As company leaders, I suggest that part of our responsibility is to maximize the potential of our workforce. Yet, reflecting on my career, I cannot think of many situations where an employer put me in a position to reach that ideal state. Therefore, I speculate that my case is not that different from most employees. So, what is the current state of the waste of human potential?
The Gallup State of the American Workforce report supports increasing employee morale. Unfortunately, American workforce engagement is at 33%, startlingly low compared to the 70% result for the world's best companies. In the US, 16% of employees experience active disengagement. With only 33% engaged, that leaves 51% of the workforce just being present. We are significantly disadvantaged when two-thirds of the American workforce is not engaged in their work. The results are worse in manufacturing, with only 25% of employees experiencing workplace engagement. We should look for successful examples for those who question whether factory workers can be highly committed to their job.
"Potential is a priceless treasure, like gold. All of us have gold hidden within, but we have to dig to get it out." – Joyce Meyer
I like the reference in the quote to gold as it relates to maximizing potential as a mining concept. A mother lode is a vein or zone with abundant precious metal. You can be digging a few yards away and find only gravel. However, you are unearthing pure gold if you hit the mother lode. In the mining process, whether separating the gold from rock or bringing out the best of our employees' capabilities that may be holding them back, we only want to mine what is most precious within the members of our organizations.
As I worked through writing my book that will come out in January of 2023, the word "Human" stood out for me from Bob Chapman's Truly Human Leadership approach. Building on my experience in the manufacturing sector, my research, and the success of those like Bob Chapman, we are missing a golden opportunity to maximize the human potential that can elevate the entire organization's performance. Done collectively in the industry, each community, region, and collectively the world can be a better place for all. As I further evolved my thinking, it led to what I am calling humanist manufacturing. I believe an approach will attract vital employees and be "fun."
The state of flow is where we are wholly absorbed in our work, which I see as necessary to be in a condition of fun. Each organization must develop a work culture that resonates with the desire of stakeholders to enthusiastically embrace the company's vision, mission, and values. Once identified, the leadership team needs to develop a communication plan that articulates the identified opportunity to share the results from success and the consequences of failure. The work requires a delicate balance of "optimal tension" if we are to maximize the overall potential of an organization.
We will first explore the concept of optimal tension as a mechanical principle. Many machines use a belt and pulley system to turn various shafts. Individuals who have opened their vehicle's hood will see a serpentine belt. The crankshaft typically drives a belt that turns the air conditioning compressor, alternator, power steering pump, and water pump. The proper operation relies on tensioning the belt at a level that is tight enough not to slip but not so tight that it puts too much side load on any shafts. The belt has a tensioned side where the drive shaft pulls the belt, and there is a small amount of slack on the opposite side.
We can apply the belt example to maximize the potential of a workforce. The drive pulley is the leadership of an organization. The motor's RPMs turning the drive pulley are equivalent to setting the organization's pace and torque is the change intensity level. Like the automotive components in the above example, the pulleys are generally different diameters designed to create an ideal performance level for the individuals in each department. Furthermore, the belt's tight side can equate to the need to pull some people along, while the slack side would be those that will follow the lead. Ultimately, to create the highest potential for maximum potential, the organization needs to design a plan that fits the varied needs, first of each workforce member and then collectively by unit and the company as a whole. The ultimate objective is to achieve the highest possible level of organizational synergy.
To achieve synergy, a genuine commitment to our people should be the heart of the business. Highly successful leaders like Bob Chapman of Barry-Wehmiller have fed this hunger for a people-centered leadership model. His "Why" is "focused on bringing out the best in its people through communication, trust, celebration, respect, continuous improvement, and responsible freedom." The results are extraordinary by all measures, but in particular, with their key focus on measuring success on "how we touch the lives of people."
The existing state of the waste of human potential is a golden opportunity to maximize an organization's performance. Building on the gold mine analogy, those who effectively prospect their employees best will create more significant company performance.
Individuals wanting a better understanding of the potential gold mine of human potential can read the State of the American Workplace report. Within the report, they suggest that a severe decline in national productivity in American companies can significantly improve by moving from one-third to two-thirds engaged employees. However, doing so will require us to visit how we currently care for our workforce.
I am grateful for the human-centered work of Bob Chapman. In 1975, he was suddenly thrust into leading a bottle-washing business on the edge of bankruptcy. The epiphany of adding the human element came in the early 2000s. The work began earnestly to "move from a me-centric culture to a we-centric culture." The succeeding twenty years have led to meaningful results. Chapman has taken a nearly bankrupt company and grown it to a $2 billion global business by acquiring 80 companies at 100 locations with 11,000 team members.
Next week's blog will move from setting the stage for why we should lessen the waste of human potential as it relates to humanist manufacturing and begin exploring strategies.
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