Employee engagement is a fuzzy concept for many manufacturing leaders. Definitions of engagement vary, opinions about its importance differ from one person to the next, and most confusing is how to make it happen on the plant floor and across the organization.
Mark Whitten says you’re leaving money on the table if you ignore employee engagement.
Whitten is general manager at Martinrea Heavy Stamping. He recently took some time to address a few questions about employee engagement in advance of his presentation at the 2018 IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo. Here are his comments:
IW: How do you define employee engagement? In other words, how would we recognize an employee who is engaged versus one who is not?
Whitten: I believe employee engagement comes in many different forms. However, there are very obvious signs of engagement. These may appear odd at first, but think about what engaged people do in any circumstance:
They are present, they come to work every day because they have a sense of worth and feel appreciated. (Metric is attendance.)
They add value and contribute to the success of the organization. This can include but is not limited to improvement ideas, suggestions and discretionary effort. (Metric is contribution.)
They participate in company functions, activities and sponsorships. They give feedback openly and without fear of reprisal. (Metric is participation.)
IW: Why is employee engagement critical?
Whitten: In my opinion, employee engagement is absolutely critical. If employees are not engaged, they won’t want to be at work daily, and they will only give you the minimum effort. As employers, we want 100% committed employees, the ones [who] will give what I describe as discretionary effort! Going that extra mile and going over and above expectations.
IW: Your conference session title is “Front Line Leadership: The Key to Employee Engagement and Satisfaction.” What are front line leaders? Floor supervisors?
Whitten: Yes. By front line leaders I am referring to those leaders (supervisors) who have direct responsibility and contact with employees.
IW: What is the biggest mistake manufacturers make when it comes to trying to build engagement?
Whitten: I believe it starts with the lack of understanding [about] what engagement looks like, possibly because they don’t measure it. Therefore, no significant value is put on the importance of an engaged workforce. Most organizations claim that their most important asset is their employees, but the proof of that statement is how they treat their employees.
Treatment comes in many forms--respect and dignity are some examples. But again, in my opinion, true forms of respect and dignity are displayed in how we engage our people. Do we listen to their ideas? Do we communicate clearly regarding expectations, and do we follow up with them to explain decisions made?
IW: What sparked your interest in driving employee engagement?
Whitten: Great question! I started my career on the shop floor as an employee. I had the opportunity to witness firsthand those supervisors who valued their employees and those who did not. The difference was palatable. I knew very quickly the difference between the ones who cared about me personally and those who did not.
Needless to say, I had strong feelings in terms of those experiences. On one hand, knowing I was just a number to those supervisors left me feeling disengaged, not interested and not valued. I disliked my environment every day. On the other hand, I would go through a wall for those leaders who knew my name and asked about my family. I made sure no matter what that I came to work every day and gave 110%, nothing less. Those are the leaders who formed my opinions and left a lasting impression on me that I strongly believe has been a contributing factor to my personal and professional success!
IW: Are all the Martinrea facilities at the same level of employee engagement? That would be amazing.
Whitten: No. That would be amazing, I agree! We will get there one day, guaranteed. We measure engagement and employee satisfaction using the same tool across all plants. Our corporate culture and expectations are common, and our training for leaders is common and centered on respect for people.
IW: What do you say to me if I am a manufacturer who says: I’m a busy shop. I don’t have time for employee engagement. I pay them a good wage and that should be enough.
Whitten: I would say you are leaving money on the table!