November 22, 2021

A Humanist Manufacturing Lens

As long as humans have existed, so have philosophers who espouse society's need to integrate humanist principles. Given the current manufacturing state, the time may never have better to do so in this industry sector.
An Expanded Role for Manufacturing

Global wellbeing is suffering from environmental and social harm. Unfortunately, the manufacturing industry has caused a portion of the damage. Some plants operations have poor working conditions, are overconsuming natural resources, polluting the environment, and chasing lower wages in third-world countries.  While these and other challenges are real, and just a few of many more, I see solutions to these issues that can create opportunities for groups that have been largely unseen or acknowledged as legitimate actors to date. Thus, an opportunity exists to create a more desirable vision of manufacturing that can help to improve our world.

Too Much Human Suffering

Too many people around the globe are currently unable to meet their basic human needs. In addition, there is a significant financial strain on 3.3 billion people – or forty percent – of the global population living on $5.50 or less per day (per the World Bank Group  in October of 2020).

A Stressed Environment

Earth Overshoot Day  is an organization that calculates the day each year when the global demand exceeds the available ecological resources and services. The date for 2021 was July 29th. This exhibits a gross imbalance of supply and demand that is unsustainable long-term.  The poor are the most harmed.

An Employment Gap Crisis

In addition to these issues, the manufacturing industry is facing a wide range of its own challenges. For example, a recent report  projects 2.1 million jobs will go unfilled by 2030, a potential negative impact of one trillion dollars that year alone. Moreover, the current case will become even more pressing with the expected retirement of 2.6 million baby boomers in the coming decade.  

Employee Disengagement

One of the findings of the Gallup State of the American Workforce report was that employee engagement is at 33% in the United States, which is startlingly low compared to the 70% result for the world's best companies. In the U.S., 16% of employees are actively disengaged. With only 33% engaged, that leaves 51% of the workforce existing in a state of just being present. My goal is to develop a framework that a company can adopt to inspire the entire force to become more fully engaged in their work.

The Extraordinary Power of Caring

While researching to develop a new vision to guide the building of a new manufacturing framework, I became aware of Bob Chapman  through the book he coauthored of Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family. His moment of renewed insight occurred when Chapman acquired a company in 1997. When the purchase was official, he visited the plant. Chapman observed employees consuming coffee in the break area. The people were excitedly chatting about March Madness but became emotionally and physically drained as the time neared to begin the workday. Finally, Chapman asked himself, "Why can't work be fun?" A series of experimental competitions ensued at a series of multiple acquisitions, leading to inspiring results.  The investment of significant time and energy culminated in the development of a highly successful and sustainable Guiding Principles of Leadership where "We measure success by the way we touch the lives of people."

Photo by Polina Kovaleva from Pexels
A Golden Opportunity

Building on my own experience in the manufacturing sector and my research, we are missing a golden opportunity to maximize human potential, elevating the entire organization's performance. Done collectively in the industry, each community, region, and collectively the world is a better place for all. As I further evolved my thinking, it led to what I am calling humanist manufacturing. An approach that I believe will attract vital employees and also be "fun." Since manufacturing is a generally recognizable term, I will now introduce the humanist philosophy.

Humanists recognize that it is only when people feel free to think for themselves, using reason as their guide, that they are best capable of developing values that succeed in satisfying human needs and serving human interests. - Isaac Asimov
Why a Humanist Approach?

As I considered the naming of my framework, the word "Human" stood out from Chapman's Truly Human Leadership. A Google search led to humanism, where further research led to discovering the Ten Commitments of Living Humanist Values image. The content resonated with me, and I felt that it should guide my work.  We will explore the first five commitments this week of:

1. Altruism - I will help others in need without hoping for rewards. – Imagine the world if each person had a selfless concern for others while working to improve their wellbeing without expecting something in return. One where the welfare of others was a driving force to reinforce healthy connections to create better internal plant operations that supported thriving communities and collectively a better world.

2. Critical Thinking - I will practice good judgment by asking questions and thinking for myself. – There appears to be an increasing scarcity of critical thinking in the world. In addition, society faces a growing onslaught of information and misinformation. Therefore, a needed approach is to critically evaluate the available information, use reason to develop proper judgment, develop alternative solutions, and ultimately select the one that will most efficiently and effectively solve the issue in question.

3. Empathy - I will consider other people's thoughts, feelings, and experiences. – Individuals that are empathetic work at imagining what the other person is facing. In essence, stepping outside of ourselves and trying to experience what Gallup defines as The Five Essential Elements of Wellbeing of career, community, financial, physical, and social wellbeing.

4. Environmentalism - I will take care of the Earth and the life on it. – The manufacturing industry can play a significant role in creating a healthier global environment. Companies can develop Cradle to Cradle design to develop processes and products that do significantly less environmental harm. Plant operations that desire to adopt a regenerative production model would benefit from reading the Lessons for the Future: The Interface guide to changing the world.    

5. Ethical Development - I will always focus on becoming a better person.  – As children, we are introduced to the concepts of cooperation, fairness, and sharing. As we mature, there is an opportunity to continue to evolve our ethical development. We can continually adapt and rebuild our moral frameworks as we learn more about the world and our responsibility to develop into better human beings constantly.

I know from my own experience that working for an employer that embraced only these first five commitments would have created a more favorable work experience for me.

Key Takeaway

The planet on which we live requires changes that will move us from a mindset of winners and losers. For example, the manufacturing industry is facing significant challenges in attracting and retaining employees. However, an evolving humanist manufacturing framework can lead to better plant operations, thriving communities, and collectively a better world.

First Step

Calls to inject humanism into business are not new, as found in the article Business Does Not Need the Humanities — But Humans Do. Carvaka, Confucius, Gautama, and Socrates are just a few historical figures espousing humanism or humanistic thought.  What is different at this point is that we are living in challenging times. The younger generations want to be proud of their company, feel that their employer cares about them, and align their values and those of the organization where they are employed. When employees feel valued, proud, and protected, not only their productivity but their creativity soars – they rise above expectations and become themselves engines of a company's innovation, growth, and profitability.

My Gratitude

I appreciate those that are coming behind me in the workforce. While the research tells us we need to change our approach to manufacturing, there are too few companies making the required changes, as seen in the 33% employee engagement result from the Gallup report. Our newer members entering the business world expect our companies to "do the right thing," or they will go elsewhere. If a manufacturing wishes to continue to exist, it will need to integrate humanist principles into its organizations.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will continue to share the balance of the ten humanist commitments.

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Cover Image Credit: Pixabay

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