An Inspired Workforce – A Challenge for Small Manufacturers - Part Two

January 18, 2018 - At least half of American workers are not engaged enough to even attempt to achieve better than average results at their work. There are a host of reasons that small manufacturers must take this seriously. We know that low employee engagement hampers businesses small and large. However, the impacts on small producers is often more pronounced.

To be competitive, small firms must do more with less. If half the team is uninspired, productivity and quality can suffer.  In some cases, growth of the organization is stunted because expansion opportunities go unrealized – the addition of new products; increased production of key product lines; incremental improvements – potentially causing many small companies to be left behind.

It is a hallmark of small companies to have their employees perform several different jobs within the company; the wearing of many hats. Having someone who holds little concern for the organization responsible for multiple and important roles can dramatically increase the likelihood of future bumps and obstacles that the small firm will eventually have to face. Ultimately, the main reason that small manufacturers should develop and follow a modern workforce development strategy that engages their team is survival – plain and simple.

Small manufacturers often have fewer resources to dedicate to efforts that would improve workforce engagement. Besides the obvious obstacle of having less money to spend on such initiatives, disadvantages may also include limited time, personnel to lead the efforts and, just as important, training resources.

Time is needed throughout the process. In the beginning, it is needed to develop the strategic steps to improve engagement. It is needed to deploy and sustain the process. Certainly, just the time needed to understand their engagement needs may be difficult to carve out. Small companies struggle more often with the tyranny of the urgent and in so doing often have no choice but to abandon future oriented initiatives to make immediate adjustments for survival today.

Having the right champions in place to ensure that engagement efforts continue is important. Because everyone in a small company is usually wearing several hats, this represents a sizable roadblock. Training resources are absolutely necessary too. Employee engagement starts at the top…but doesn’t stay there. All leaders within the company will need to be trained and held accountable to any new shifts in thinking and new initiatives to engage employees.

Gallup’s 2017 report, State of the Global Workplace, observes, “Employers who focus on replacing outdated management processes with ones that enhance workplace cultures and support engagement can drive their percentage of engaged workers much higher than average” (Executive summary, page 5). There’s a lot caught up in the idea of replacing outdated processes.

On the other hand, small producers may have some distinct advantages over larger firms. In many ways the relationships at smaller organizations can be more accessible and provide opportunities for greater communications; there’s typically a shorter distance between the CEO and the front-line workers.

Engagement is finding out how to maximize each person’s opportunities, impact and contributions. It is far easier to understand the needs of a small number of people than it is for a larger corporation with dozens or hundreds of employees.

Small makers typically allow more involvement in various aspects of business operations, granted this is out of necessity, however by exploiting this to their advantage they can easily address two important elements of engagement – opportunities to learn and to contribute in meaningful ways.

For the small shop to intentionally set out to increase employee engagement can be daunting. But, it can be done. We’ll look at some strategy ideas in the next post. Please add your thoughts and ideas to the conversation. 


Tim Waldo

Workforce Specialist