The pressure on today’s workforce is considerable. COVID-19 has introduced new challenges. There are new rules about social distancing and personal protective equipment (PPE) gear. Workers may be dealing with changes to equipment and floor plan layouts to ensure a safe workplace. All of this means new responsibilities and heightened expectations of supervisors in the manufacturing setting.
Supervisors need new leadership skills to ensure their teams can deal successfully with the many changes they are facing. A method known as Training Within Industry (TWI) is particularly viable in today’s volatile business environment. The TWI Job Relations component prescribes how to treat people as individuals in order to develop and maintain good relations and prevent problems.
Four Foundations of Building Good Relations
Supervisors may at first be uncomfortable with the idea of striving for “good relations” with their employees. The concept is not about a personal relationship, but about techniques for enabling productive and bi-directional interactions and communication between the supervisors and their employees. The focus is on developing patterns of thinking and acting that can be used to find opportunities for improvement every day.
There are four foundations for guiding supervisors to create a team culture characterized by good relations.
- Let workers know how they are doing: Figure out what you expect of the employee, and when needed, make a habit of pointing out ways to improve in real time rather than waiting for a later opportunity.
- Give credit and praise when warranted: Look for the extra effort or unusual performance, and share that with both the employee and the entire team. Make a practice of doing so in the moment rather than at a later time. Don’t wait for the formal performance review cycle to provide feedback.
- Communicate in advance about changes that will affect employees: This is not always possible, but make it a priority to communicate what you know as soon as you are able to share. Work with them to understand and accept the change.
- Make best use of each person’s ability: Look for abilities not being used. If they have talent and skills that could be useful in the organization, seek out ways to use them. Also, never stand in an employee’s way to excel, even if that means taking a different direction or position in the company.
Treat People as Individuals
Employees bring more to the job than the work they do. They come to work every day with experiences and perspectives that make them unique from others on the team. The best supervisors are the ones who take time to see the whole person. This means learning about non-work aspects like their family, background, health and more. Being able to understand the employee as an individual helps if problems occur.
Prescription for Problem-Solving
Even the best supervisors can find themselves faced with on-the-job problems that must be addressed. When asked, nearly all supervisors point to “people problems” as being their least favorite part of the job. Having a foundation of good relations makes the problem-solving process easier. The TWI Job Relations methodology outlines a four-step approach for how to handle on-the-job problems.
- Get the facts: Take time to get the whole story. Collect the facts and review the record. Talk to the people involved. Find out what rules and customs apply.
- Weigh and decide: Don’t jump to conclusions. Fit the facts together, and consider their bearings on each other. Determine options for actions to take. Consider implications for the individual as well as the group and production.
- Take action: Decide if you are suited to handle this yourself. You may need help – from your own supervisor or another department. Provide guidance about the timing of the action.
- Circle back and check results: Follow-up is important. Think about when and how often you will check in. Ask, “Did our action help production?” Be on the watch for changes in output, attitudes and relationships.
Job Relations Outcomes
The TWI Job Relations methodology prevents problems from occurring within the team and, if problems arise, provides the tools to create positive results. Other outcomes are improved retention rates, and a positive and engaged work culture built on trust and teamwork.
CMTC is the MEP Center based in California. Southeast Wisconsin’s MEP center is WMEP Manufacturing Solutions.