Lead by example. How you choose to handle problems in your shop is critical to both your success as a manager and the success of your business.
Sometimes our greatest challenges as shop owners or managers are not figuring out speeds and feeds, or selecting tooling, but rather who we have helping us in the shop. Our primary concerns typically revolve around keeping our customers happy, producing quality parts and meeting delivery dates. If everyone in the shop is doing their jobs, there shouldn’t be any issues, right? But what do you do when everyone isn’t doing their jobs? How do you manage the people?
Our employees are our most important asset; without them, we have no one to run our expensive equipment. So why does appropriately managing them seem to be a very minor, overlooked detail, especially in smaller companies? All too often, employees are scolded, shamed, or even yelled or screamed at. Maybe the management styles we choose deserve some consideration. Maybe we should think twice about how we, as managers, conduct ourselves in stressful situations. After all, if our employees aren’t happy, things could get dysfunctional pretty quickly.
Personally, I have tried to adopt the approach of treating other shop personnel as I wish to be treated. Whether they are mopping the floor or programming parts, everyone’s job is important to the functionality of the company. A manager’s first reaction to an employee’s mistake might be to get upset and snap at that person. However, it is important in that moment to take the situation in stride and look at the bigger picture, to be tactful, and to remember that that employee is there to help the company. I wouldn’t want to be yelled at if I make a mistake. The last thing I want to do is overreact when someone else makes a mistake only to have that person later resent me because I flew off the handle. Long term, this “screamer” approach just seems to create more problems, or maybe even worse, establishes a reputation that I would not be proud of.
I like to take the “more-flies-with-honey” approach. Often when someone makes a serious mistake, the immediate result is consequence enough, and yelling at that person isn’t going to fix anything.
For example, I recently had a new operator running a job. The program included an M00 code with instructions to move some clamps to a different location on the part before pressing cycle start again. After switching the clamps at the M00, the new operator had accidentally pushed reset and then cycle start, and this sequence ended up destroying a very expensive face mill.
Though I was initially and immediately upset, I had to remind myself that this was a new employee and his experience was limited. I could tell by his urgent and panicked reaction to hearing the face mill crash that he was also upset with himself. Rather than blowing up at him, I took a deep breath and proceeded to show him exactly what had gone wrong. We looked at the M00 command within the program and the related comments that told the operator to switch the clamps and push only cycle start, not reset, to move on in the program. Although this new operator had successfully run several parts prior to this crash, he was scared to continue running the job, which confirmed to me that making the mistake was punishment enough and reassured me that I had done the right thing by not yelling at him. I explained that, in the future, if he was ever unsure about a task, he should not be afraid to come ask me a question before proceeding.
I think it’s safe to say most of us learn best by doing. Naturally, making mistakes is part of the learning process. The key is that we learn from our mistakes. When employees make repeat mistakes to the point that I feel the need to step in to confront them, I look at it as an opportunity to teach them something and give them the tools to be self-sufficient rather than a situation that warrants me scolding them. Not only is this a very nonconfrontational approach to addressing a problem, but it fosters a more positive learning environment for everyone. I certainly don’t want anyone to be afraid of asking a question, because if they are asking, it means they care enough to want to know the correct way to do something. I tell my employees that I would rather they ask me 1,000 seemingly stupid questions than make one mistake. There is no place for ego in the workplace, only learning.
I have always believed that the way to be a good leader is to set a good example. If you want people to learn how to do something, don’t tell them how to do it, show them. How you choose to handle problems with employees can be critical to your success as a manager. Management style often seems to be an overlooked detail. If you are a business owner, you probably already know that managing means doing a lot of things for which you didn’t necessarily sign up. Go the extra mile to make sure your employees are happy and you are treating them right. It doesn’t take much to keep them happy. You’ll be surprised how much more your employees will do for you if you treat them as they should be treated.
About the Author
Albert is the owner of Machined Concepts LLC, a Chicago-area production CNC machine shop. More at machinedconcepts.com.