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The Millennial Production “Explosion”?

It’s no secret that this “new workforce” is unlike any we’ve ever seen. It seems like everything outside of Snapchat and Clash of Clans is torture for them. Their noses are buried in their phones, ALL OF THE TIME. A question I keep hearing is, “how do I hire and train employees to manufacture in this new economy, with this new type of employee?” 

In Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle Is the Way, he states, “The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.” So how do we turn this seemingly unfavorable employee market on it’s head?

Employees that are even marginally unhappy at work can be a liability, adding incalculable expenses and eliminating opportunities. They tend to complete tasks more slowly than normal, finish jobs poorly, use more sick days, have negative interactions with customers, have higher rates of turnover, and negatively affect the overall morale of the rest of the group. Rather than fighting against the new reality of our workforce, smart companies are instead turning those weaknesses into strengths, and into new explosions of productivity. With a little tweaking you can turn this new generation of woodworkers into a powerhouse group, instead of “kicking against the pricks”.

It’s typical to look to machinery and processes for increasing output. It’s “easy” to buy a machine, or to move tools across the shop. Though legitimate things to scrutinize, employee allocation and optimization is a low hanging fruit that you can unleash with just a few adjustments, and it dovetails nicely with this challenge of Millennial workers. Even if you have “old dogs” at your shop, the workplace demands from this millennial generation are conditions that can transfer to virtually anyone, and as a bonus “old dogs” typically see them as perks. 

Just managing your employees in the traditional HR/administrative way is not enough if you want your employees to thrive, and business to explode. There is ample evidence to demonstrate that happy and engaged employees are far more productive. In a world where your employees love their jobs, you make more money and everyone is happier. If it’s such a no-brainer, what has to happen?

1. Be open to new ideas

Your paradigm about how the world was, and should continue to be, has to be open to change. Change is a scary word that few like, but it’s the reality of the situation. You’re not going to change a generation, no matter how much you fight it. You have two options, be miserable about it or leverage it. 

2. Respect the differences and recognize the strengths

Is your workforce “lazier” than you were at their age? Are they entitled, selfish, and impatient? In order to leverage this new generation you’ll have to understand, empathize, recognize, and even respect the reality of their situation and the talents they have. They’ve never had to find a payphone, stand up to change the channel, go hungry, or wait for a movie. While it may be hard to empathize with these “1st world problems”, it makes it easy to see why these things can also be leveraged as strengths. 

Their disdain for waiting in line can make them amazing customer service reps. Their constant critique can make them great craftsmen. Their impatience can lead to unbelievable flow improvements.  As long as you respect them, and don’t expect them to fit into the old mold, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised.   

3. It’s not all about the money

It’s not uncommon for managers to think that they’d have to throw more money at their staff to make them happy, but strangely enough, money is NOT the top motivator, especially for the emerging generation. In a world of abundance, what do a few dollars an hour matter? Don’t get me wrong, we all pay the same amount for a sandwich. But assuming the employee has enough to cover their expenses, and you’ve correctly placed them in a compensation category for the skill set they have, it’s really not about nickels and dimes.

4. Pay them in the currency they value

The new generation values autonomy, independence, recognition, and freedom more than any before them. They grew up making their own meals in a microwave, making and posting their own videos on YouTube, and measuring success by the number of “likes” they get on their latest post. They’ve only known a world of instant, fast, free, and unlimited choice. If you think you’re going to pay them a dollar an hour more, in exchange for engagement, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. 

Instead, pay them in the “free” currency they appreciate more. Give them responsibility and get out of their way. Let them (help) set expectations, schedules, compensation, and consequences. 

In a world where 1,000 people will instantly see what they are eating for dinner (and not care), attention is a “new currency”. Recognize your employees in front of others for the good that they do, and they’ll recognize it for the raise that it is. 

If you have flexibility with schedules (and you probably have more than you think), why not leverage it as a currency? Remember, the “workday” as we know it has only been around for a few generations. Can you allow your employees more autonomy with their schedule in return for retention and satisfaction, which leads to production increases? Who wouldn’t trade a schedule adjustment for a 20% increase in productivity?  

5. Don’t expect the old way to work

The world is nothing like it was 20 years ago, and if you try to pound a round peg into a square hole, you’ll have to pound hard, take off edges, and eventually lose the peg. The longer you hold fast to your expectations, needing to fit someone in your mold, the older your workforce will grow. 

6. Ask them and be open

In case you have no idea where to start, you might consider handing out an anonymous survey to your employees to get an idea of how they how they feel about their environment and what they’d like to see changed. This is especially helpful if you have more than a handful of employees, as it can be hard to get a feel for the desires of a large group. You can then use your data to guide your decision making process.

What do they want? Some of the circumstances that keep employees happy include: feeling their job is important and that they’re making a difference, they’re appreciated, they’re given responsibility and autonomy, they have open communication with managers, and they’re given the freedom to be innovative and suggest new ideas.

An actual example of a company that has taken these steps is a large Northern Utah cabinet door manufacturer, Lewis Cabinet Specialties, Inc. They’ve implemented these types of changes and have seen incredible returns. 

Some of the things they’ve done include giving everyone audio devices with accounts so that they can listen to self-help and educational books on the job. A raffle ticket is given for each finished book and a nice prize is given out at each staff meeting. They’ve had all employees take a personally test and posted the personality types all over the shop, along with instructions on the best way to deal with each personality type. Hiring an HR representative that they call the ‘dream manager’ is probably the cherry on top of the employee satisfaction initiative. He is there to keep track of how everyone is doing, run all the previously mentioned practices and has become a person the staff trusts with any issues they may have.

Since carrying out this initiative in March, the company has seen higher quality work and fewer customer issues. There has been less employee drama, and several people have recently turned down higher paying jobs elsewhere because they feel cared for where they are now. The most impressive thing that has happened is the increase in throughput. The company has been breaking it’s own records nearly every month since implementation- and all without increasing lead times.

7. Take action

Don’t waste your time, be proactive. Cultivating motivation will need to start with you. Be a leader who is a good example of excitement and positive attitude. Listen to your workforce and leverage them so that you all get what you want. Your job as a leader is to bring it all together, and nothing will change without action!

New management methods can be a struggle to implement initially, but an even bigger struggle is having a new workforce that you aren’t getting the best work from. Dig into some of these new ideas, buckle down, and you’re sure to see positive returns.

Millennials and “old dogs” alike thrive when using a system that connects everyone in the company to a central purpose, puts them on the same page, and can be accessed from anywhere. Allmoxy is the woodworking industry’s choice, and is free!

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