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Five tips for leading your manufacturing team through a crisis

As you and your leadership team respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, you can think of this as an opportunity to improve your manufacturing team culture. Take this opportunity to invest in people, and you will have a stronger employee culture on the other side.

“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou

Here are a five tips for strengthening your culture during the crisis:

Be calm.

Distraction in manufacturing leads to safety and quality incidents. There is a lot of uncertainty right now, and your employees are feeling the crunch just like you are. While you are thinking about payroll and schedules, you have control in a lot of those decisions.

Your employees feel the same pressure but have none of the control. They are scared and anxious. Everyday is a rollercoaster for them. They are looking at you to determine how they should act. If you are panicking and out of control, they will do the same thing.

Project confidence and calmness, and your employees will be able to focus better on the work right now.

> Specific idea: Have a safety huddle at the beginning of every shift specifically focused on recognizing distraction and adjusting behaviors to stay safe amidst the chaos.

Be empathetic.

This sounds so simple, but sometimes we get caught up in profits and productivity and we forget that employees are people first. Before you speak, listen to the employee first. Hear their concerns and their frustrations.

Most people truly just want to be heard and understood. They know you can’t solve all the problems that they are going to bring up, but they want to know that you care and that you are trying to support them first as people and second as employees.

> Specific idea: The manufacturing floor can be too noisy to have a conversation without getting within 6 feet of someone, so stop employees in the hallway (or quieter area where you can stay 6 feet away and still hear them) and ask them how they are doing personally.

Be human.

You are going to roll out policies and procedures that will significantly impact every employee. From their paycheck to their ability to interact with others at work, their daily lives are changed at work. They want to hear from you, and they want you to explain it in your own words.

If you cut the HR script for a minute and try to explain to employees “why” you are making these decisions, you will be more respected. They are looking for a strong leader who is a human and not a robot.

> Specific idea: When you hear rumblings about a new policy or decision, address it head on to employees as soon as possible. Explain “why” and offer to chat with anyone about the change.

Be open.

Rather than sitting the leadership team in a room and coming up with a plan of attack, propose questions to people in your workforce and ask them how they would respond. Be open to their ideas.

When you hear something that is a good idea, make sure to give credit to that person and share the idea as from the employee rather than “from the leadership team.” This helps enroll people in the solution rather than making them feel like the solution was cast down on them. They have great ideas, and you can only find those ideas if you ask for them.

> Specific idea: take one problem you haven’t solved yet and ask a few front-line workers who are “experts” in this area about their ideas to solve the problem. Ask questions to understand their ideas.

Be present.

You must lead by example in this time in order to strengthen your culture. If you are asking employees to do something, you should be there with them. Show them that you are willing to stand beside them (or 6ish feet away from them) and do the thing you are asking them to do.

It may seem easy to say, "well we don’t want to be there because we are adding more risk of infection." While that is true, you will want to balance that concern with the concern that employees will feel left alone and unsupported. See if you can strike a balance between being absent and being present without increasing transmission risk significantly.

> Specific idea: Communicate your schedule to people and let them know how to get in contact with you if they can’t find you in person.

These are some suggestions of how you can improve your team culture with your leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic. Share these tips with your leaders to remind them of some of the behaviors they can do to strengthen their organization in the midst of a crisis.


Other posts you might enjoy:

Read more about manufacturing leadership: 5 things your manufacturing leaders should be doing everyday

Read more about do-it-yourself digital transformations: Do Digital Transformations have to be so expensive?

Read more about focusing teams on the most important goals: Did you win today?

Jennifer Biggs
Jennifer Biggs
Jennfier has a passion for leading and motivating teams through cultural transformations. She believes that people come to work everyday to be great. Through her operational experience at P&G Manufacturing, she has seen the true potential of an engaged and empowered team. She joined Ampogee in 2018 after 7 years of Manufacturing Operations experience. She has an Executive MBA from UNC Chapel Hill and a BS in Chemical Engineering from NC State University.

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