Deliver Higher Productivity with Smarter Workforce Practices

April 11, 2012
With the effective cost of labor evening out between China and the U.S., manufacturers must find other ways to improve productivity and reduce costs. One way: leverage production personnel.

As labor costs in China increase and manufacturers bring production back to the United States, I predict a resurgence of more -- and more creative -- productivity improvement strategies.

This should come as no surprise. Where strategists once only had to move production to offshore countries to lower costs, they now must find other ways. This necessity will become the mother of invention.

What may surprise is that production personnel will -- or should -- figure prominently in manufacturers' efforts. Managing Editor Jonathan Katz' article "From Plant Managers to Profitability Engineers," is an example. The story describes how one forward-thinking company, St. Gobain Performance Plastics, in Ravenna, Ohio, views plant managers as more than just production "traffic cops." There, the plant manager is "someone who is involved in critical decision-making activities that impact profits," who is "financially literate with a strong business sense."

The article describes how the new responsibilities change the nature of the job and the types of education and experience needed to fill it.

Left unsaid in Katz' article, but familiar to the IW audience, is the impact elevating the plant manager into a strategic role has on the rest of the factory-floor personnel. That is: Everyone must step up to a higher level of responsibility.

Best Plants Award Winners expect a higher level of responsibility and engagement from their employees -- and achieve world-class results as a consequence.

Enter the line workers. IW has tracked how Best Plants award-winning facilities expect and encourage a higher level of responsibility and engagement from their employees -- and achieve world-class results as a consequence. In the 2011 class of winners, for example, employees take responsibility for and make decisions on a variety of issues that traditionally are made by the plant manager or supervisor. They include: production scheduling (75% of plants), safety review and compliance (88%), quality assurance (87%), daily job assignments (76%); training (92%). ( The updated database is now available for purchase).

So in your search for greater productivity, give your plant-floor personnel a chance to prove their worth, and free up your plant manager to think strategically. The Best Plants statistics show that this strategy correlates with the stellar metrics of high-performing factories. We hope you'll give it a try.

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