When management lacks insight into what's happening on the shop floor, they can miss opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs and even ensure worker safety. PHOTO by Pexels.
By Justin Geach, Global Director of Marketing at Master Fluid Solutions
Even within the same company, manufacturing executives and factory workers have a very different understanding of operations. Too many business leaders see production performance as just numbers on a spreadsheet and fail to connect it with the physical labor it entails. Likewise, for workers on the factory floor, daily struggles with machinery and productivity seem far removed from their employers’ annual profit goals.
Knowledge gaps like this impact almost every area of a business. When management lacks insight into what’s happening on the shop floor, they can miss opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and even ensure worker safety. When workers feel disconnected from decision-making, or their operational insight goes unappreciated, they may become disengaged at work or even look for new opportunities. The quit rate in manufacturing in October 2022 was 2.1%, a number managers need to bring down to stay on the path to recovery.
Closing the knowledge gap between the shop floor and management could transform everything from a company’s profitability to their worker retention. But what can companies do to open these lines of communication?
How to Bridge the Knowledge Gap
Effectively unifying the knowledge of management teams and industrial workers is a multi-step process that requires a mixture of new technology and traditional communication. Here’s what leaders can do to make the transformation:
- Audit current employee-management communications
To close the communication gap between management and workers, first determine how wide it is. Start by reviewing employee feedback, performance data, and other records that give insight into what’s happening on your shop floor. Look for:
- Complaints from employees about machinery or processes
- Notes and records from shift supervisors observing employees
- Company reviews on Glassdoor and similar platforms written by current and former employees
- Safety incidents
- Patterns in employee turnover
- Current performance metrics, like throughput and cycle time for different operations
Next, determine how complaints and observations have historically been addressed. If employees complained about difficulties using a particular machine, did supervisors find a solution? Did anyone investigate to identify maintenance, performance, or ergonomic issues? Did the issues have a measurable impact on KPIs? This type of audit can unearth how employees and company leadership communicate with and respond to one another.
- Normalize regular feedback
Frontline workers on the factory floor will often be the first to identify problems with production processes or operational challenges. Leaders must solicit feedback regularly and encourage employees to bring issues to their attention. It can be easy for workers to silently endure conditions that reduce efficiency. Showing that management takes even small problems seriously will not only help improve productivity, but also inspire greater job satisfaction, heighten employee engagement, and dramatically reduce turnover.
- Build new processes and integrate them into operations
As you identify your company’s communication shortcomings, reshape policies and procedures to close communication gaps. Shape your new policies around tangible goals and achievable improvements to your KPIs. For example, you may want to speed up response times to employee complaints, or increase average employee retention times. Create a mandate for key personnel to review feedback within a specific timeframe, take appropriate action to address it, and report noteworthy comments to direct managers periodically.
- Establish new channels of communication
To maximize employee engagement, leaders need to solicit feedback from shop workers directly. Outline both points of contact for specific issues and all the ways employees can submit their feedback. Supervisors should conduct plant inspections to keep track of any issues with workflow, layout, specific machinery and supplies. Train leaders to investigate and ask questions to encourage dialogue. In addition to traditional paper forms and email, create online surveys and forms to streamline submission and logging processes. With mobile apps, for example, workers can conveniently report issues on the shop floor as they occur. Consider enabling anonymous submissions to solicit more honest feedback.
- Reward achievement
In addition to capturing more feedback about working conditions from employees, leaders should also actively encourage brainstorming about how to improve operations. After engaging in repetitive processes for extended periods of time, workers naturally learn to perform more efficiently with specific workflows and techniques. The changes they make could highlight new ways to lay out the shop floor or ergonomic adjustments to standardize throughout the operation. After implementing employee suggestions, be sure to publicly recognize their contribution and its impact. This will encourage more engagement from other employees as well.
Unifying workers on the factory floor with overall business objectives is critical to succeeding in today’s challenging manufacturing landscape. At the same time, empowering employees to play a larger role in the company they work for could help manufacturers mitigate the impact of the labor shortage and remain attractive to talent. Ultimately, bridging the gap between management and workers on the shop floor does more than improve performance — it creates a more harmonious workplace.