March 5, 2023

Is Your Elephant Eating All the Resources and Crapping Everywhere?

A current theme in a search for issues facing manufacturing executives is the lack of skilled workers. Yet, my experience of recently visiting several plants shows that the workplace has changed little since my first year in 1979. If we are to attract and retain employees, we need to adapt to the needs of our younger generations.

As a thought leader, author, educator, and consultant on humanist manufacturing, I write a weekly article that benefits leaders who want to improve their organizations using elements of my Humanist Manufacturing framework.

Breaking the Status Quo

In a recent meeting, the industry's current state was shared with the company's employees.  The executive team shared a report from a consulting group that had assessed the industry's market.  I do not know the cost of engaging with this organization, but the status quo message they shared was not new information.  The industry media and trade publications have reported the same content for years. In addition, the organization regularly explained its challenges through many channels for a decade.  Yet a segment of the employee group still wants to resist accepting the need for change.    

"Such tensions are significant when the status quo is potentially lethal." —Chris Vognar
A Key Manufacturing Challenge

If you type "top issues facing manufacturing executives," you will get almost a million results.  A common theme in the first couple of pages is the lack of skilled workers.  Again, not something new to those in the industry as they have been battling this issue daily for many years, maybe decades.  Yet things seem to have changed little to the status quo, where what keeps young people from entering and staying in manufacturing remains.  In recent years I have visited several plants.  Most were dirty, had clutter lying around, had undesirable smells, were dimly lit, and had uncomfortable temperatures.

A Need for Significant Change

The unpleasant work settings I experienced would be enough to prevent potential employees from seriously considering a job offer from a manufacturing organization.  However, the challenges in attracting those in the Gen Z and younger millennials groups will require more significant change.  A Gallup report shares that this segment of the workforce tends to be ambivalent about their workplace, express feeling stress most of the time, cite burnout as the reason for leaving jobs, and are looking for the ideal employer.  They seek increases in pay and benefits, a more significant work-life balance, a higher level of well-being, working for an organization that embraces diversity and inclusion, and opportunities to accelerate their careers.

It is Challenging, But Necessary

The impetus for the founders of B Lab was to use the power of business to address society's critical challenges to support a B Corp community engaging in collective action.  As a result, last week, I offered the B Impact Assessment (BIA) as a tool for creating a workplace that attracts and retains a desirable workforce.  Furthermore, B Lab, the organization that oversees B Corp certification, is bringing forward version 7 of the BIA.  B Lab received similar feedback on what its stakeholders found necessary, which Gallup also found essential to Gen Z and younger millennials.  A sampling includes:

• Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion – Creating a just and equitable society by developing an inclusive and diverse workforce.

• Living Wages – A salary and benefits package that allows for a decent living for them and their families.

• Purpose – Our younger generations expect to work for organizations with a defined environmental or social impact that includes consideration of all internal and external stakeholders if we hope to counter their propensity toward ambivalence.

• Worker Empowerment – An opportunity to hold management accountable for meeting their expectations of an ability to accelerate their careers.

Organizations looking to attract and retain high-caliber employees must embrace adopting these higher expectations of our younger workforce members.  If not, investing time and resources to eliminate the less desirable working conditions seen in too many plant operations does not make sense. Instead, it will likely become another of the many abandoned factories that are a community eyesore across the United States.

Mike van Schoonderwalt on Pexels
One Bite at a Time

My experience has been that chaotic and cluttered companies are in perpetual firefighting mode.  Unfortunately, I tended to gravitate to those organizations during my nearly thirty years in manufacturing.  I later realized I had a bit of a hero complex where I thought I could save the company. Instead, I learned that if the owner does not know they are running the proverbial "three-ring circus," you will be the next person they would fire because you could not "turn water into wine" or "turn a sow's ear into a silk purse." So, keeping the analogies flying, my suggested approach to meaningful change is to set aside a small portion of the workforce to "eat the elephant one bite at a time." Otherwise, the elephant continues to eat up resources and crap everywhere.  Analogies aside, changing from the status quo to a highly desirable future workplace takes a well-developed plan and several years.

Key Takeaway

A current theme in a search for issues facing manufacturing executives is the lack of skilled workers.  Yet, my experience of recently visiting several plants shows that the workplace has changed little since my first year in 1979.  If we are to attract and retain employees, we need to adapt to the needs of our younger generations.

First Step

Those interested in better understanding Generation Z can download the Welcome to Generation Z report.  In addition, Deloitte's research provides good insight into this generation's impact on the future of work.  Yet, they see few companies are proactively planning to embrace this growing segment of our workforce.  On this webpage, they provide a link to the full report.

My Gratitude

I am grateful to our younger generations that expect more of organizations than to provide quality products or services.  Instead, they hold their employers to higher ethical practices and social impact.  As a result, they appear to embrace the change we need to see in the world.

Sneak Peek

Next week's blog will shift to the SOAR framework, a tool essential to the transition to humanist manufacturing.  

Additional Information  

To learn more about our work or read more blog posts, visit

I encourage you to read my book Humanist Manufacturing: A Humanitarian Approach to Excellence in High-Impact Plant Operations.  The paperback and eBook versions are now available at Amazon and many other booksellers.  You can also view the Humanist Manufacturing Book Launch to gain additional insight into the Humanist Manufacturing framework.

I invite you to join the Humanist Manufacturing Group on LinkedIn if you want to interact with others interested in the topic.

If you like what you have read, I invite you to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Contact me if you need help with the manufacturing support services of consulting, coaching, Fractional Chief Sustainability Officer, or training/reskilling at 734-664-9076.

See my virtual TEDx videos at Reinventing the Prison Industrial Complex and Humanist Manufacturing.

You can sign up for my newsletter or email me at Contact Me.

Cover Image Credit: Magda Ehlers on Pexels

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