult, especially when a person is an expert at their particular job, but seemingly does not have the ability or see the opportunity to make a contribution to achieving the organizations goals and objectives.
“We work hard at constantly reinforcing the direct line-of-sight from the vision and strategy set by the executive team and rolling those objectives down to the operational plan and the factory teams and ultimately to every individual contributor,” says Pihl. “And we are finding it has really made a difference.”
Painting this scenario is particularly important when it comes to millennials, says Pihl, who are wanting to make a significant impact early in their careers. “Young engineers today want to change the world, they don’t want to be made to feel like they are just a number,” he explains. “And you have to show them how they will get there.”
That’s one reason, believes the company, that its employee retention rates are well ahead of industry averages.
A strategic change in the company’s business model has also been a factor in creating more opportunities for employees to be a part of something bigger. Back in the early 2000’s, the company’s focus was primarily on transactional business—taking orders and selling traditional products to customers.
But in order to grow and become more profitable the company realized it needed to become more market focused, which in turn necessitated becoming a leader in designing new processes and solutions for customers. “We are no longer just taking orders. We are partnering with our customers to create products that help our customers become more competitive in their industries,” says Pihl.
Problems like figuring out how to manufacture a material with higher tolerances represents just the kind of tough engineering challenges that new hires are seeking. “This is change-the-world kind of stuff that young engineers are eager to work on,” points out Pihl.
That’s probably why hiring new engineering graduates has not been much of a challenge for Web Industries.
Moreover, to increase the chances that a new hire will stay, the company has instituted a rigorous process for professional and technical hires. It uses a behavior assessment tool widely used in recruitment that focuses on four behavioral traits, called DiSC (for dominance, influence, steadiness, and compliance).
“DiSC helps us to understand the personality profile and a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses,” says Pihl. “We hire for cultural fit. We ask candidates about the culture that they are currently in and what motivates or demotivates them. Their answer gets at the question of how important culture is to them and what makes them tick. And then it’s our job to make sure we keep them motivated.”