One of the points that came out at the recent VMA Leadership Forum is: what employers in today’s work world are advised to do, and what today’s up and coming employees and managers say they want from careers, sometimes line up. That was evident when comparing the presentations given and what a panel of young engineers had to say at the end of the conference.
For example, several speakers pointed out the importance of creating channels of opportunity for growth as a main ingredient for building leadership and transferring knowledge. As Kevin Kemerer, Precision Pump and Valve Service, said during a panel on succession planning, that means a switch from the mentality of training to one of coaching/mentoring. The difference between the two is that, with coaching, “you ask people: what would you do? Instead of telling them what to do.”
His thoughts were backed up by one young engineer who said that to be satisfied and stay with a job “depends on how much I can continue to learn.” A second engineer added, “All that really matters is that I’m able to grow with my job,” and a third one remarked, “It’s nice to be a good fit, but even nicer is when you’re not a perfect fit, and you have a way to learn more.”
The VMA Leadership Forum was Feb. 28 in New Orleans and speakers hit home on many points designed to provide insight on management techniques and business trends, as well as other developments that play a role in running a company. Some of the other points brought out by conference presenters included:
Consultant Jason Young, the keynote speaker, said today’s leaders strive to reach the intersection of high performance and high fulfillment for their employees, “But that’s not how it always works.”
The reality is that there will always be tension in the workplace, caused by conflict, competition, assertiveness and other pressures that exist. The key is to find ways to look at leading is “relational coordination”—juggling the tensions to find ways to lower them as much as possible. With each percent those conflicts go down, performance goes up, Young said. Some tips he gave: Learn to appreciate the differences in workstyles, in how people pay attention to details, in the energy levels of different types of individuals. Then find ways to be flexible to accommodate those styles. Another great tool is to hire people for their attitude in the first place and find ways to train them for the skills they need.
Lindsey Berckman and Micheal Schlotterbeck, Deloitte, gave their take on the status of smart factories based on the results of a study Deloitte released last year and pointed out that the transfer of knowledge is also key with technology. One of the notable findings of the study was that adoption of the technologies is not linear: Very few companies are adopting entire systems from the ground up. Rather, they are exploring technologies as they are created, then fitting them into certain aspects of operations and finding ways to weave them together as well as to work with outside partners to take advantage.
One of the main challenges for this scenario will be finding the skilled workers needed to put the technologies into place, and this gap will occur across every single function of a factory. The presenters suggested retooling and retraining, looking at what can be outsourced and finding ways to “find the right talent” for the right function.
Several other speakers from the panel on succession planning where Kemerer spoke also gave their takes on how to transfer knowledge. Kim Beise, Dowco, advised attendees that: If the succession is from family member to family member, “be sure to clearly communicate your plans to employees,” remembering that the whole experience will be an emotional one for all employees. Involve them in the process and “sometimes, instead of having your employees just ask questions over and over, charge them with finding out the answers themselves,” he said.
Greg Johnson and Kelly Lovell from United Valve pointed out that the culture of a company is really important today not only because millennials and younger generations are looking for companies that stand for something, but because finding people who share the same goals and viewpoints ensures those people will stay engaged in their positions. “When you choose leaders look for people who share your values,” they said.
THE RIGHT BENEFITS
Tracie Brown, MetLife Specialty Markets, said one tool manufacturers can use today in their unique challenge to get top, young talent is to curate benefits. A MetLife poll showed that employees today feel that having benefits customized to their needs would increase their loyalty to their companies. Manufacturing employees say that having work-life balance makes them both more productive (80%) and more engaged (79%), the MetLife study showed. Her suggestions included developing a financial wellness plan along with a medical wellness plan, finding ways to help with student loan debts, looking at mental health and employee assistance programs, and offering phased retirement. Today’s workers are also turning away from traditional shiftwork, and one of the top things they seek is flexible hours, she said.
VMA’s annual Leadership Forum is open to VMA and VRC members. Those interested in attending future leadership and other member-only events may wish to explore membership in VMA. For more information, visit VMA.org.