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Curing Production Floor Blues: 2 Components in a Better Work Culture

A few years back, I had an opportunity to work with two interesting companies. They were remarkably similar in many ways: both were cross-docking operations that supported big-box retailers, and both were in the Southeastern United States. 

In addition, both companies dealt with dramatic fluctuations in volume, as well as frequent interruptions to production planning, thanks to issues in the upstream supply chain. Both operations paid market-competitive (but comparatively meager) wages, and both had workforces made up primarily of minority workers.

What wasn’t the same about these two operations? The culture on the production floor.

But how could that be? They were virtually identical businesses, with similar clients, products, and workforces. How could one of these companies have a culture riddled with problems, while the other had a fun spirit of camaraderie and hardwork? 

1 – Facility Condition: 

Company A had a facility that was well-kept and brightly lit. A strict dress code was in effect, and associates had a nice break room with TVs (typically playing ESPN) and games (foosball, air hockey, etc.).  

On the other hand, Company B had a facility that was perpetually messy and dark. Proper equipment was frequently in short supply, and the break room was far too small and lacking in anything fun or interesting for associates to do. 

Care to guess which operation had more turnover? It’s probably pretty obvious. Even though the work was tough and the pay wasn’t exceptional, Facility A was a place where employees were generally happy to be. The good will shown by the management team at Facility A transferred into a sense of teamwork and pride amongst the workforce. That spirit in turn helped to create and sustain a beneficial company culture. 

Now, you might be thinking, “That sounds expensive!” The good news is that we’re not talking about anything opulent here. Even basic maintenance with a touch of extra effort and an eye for the people working on the floor goes a long way toward making everyone enjoy the workplace more.

 2- Personal Discipline:  

The General Manager at Company A’s facility was a former ship’s captain, and his building operated like a well-run vessel. Everything went in its place at the end of each shift, daily production meetings were succinct, and people were expected to be prompt. The expectation was that problems would be handled at the lowest level possible, and genuine crises were few and far between. The GM typically walked the floor no more than once per shift, but always interacted with the workers and made it a point to know most of their names.

Company B’s facility, on the other hand, didn’t feature daily production meetings because the belief was that they were pointless. In nGROUP’s work with Company B, we even tried to introduce these meetings to the schedule. As it turned out, thanks in large part to the prevailing culture, the meetings were pointless. All issues and problems were handled as they arose and, unfortunately, not much actually got handled. 

Is it any surprise, then, that folks were happier and more engaged at Company A? Knowing the expectations they needed to meet, as well as effective reinforcement from management, meant everyone on the team felt like they belonged in a job that mattered. 

More Opportunities to Boost Your Culture

Of course, these aren’t the only components in a great production floor culture.  Even better, they aren’t the only things that are easy (and inexpensive) to improve upon. Here are some other suggestions for developing and maintaining a positive, productive culture.

#1 – Train Your People – If you want everyone in your organization to buy into the culture you’re building, you’ve got to let them know what that culture is. To do that, break things down into easy-to-remember slogans, lingo, and acronyms. These should reinforce the values you want to promote.

#2 – Make Sure They Know – Once you’ve included training on the culture you want to build, and taught the use of reinforcing acronyms and slogans, it’s time to test. Make sure everyone knows and remembers your values by quizzing them. Go around the floor, asking people if they know the acronym or slogan. If they do, hand out a $5 gift card for coffee. 

#3 – Measure Data and Make It Visible – Not only is hard data on your operation’s performance critical to production, it can be a vital part of your culture. Using whatever measurements are appropriate (items shipped, picked, or packed, etc.), capture the info on how each shift, cycle, or process is doing. Then make that info visible. If it’s appropriate, post data about a team’s production so they can see their progress. Communicate how well everyone is doing, or who needs to improve. At nGROUP we use our labor management technology, nSITE to get better visibility on productivity and we normalize discussing it with employees. 

#4 – Take Feedback, Listen, and Act – Asking for feedback from your people shows you care, not only about their jobs, but about their opinions. As you listen, look for common answers, thoughts, or complaints. Most importantly, do something about it. Few things make people feel appreciated like seeing their thoughts turned into concrete changes around them.

Obviously, there’s a great deal that goes into building a stellar culture. If you’re looking to make improvements in the spirit and attitude of your entire team, start with making sure your facilities are great environments, as well as bringing everyone’s personal discipline up to par. Then, try out some of the other action items in this list. 

These are opportunities you can pursue right now, for not much extra expense. Your employees, your management, and your bottom line will all thank you.

To learn more about nGROUP’s philosophy on workplace culture and productivity, check out our model

By Ryan Cates
VP of Sales, nGROUP

Ryan Cates has been overseeing the sales team for nGROUP since 2006 as Vice President of Sales. Whether you’re looking for more stability in your business or you’re looking to achieve more with your hourly workforce, Ryan can walk you through a stress-free assessment phase. If you’re not sure if your company or facility is a good fit for an nGROUP partnership, simply schedule a call with Ryan and he can help you determine with confidence if nGROUP is for you.