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5 Best Practices for Creating a Great Workplace Culture

Sept. 3, 2021

Creating a positive workplace culture that successfully attracts and retains talent does not happen by chance. The best employers truly believe that employees ARE their number one asset – without exception. These companies have a reputation of being an employer of choice. The local workforce chooses to work there over other options.

Why is being recognized by your potential workforce as an employer of choice so important? Because finding and retaining people is almost every manufacturer’s greatest business challenge. How do you know if you are an employer of choice? Your employees tell you through their loyalty, high retention rates, and especially when they encourage others to work for your company.

You are competing with many industries and companies to fill entry-level positions. How are you positioning yourself? How does your entry-level pay compare to other industries? How often do you measure employee morale or satisfaction?

Almost every company says people are the most important asset, but many small to medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) struggle to put enough focus on their people. This is because smaller manufacturers are often resource-challenged and are forced to prioritize getting products to their customers over carving out time to develop their workforce.

What Makes An Employer of Choice

Employers of choice share several characteristics. Their employees cite:

  • Employee recognition programs
  • Internal communication
  • Ongoing feedback and coaching
  • Clear career paths
  • Better management training

What’s not mentioned is salary. Yes, paying a livable wage is essential to attract good employees, but it is not a differentiating factor.

Here are five best practices for being an employer of choice.

1. Conduct Cultural & Engagement Assessments

Gathering the needed information to build a great company culture involves quantitative and qualitative measures. The quantitative data can be collected through a third-party survey. The survey topics address a wider company perspective (people are held accountable for low performance) and a personal view (I find personal meaning and fulfillment in my work).

But the greater value comes from focus group interviews in which facilitators can dig into the responses. These focus groups provide context and examples that everyone can relate to. Culture is about common expectations and behaviors, and these focus groups often reveal subtexts and drivers of the current culture.

Employers of choice tend to share these follow-up actions:

  • Position the results of the assessments as a report card for top management. It’s essential for company leadership to own the results.
  • Leverage feedback to encourage commitment to changing the organization. It would be worse to do these surveys and ignore the results than to have not done the surveys in the first place.
  • Make the survey an annual occurrence.

2. Meet Employees’ Personal Needs

There essentially are two kinds of needs in a workplace: Personal needs are the human aspect that people bring to their work and to an interaction, and practical needs are objectives to be accomplished through an interaction. Those needs do not have to be mutually exclusive in a workplace.

Here are five key principles to meet personal needs, according to DDI:

  • Esteem: Focusing on facts, respect and support will help employees with their sense of self-worth in order to be motivated, confident, innovative and committed to their work.
  • Empathy: Acknowledging people’s feelings of success, failure, pride and frustration will not only defuse negative emotions but also encourage positive emotions.
  • Involve: When you ask for input, you show that you value your people. When ideas belong to the people who will carry them out, their commitment is stronger and success more likely.
  • Share: People work best with leaders they trust who appropriately disclose thoughts, feelings or rationale.
  • Support: Providing coaching, training, guidance and mentoring builds people’s sense of ownership of the task and confidence that they can accomplish it.

3. Provide and Receive Meaningful Feedback

Just as you can measure overall equipment efficiency, there are now tools to provide people analytics, and they might be a lot better than you think. For example, Rhabit Analytics provides tools to measure work culture for cross-functional teams. It provides a simple, sustainable loop of feedback and a visual dashboard that can bring a data/operational mindset to individuals, departments and a company. These tools can be great for behavioral change for hourly workers and executives. The process is not punitive but more of a continuous improvement mindset designed to reward positive actions.

Two other considerations:

  • Supplement the annual performance review with frequent coaching/feedback sessions. Companies that encourage regular one-on-one sessions are more likely to create organizational alignment with performance goals.
  • Ask “stay interview” questions. These questions prompt meaningful discussions:
    • When you travel to work each day, what things do you look forward to?
    • What are you learning here?
    • Why do you stay here?
    • When was the last time you thought about leaving our team? What prompted it?
    • What can I do to make your experience at work better for you?

4. Use Effective Job Postings

Many SMMs underestimate how important the wording of a job post can be for attracting applicants. Research competing job posts, not just in manufacturing but other industries that are competing for the same people. Ask your marketing team to help with the postings.

Employers of choice often include these elements in job postings:

  • Sell the job like you’re selling a product or service
  • Include what makes your company a great place to work
  • Describe your culture
  • Tell your company story

And by all means emphasize continuous improvement in the verbiage. Which of these sounds like a good place to work: Setting objectives and reviewing shift's performance versus objectives (or) Foster an environment of continuous improvement by inspiring employees to problem solve within their work cell?

5. Develop a Learning Organization

It comes as no surprise that there is software to help with career development. Learning management systems (LMS) make it incredibly easy to share content and create opportunities for career pathways and advancement.

A “learning organization” starts at the top and encourages engagement such as:

  • Executive coaching
  • Leadership training for supervisors and managers
  • Individual learning plans
  • Apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeships (high school and even middle school)
  • Emerging workforce programs

Getting people to attend training programs and apprenticeships has always been a challenge. The recent push toward individual coaching and on-demand, e-learning will create more opportunities for learning.

Your Local MEP Center Has Experts to Help You Become an Employer of Choice

For manufacturers who need skilled workers but are finding it difficult to identify, attract, develop and retain qualified talent, the MEP National Network has a holistic suite of workforce development services that are tailored to the needs of smaller manufacturers. Contact your local MEP Center to talk with a workforce specialist about becoming an employer of choice.

About the author

David Rea

David Rea is the Managing Director of Human Capital for Catalyst Connection, part of the MEP National Network. He specializes in organizational development and behavior, key employee coaching, leadership development, team building, succession planning and company culture.

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