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The Secret to Happier Employees

March 15, 2023
Trust gets better results than control. Control is costly to enforce not only monetarily, but it rents valuable headspace.

Manufacturing companies want to know how they can recruit, hire and retain more employees. The secret is not what you may expect.

You have heard the phrase “Money doesn’t buy happiness.” It is true. As an employer, you can pay more than your competitor but that does not guarantee you will be able to hire and retain the talent you are seeking.

So, what is the secret? This week I had the privilege to be with plant leaders in two separate settings. An international tire manufacturer invited me to their plant managers’ strategy session. And, The University of Tennessee’s Center for Reliability and Maintainability hosted their annual MARCON conference. In both cases, the discussions between plant leaders were quite engaging, as everyone is trying get to the root cause of the problem.

Here are the takeaways:

Core Values

Every human has a few simple items that are required in order to increase their happiness. Pause for a moment. Are you able to guess them?

One plant manager shared the results of a companywide culture assessment. When personnel were asked how the company could improve, their criticisms were shocking.

  • Respect the individual.
  • Provide autonomy in decision-making processes.
  • Establish trust.
  • Have a purpose.

What an incredibly simple list of core values or basic human needs. Yet, in a command-and-control environment, managers do not respect the individual. Or allow them to make decisions. Trust is low because you monitor everything down to the timeclock. And there is no purpose outside of making money for the shareholders.

Flip the Model Upside Down

How do company leaders fix the mess we made? First, it begins by serving our followers. We must respect the individual by going to the place where the work is being done. “He who does knows.” In other words, the person closest to the work already knows the solution for the problem you are trying to solve. Just ask them.

When the individual provides you with a solution, your job as leader is to provide that person with the resources they need. Do not give the answer. Do not fix the problem. Instead, allow that person the autonomy to make decisions for themselves.

Ensure you provide a psychologically safe environment. Celebrate when concerns are brought to your attention and addressed. Tokens of recognition are a great way to continue receiving great ideas for improvement or innovation.

Ultimately, you will build trust because you have respected the person enough to allow them to solve the problem.

A Purpose

In manufacturing, we believe that we have to have a career path for every individual. But what an individual really wants is to know how they can accomplish their personal dreams.

One of the most brilliant ideas that emerged this week was that of a “Factory of Dreams.” When the plant leaders began focusing on helping people realize their dreams, the loyalty to the company increased, as well as the employees’ happiness. Everyone began feeding off the positive energy of seeing dreams be accomplished.

There is a wonderful book called The Dream Manager that tells a similar story of a commercial cleaning company serving their associates. I won’t ruin the story for you. Go buy it. Then, use it with your leaders to illustrate the power of dreams and purpose. It will be an eye-opening discussion.

In the end, I believe that trust gets better results than control. Control is costly to enforce not only monetarily, but it rents valuable headspace. Whereas trust allows those closest to the work to continuously improve decreasing inefficiency and increasing the profit all while having fun at work.

What steps can you take to instill more trust in your organization?

Ashleigh Walters was president of Onex Inc. through 2022 and is the author of  Leading with Grit and Grace.

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