Are You Willing to Let Them Play?

This example of a low-pressure challenge demonstrates the value of giving employees a chance to succeed and stretch their talents.


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As revealed in our August issue, Micro-Matics is our 2013 Top Shops benchmarking survey Honors Program winner in the Human Resources category. Rick Paulson is the general manager of the Fridley, Minnesota, shop that leverages Swiss-type turning technology to produce complex parts for its customers. Mr. Paulson believes one of the keys to Micro-Matics’ success is the quality of its employees and the fact that many have been with the company longer than 15 years. He says the shop’s management team taps a variety of tools to both retain good employees and keep them engaged, ultimately enabling them to realize greater success in their manufacturing professions. But in addition to offering good pay and benefits, Mr. Paulson says it’s just as important to provide them with a healthy amount of training and mental stimulation, which invariably cultivates employees’ skillsets and grows their confidence.

A good example of this is a tricky medical component that one of Micro-Matics’ customers hoped the shop could produce. After reviewing the design, the engineering team determined that it wouldn’t be possible to effectively produce the part. They thanked the customer for the opportunity, but had to respectfully turn down the job. However, they received permission to keep the part print and gave a handful of employees the time and resources to develop a viable machining process for the part on their own. Because it wasn’t an actual production job and had no deadline, there was no pressure to ultimately succeed.

Eventually, though, that small group of employees figured out how to make the part. In time, the shop quoted the job and has produced several batches for its customer since then. Successes like this boost employee morale, Mr. Paulson notes. But even “unsuccessful,” low-pressure projects enable them to learn something new that could be applied to future complex tasks.

Mr. Paulson likens these experiments to industry seminars he sometimes has his employees attend. Although a seminar might run 8 hours, employees might take away only 15 minutes worth of information that can be applied to their jobs. However, that 15 minutes of education, once effectively put to use, can pay huge dividends over time, be it through unearthing cost savings, deriving a more efficient part-producing methodology, establishing a better way to track processes, implementing tactics to boost shop safety and so on.

Of course, it’s easy for me to suggest that a busy shop provide the time and means to nurture its employees in such ways. But if you give your employees the opportunities to succeed, they oftentimes will. And letting them play pays off.