In labor-intensive industries, the quest for lower costs and higher production is a constant part of the business.
Organizations like e-comm retailers, fresh prepared food operations, reverse logistics companies, and 3PLs can’t function without large teams of people picking, packing, sorting, inspecting, and shipping tons of products every day. Even a small uptick in prices, and a slight downturn in output, can have massive consequences throughout the business.
Of course, that means we’re all constantly looking for the next big breakthrough. Whether that be a change in the labor market, or a radical new take on production processes, companies that rely on large labor forces can’t afford to stop innovating with their workers.
But one of the biggest factors in making your workforce more productive without a significant increase in cost is something that might be sitting right under your nose.
It usually doesn’t show up on any profit and loss report. It’s hard to define with physical measurements or analytical tools. Yet, it’s necessary to get the most out of every person on the shop floor.
It’s your production line’s culture. Investing in that culture is one of the most important, most productive measures you can take toward making your workforce more high-performing. Unfortunately, it’s an investment that too few companies prioritize, or even remember to think about.
The good news is that it’s comparatively easy (and relatively cheap) to make real, lasting improvements to the team spirit among your direct labor force. As labor performance experts, nGROUP has spent the last 20 years working closely with large labor forces, and we’ve seen time and again the difference a good culture makes to a business’s overall success.
Here are 3 steps any labor-reliant operation can take to make their production floor culture stronger — and their labor more cost effective.
#1 – Pay attention to your facilities
The environment in which we work has a lot to say about how happy we ultimately are in our jobs. No matter your industry, no matter your role, you’re simply a happier and more productive part of your organization when the physical space you occupy is a nice place to be. If, on the other hand, your physical environment is not a nice place to be…
Dark, dingy, and messy production environments aren’t just dangerous (though they can be), they’re miserable places to work for 8-10 hours at a time. If your production floor features burned out or broken lights, dirty surfaces, haphazard storage, and missing safety equipment, don’t be surprised when you start to hear grumbling from the staff.
Make it a point to keep your production area clean and well-lit. Talk to your employees about the measures you’ve put in place to ensure they have a safe, sanitary workplace. Communication is key.
Beyond that, be sure to provide comfortable break areas. Invest in a TV showing sports, get a microwave for lunches, and provide nice chairs and tables.
All these measures are relatively inexpensive, and will go a long way to showing your people that you care about their welfare, as well as their happiness.
#2 – Pay attention to training
We don’t just mean making sure everyone knows how to do their jobs. Instead, we’re talking here about training employees on who your company is, what it stands for, and why that matters.
As part of your standard training, have managers and supervisors talk to your employees about company values. Instill in everyone your organization’s idea of the team dynamic. Use phrases, mnemonics, and other devices to make it easy for employees to memorize key values and belief statements.
To make sure those lessons are sticking, follow up. Send leaders out onto the floor during shifts, and have them ask employees about different values and beliefs. Prompt them to recite an important phrase from their training, or to list key values of the company. For correct answers, hand out small gifts (for example, a $5 bill, or a small gift card).
This method will reinforce lessons about shared values and teamwork concepts, and do it in a cheap (and fun) way.
#3 – Promote personal responsibility
One of nGROUP’s partners showed us probably the most impressive organization-wide take on personal responsibility. The operation in question was run by a former ship’s captain. As you might expect, then, all employees were expected to show deep reserves of discipline.
Stand up meetings were kept brief. Employees at every level were made aware of their responsibilities. Everyone was expected to solve problems at the lowest level possible. The work environment was incredibly structured, but management made real, concerted efforts to be present on the floor and know employees’ names.
The result was a motivated workforce that sought to solve problems as they arose, rather than letting things fester — or, just as worse, running to leadership for every small hiccup. Instead, the sense of ownership that employees felt was palpable. The whole production line ran like, well, a tightly orchestrated ship’s crew.
Less of an “expense” and more of an “attitude”, this focus on individual responsibility helped empower everyone to be at their best constantly.
How will you improve your workplace environment?
Oftentimes it is the tiniest things that your employees will remember and appreciate. The smallest details that unify people under a common goal and promote a sense of purpose and a feeling of dignity. How can your production floor be improved?