Connecting the dots

Precasters striving to connect the dots between production and management personnel should involve their production supervisors in the process, according to Chase, who says these individuals play an essential role in a smooth-running plant. “Production supervisors should also maintain good housekeeping, safety, and quality,” Chase says. Where many of them fall short, however, is in the management tactics and skills – something they didn’t necessarily learn while working on the plant floor, where many supervisors get their start. “They need training on how to interact with the employees that they’re overseeing and help understanding the difference between their past and current responsibilities,” Chase says.

The opposite scenario can also pose challenges, according to Gustavo Gonzalez, president of Safe-T At Work LLC in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Some managers have never been involved in the production process and don’t understand the basic fundamentals behind it,” Gonzales points out. Or they limit their presence on the floor to a short walk in the morning to reassure themselves that everything is running. “Some are good at reading reports and figures, but lack the basic concept of how to mix concrete. Others rely on the plant superintendent or manager to keep them informed.”

Gonzalez says bridging the gap between production and management is not an issue that is unique to precasters. It impacts every business enterprise that wants to find continuity in its operations. “If we as precasters do not produce a consistent product – with built-in quality, in an efficient manner, and delivered on time – the organization plainly ceases to exist,” Gonzalez says. “Management and production are in place to complement each other in their respective functions, and this is a relationship that should be based on trust and effective communication.” Karen Gureghian, a Minneapolis-based HR consultant, says the key to building these relationships is communication. For example, she’s seen manufacturing companies set up television monitors in the production break area and then use the displays to disseminate regular updates on new accounts, business developments, company performance, and company news. Setting up regular employee meetings – either formal or informal – where current and relevant information can be shared between departments is another step in the right direction. “You want constant communication back and forth between employees and the management team,” Gureghian says. “This really helps to bridge the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

Overcoming the hurdles

If building relationships between management and production is on your company’s to-do list for 2013, expect the effort to be met with skepticism – at least initially. “That skepticism will be the first hurdle as management works to convince production that this isn’t some new fad or experiment,” Gonzalez says. As mentioned earlier, building trust should be the first step, as it will allow managers to “walk the walk” and serve as proper role models, he adds.

Next, figure out if your company actually has a problem in this area, and whether top and supervisory managers recognize the issue – or not. If they don’t, getting them to cooperate and become engaged with any new initiative will be difficult at best. “If management doesn’t think it has a relationship problem, then any other step or strategy will be useless,” Gonzalez warns. “The first questions to ask are: Do I really know what is going on at my plant? Can I step into the plant and recognize if we have a problem or not? If the answer to these questions is no, then it is time to take a Concrete Production 101 course,” he adds.

When and if management recognizes that there is a relationship problem, Gonzalez says the next step is for those personnel to educate themselves in the production process and understand the issues that may or may not affect the bottom line of the business. “They need to participate, get involved, listen to the production personnel, and try to find solutions together,” he advises.

Establishing two-way lines of communication will be another key step for most manufacturers, particularly those who haven’t historically cultivated such conduits. “One-way communication may be effective between kings and servants, but it has outlived its purpose,” Gonzalez says. “To be most effective, management must listen to the feedback from production and react accordingly. Money is not made behind a desk in a fancy office, but it is made pouring concrete in the forms.”