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Motivation in a Production Environment

Posted by Mark Fallon on May 28, 2014 5:30:00 AM

Motivation in a Production EnvironmentIt’s difficult for managers in a production area, like print, mail or shipping, to keep their employees motivated. There are several factors that lead to this, including relatively low pay, working in what is often considered a low-status department, and the high turnover of personnel. You’re now faced with another phenomenon that works against you – the rapid rate of change in the technologies used to do your job.

To counter these obstacles, you must motivate your employees by instilling pride in their jobs. How do you instill pride? By using PRIDE:
  • Participation by all
  • Reserve discipline
  • Increase education
  • Distribute rewards based upon merit
  • Enjoy your job
Participation by All

It’s well-known that most secret missions fail. Without proper support from everyone involved, it’s difficult for a project to succeed. Most people don’t fear what they understand; they fear the unknown. In the place of solid facts, rumors take hold as truth, even if based in falseness. When everyone understands the common goal, then your chances of success increase significantly.

Recently, I was given the responsibility to completely overhaul the mail center for a corporation. Not make minor cosmetic changes, but to literally tear down and rebuild the mail center. Obviously, there was trepidation among the employees. Who would be told to move? Who would be replaced? And who would be laid off? Will we understand how to use the new equipment? What if we fail?

I immediately acknowledged these concerns, and met face-to-face with the employees. We discussed the plans for the coming year. I informed them that management would look for volunteers for the new positions, and would provide training. With the "unknown" out of the way, the employees could concentrate on their jobs and successfully moved into a radically changed mail center.

Reserve Discipline

For any organization to succeed there must be a set of rules that are followed by everyone. Also, there must be consequences for not following those rules. As a former military officer, I fully support respect for authority, and adherence to standards. But, as General Dennis Reimer, U.S. Army (Ret), describes in his book, Soldiers Are Our Credentials, "Discipline is not the fear of punishment for doing something wrong, but a faith in the value of doing something right."

Fear is the least successful motivator. While some people will only follow rules because of what will happen if they don’t. Most do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

You must ensure that all rules are equitable, and evenly enforced. Don’t let someone violate a dress code because he’s a nice guy, or she’s a good worker. While it’s great to praise in public, you should critique in private. When dealing with a problem, take that staff member to an office or conference room where you can discuss the problem away from the other employees.

Increase Education

I saw a bumper sticker that read, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance". Nowhere does that hold more true than in a production environment. Your employees can’t be expected to perform their jobs properly if you don’t provide them with the training to do so. Training extends beyond machine operators to supervisors and managers.

Most companies have training programs; make sure you take advantage of these. Talk to your human resources managers about what courses would be best for your staff. Also, become involved with local industry associations, like the Mail Systems Management Association (MSMA) and the Postal Customer Council (PCC). The association meetings and trade shows are doubly effective. Not only will your staff attend training, they’ll also meet with peers and learn the power of networking.

Give serious consideration to one-on-one mentoring. You should reach out to people who have shown they can do more, and offer them opportunities to grow professionally. If they don’t know help is available, then how can they take advantage of it? Often, you can reduce high turnover simply by training, re-training, and re-assigning the duties of your current staff.

Distribute Rewards Based Upon Merit

It’s only human nature that we enjoy the company of some people more than others. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as we don’t let it get in the way of our effectiveness as managers. Favoritism breeds contempt, and leads to a decrease in morale.

It’s important that you say "thank you" publicly. Walk over and shake an employee’s hand for a job well done. And make sure you mean it--insincerity is easily detected. False praise causes more harm than no praise at all.

Use tangible awards whenever possible. A reward isn’t always measured in large dollar amounts; it could be something as small as buying lunch. Ensure that there are group awards for group efforts. If your loading dock crew worked hard to get everything done, let the entire staff participate in the reward. Throw a pizza party on a Friday afternoon. Or buy everyone company shirts to reinforce PRIDE in a job well done.

Enjoy Your Job

Hey, lighten up! Sure, you put in long hours, and often feel undervalued and overworked. But you do work in a great profession with some great employees. We started out talking about your employee’s behavior, but what about your own? Are you enjoyable to work with? No one wants to work for an ogre (at least no one I know).

Your attitude sets the tone for the entire workplace. If you show up unmotivated and undisciplined, your shop will reflect that. Your work habits set the standards that your employees will follow. You must come prepared each day to show that you care about doing the best you can. Again, as General Reimer explains in his book, "Leadership is fairly simple…it requires us to know the details of our profession, to truly care and focus on our soldiers, and to lead by example."

Don’t worry about the occasional bad day--you have plenty of time to make up for that. It’s important not to dwell on those moments, but seize the next opportunity to change the tide. Learn from your mistakes, and then move on. Every day is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform at the best of your ability.

You’re not going to turn every employee into a superstar performer. But you can develop a cohesive team that is prepared to face the challenges of a production environment. By using PRIDE, you will instill pride in your shop. The result: Significant improvement in your staff’s performance, and in your customers’ satisfaction.

Operations Management

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