With a new year fast approaching, I reached out to a few regional manufacturers to see what was on their minds as they begin to look out to 2020 and beyond. Some of the answers wouldn’t surprise anyone, but others were quite complicated and very mindful in our changing world and the Internet of Things (IoT).

To no great surprise, the most universal challenge remains in finding people, although I did get a sense that the employee availability market is improving for some. In most cases, “people” is defined as general labor as well as highly skilled, both of which are in high demand. Several of the people I talked with have tried many creative (and expensive) ways of attracting team members with mixed results.  Sign-on bonuses, immediate vesting programs, more vacation, subsidized childcare, referral incentives…the list goes on.. A number of my conversations on this topic were quite interesting and very insightful, as some leaders have decided to try to stop the madness of a wage war and turnover by focusing on their company culture and finding the right people for their teams.

The first part of this strategy is to take a hard and critical look inward and determine what the current culture is. Several people I spoke with realized that the current culture is not what they thought or wanted it to be. Examples include lack of pride, limited employee engagement, management transparency, recognition, and career development, just to name a few. Another interesting find is that when employees were asked about some of these issues, they responded that these and other non-salary factors had significant influence on their loyalty. The harsh reality is that even the greatest culture will not be the answer for all employees, but it may be key to attracting and retaining the “right” team members.

Yet another interesting nugget is that many leaders I talked with also indicated that innovation and automation are key to cultural enhancement. Contrary to what most people might think, when employees are included from the beginning in conversations around automation/robotics, they are not threatened, but more engaged and supportive. Additionally, oftentimes they have great suggestions for other ways to make process improvements. As the analysis and eventual implementation of automation occurs, the right team members will see this as an opportunity for additional training and career advancement. Not to mention, the company realizes a higher probability that the implementation of the automation will be successful! A win for employer and employee. The moral of this story seems to be that engaged employees in a progressive organization stay, grow, and have pride in where they work and in the products they make.