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Keeping Employees Engaged is Critical

A diverse group representing everything from local manufacturers to the community college listened to a presentation from Kari Penca and a panel of local experts Tuesday.

Penca, a consultant with the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, teamed up with representatives of Express Employment Professionals, Meggitt Polymers and Composites and Freelin-Wade. The session, part of the Achieving Operational Excellence Series conducted by the McMinnville Economic Development Partnership, focused on the topic, “Engaging Your Workforce.”

Penca began by asking the group what a good definition was for engagement on the part of employees. She suggested it includes believing in the company, infusing the workplace with passion and energy, and fostering innovation.

She noted a comprehensive Gallup poll, which included 17 million employees over a 30 year time span, showed that truly engaged employees only account for about 28 percent of the workforce. Those showing up mainly just for the paycheck, thus getting by with minimum effort, account for 54 percent.

“They do what you ask, but they’re not doing a whole lot more,” said Penca.

The remaining 18 percent are the truly alienated, she said. They are actively disruptive and resistant.

Penca said companies with the highest level of employee engagement excel in virtually every measure of performance.  She said engaged employees help in all aspects of company results.

She cited 12 elements workers are looking for, paraphrased from “First, Break All the Rules.” The top three are clear job expectations, the materials and equipment to do the job right and the opportunity to do their best every day.

Surprisingly, compensation is not on the list. “People want to know they’re being competitively compensated, but it’s more about the environment,” Penca said. 

She emphasized using visual aspects, such as charts available for all the staff to see, to highlight the work process. It can signal to employees if they are running ahead or behind on productivity or if there is an abnormality or problem.

“If people can see the problem, they can solve it,” Penca said. “People are natural problem solvers.” 

She also suggested short daily meetings, no longer than 10 minutes, to review issues and focus on finding and solving problems, both in the daily workflow and in processes. 

Penca said that the company’s leaders should get out and conduct what she termed a “Gemba Walk.” She said it is an important part of engaging employees and developing them, and provide an opportunity to show that you care.

Three panel members concluded the 90-minute session.

Stevie Whited, owner of the McMinnville office of Express Employment Professionals, said employers need to have a clear recruitment and retention plan with a detailed job description as a key component. For her company, that can help tremendously in matching them with a quality staff member.

“If you have five people equally qualified, to get you the right person depends on your culture,” Whited said. She noted that while some companies are quiet, others are energetic and accept different kinds of people.

Christine Watson of McMinnville’s Freelin-Wade summarized her company’s “onboarding process.”

She said that in hiring, they work exclusively with Express, so everyone begins as a temporary employee. They spend six months before they’re even considered for a permanent spot.

Orientation is done upfront. For the first month, weekly evaluations are conducted, in writing, based on five criteria: attendance, safety, quality, quantity and behavior.

From that point on, all employees are given a monthly evaluation.

With 100 employees, that can be a task. But the company finds it worthwhile. 

Employing LEAN manufacturing processes for at least 10 years, Watson said, the company works toward having as short a time as possible from the point of ordering to the time of payment. It wants staff to always want to do “the next right thing.”

Another emphasis is “creativity before capital.” Watson said that they want brains used before spending money. And, when something does go wrong, they look at the process, not the people.

Jeremy Lodge of Meggitt Polymers and Composites, a McMinnville aerospace manufacturer, said company business has increased 26 percent in the midst of a recession.

“Our biggest challenge is people,” Lodge said. He said that the company works to empower its employees, and to do that, it needs the right people.

The company’s senior management teams have been working to identify potential future managers and put them on a fast track. He said they recognize that the here and now is fine, but the future is more important.

“We’ve always realized the local schools don’t have manufacturing pathways,” said Lodge. However, his company is working with the Yamhill-Carlton School District to develop a manufacturing curriculum. 

That will help the company develop potential employees. 

“For us, it’s two to five years down the road,” Lodge said. “We’re looking ahead continually, all the time.” 

Concluding the session, MEDP Director Jody Christensen said of the panel members, “These people and companies tend to be very aggressive and innovative. They don’t stop because of a problem. 

It’s, how do we solve it? They jump in and address it.”

By Molly Walker
Of the News-Register 


McMinnville Economic Development Partnership.
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