How to Build a Culture of Efficiency in a Tight Labor Market

Finding and retaining skilled workers has been a challenge in manufacturing for decades. It just keeps getting harder and it’s not going to get better any time soon. This has turned having a culture of efficiency from a nice-to-have into a must-have. 

Why It’s so Important

In an ugly labor market, the importance of each employee’s contribution is magnified. Manufacturers can’t afford waste – this includes wasted time, materials, or effort. Building a culture of efficiency ensures that every resource, especially your most valuable one, employees, are performing to their potential.

Stop Saying “Do More with Less”

Doing more with less is a popular way to talk about efficiency, especially with management. Employees see that phrase as code for asking them to work harder without any added benefit to them. This is a hard sell in a labor market where openings outnumber candidates.

Start talking about efficiency as creating an environment where every action and process is optimized for peak performance. This makes the discussion around excellence and finding the best way to do things. People can rally around being the best.

Benefits of Having a Culture of Efficiency

Higher Productivity

A culture of efficiency will obviously lead to higher productivity. When processes are optimized and employees are empowered to make decisions on the fly, throughput increases without requiring more hours. This is the definition of the phrase “working smarter, not harder”.

Cost Savings

Efficiency removes waste, whether that waste is materials, time, or energy (both human & electrical). These savings go straight to the bottom line, making your facility more profitable and competitive.

Happy Employees

Employees love to work at companies where their efforts are recognized and their opinions respected. An efficient workplace reduces frustration, and it’s close-cousin burnout, which means higher job satisfaction and employee retention. Your best recruiters are happy employees telling everyone they love their job.

Get the Best Candidates

You don’t just want warm bodies. A strong culture of efficiency makes your company a great place to work. That attracts innovative and high-performing employees who want to work at equally innovative and high-performing companies. Shops with a great culture often have a waiting list of people wanting jobs there. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Happy Customers

It’s not just the company and employees who benefit. Efficiency supports competitive pricing, higher quality, and on-time delivery which keep customers happy and coming back. And recommending you to their peers!

How to Build and Maintain a Culture of Efficiency

WARNING: If it was easy, everyone would have one. It’s hard work—but worth it. Here are six important steps in the (never-ending) process:

  1. Have a Strong Commitment from Leadership: The leadership team must fully support the process. This means paying for the necessary resources (training, technology, and tools) that support efficient practices. They will also need to check their egos at the door and lead by example embracing change, collaborating, and supporting the best ideas, even if they are not theirs. 

  2. Build Open Communications: Transparent and frequent communication with the entire team keeps everyone informed, engaged and focused on the goals. Best practice is to include employees in the process of setting benchmarks and goals. If using a manual method to gather data, analyze it, and post findings daily, make sure the people doing that have enough time to do the job well – not as an add-on to someone’s already busy schedule. A best practice is to invest in automated production monitoring that gives every employee visibility into real-time data. This means your people can intervene while there is still time to change the outcome of a job that’s off-target. The system also displays real-time and historical insights across TVs, mobile devices and desktops. 

  3. Prioritize Continuous Training: It is important to invest in ongoing training for your team. It shows them that you value them and are helping them build a better future for themselves. This can include everything from technical skills to soft skills like time management and problem-solving. Get involved with local, regional and even national adult education providers, NIST MEP chapters, and other manufacturing resources. There are grants and low cost training options available. Check out YouTube and Titans of CNC for free content or make your own using your top employees as instructors. Some companies worry about spending money & time training employees who might leave. They might. Make them want to stay.

  4. Review Processes Regularly: Review and optimize your manufacturing processes on a regular basis. Ask the people involved in the process what steps are bottlenecks, redundant, or outdated. Then prioritize the issues based on impact to your financial goals and improve or remove them. Automated Production Monitoring systems provide the data that verifies and quantifies what your people are seeing on the floor. It also finds things that are impossible for people to see.

  5. Give Incentives: Recognize and reward the people who are embracing efficiency. Vary the types of recognition and what actions are recognized to be as inclusive as possible. Incentives can be anything from financial bonuses, time off, public recognition, even food! The most important thing is to make the incentives meaningful to your people and directly tied to measurable efficiency gains. Celebrate the wins!

  6. Embrace Technology: Technology that boosts efficiency is a great investment when there is a compelling ROI. Three good areas to focus on are automation, project/process management, and data analytics.

What Are You Waiting For?

Having a culture of efficiency is a significant competitive advantage. It helps companies overcome the challenges of a tight labor market while laying a strong foundation for future success. Just remember, a culture of efficiency is not a one-time initiative. It is a never-ending pursuit that offers big rewards for your business, employees, and customers.

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