Improving Productivity by Building Teams


Improving Productivity by Building Teams

How a better understanding of human needs can improve employee retention.

The need to facilitate positive team-building comes up regularly as component manufacturers (CMs) discuss the labor challenges they’re facing, particularly as they incorporate younger workers into their operations. Justin Richardson of Richco Structures in Sheboygan, Wisconsin says it’s clear that the feeling of being included is important to young people today. “The ‘start-low-and-prove-yourself’ approach doesn’t work with this generation,” he explains. “You need to buy into the new hires right away, make them part of your team and compensate accordingly.” Justin believes their change in approach is resulting in better retention at Richco: “We can see it in the numbers as more people stay past the 90-day mark.”

Chad Johnson, general manager at Truss Components of Washington in Turnwater, has had a similar experience with this correlation between culture and retention. “The biggest challenge to finding and keeping good employees for a long time was a negative culture in the shop,” he says. “We have put a lot of effort into improving the shop culture, which has reduced turnover dramatically.” But the efforts didn’t stop there. “We’ve also raised wages to be more competitive in our market, and we hold daily meetings with the entire staff, office and production, in order to keep an open line of communication and reinforce the message that every employee, individually, is important to and valued by the rest of the company – we are a team and teammates don’t let each other down.”

In a recent installment of SBCA’s webinar series, Luis Arrarte, HR director for A-1 Roof Trusses in Fort Pierce, Florida digs into why a more welcoming, team-focused approach to new employees is reaping rewards for CMs (find the recording of “Hiring Smarter for Production” at Over the past few years, A-1 has built their recruitment, training, and retention programs around a foundational understanding of basic human needs, which he covers in part one of a three-part series. He suggests this mindset should be applied to all employees – new hires or not – no matter their age.

As Luis explains in the webinar, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs was introduced in 1943 by Abraham Maslow, a well-respected American psychologist. His theory essentially states that people are motivated to fulfill certain needs and that some of those needs take priority over others. The hierarchy starts with a person’s most basic physiological and safety needs, followed by the psychological needs of love, a sense of belonging and esteem, and is capped with the need for self-actualization through achieving one’s own full potential. As the figure outlines, when applied to employee engagement, the levels can be simply defined as survival, security, belonging, importance/esteem, and self-actualization. Either way, Maslow argued that until one level of the hierarchy is basically satisfied, an individual cannot move on to the pursuit of fulfilling the next level. Luis emphasizes the correlating reality more than once in his presentation: “If the needs at any level of the hierarchy are compromised, the individual will revert back to the bottom level and the fulfillment of basic physical needs.”

Understanding simple human behavior in the work environment, explains Luis, is a key component in a successful employee recruitment and retention program. Each level of need can be applied to a different stage of the hiring process and will take a certain amount of time. For instance, most new employees are seeking an open position because of basic physiological needs: groceries to buy, bills to pay, a family to care for, etc. Luis finds that it usually takes six to eight weeks before a new hire in that situation will move up to fulfilling his or her safety needs, which with adequate training and reinforcement is usually satisfied by successfully passing the 90-day probationary period.

Again, once any one of these levels is compromised with an individual new hire, it’s very hard to convert that back, says Luis, “so you’re best to stay ahead of it and keep it from happening.”

He warns that the majority of companies today fail within the belonging aspect of the hierarchy. “That’s really where we [can] fail employees in regards to the development of their needs,” he explains. This level can take up to six months to fulfill and takes consistent, open communication (reviews, additional training, active listening, etc.) to build a true sense of confidence in a new hire’s position in the company. From there, says Luis, the employee truly begins to contribute to the productivity of an organization as they move into the importance/esteem and self-actualization levels of the pyramid.

Chad attended Luis’s webinar and sees the value of a more personalized tactic. “We recognize that people aren’t open to learning when their basic needs aren’t met,” he says. “We work hard to provide a living wage and a safe environment, things that we can control, so that they are prepared to move further up the pyramid.”

Effective communication is the best defense against any cracks in the process, says Luis. It’s critical, he explains, that this begins with clearly expressed expectations at the point of hire: “We must not only express what we expect from them but also present what the newly hired employee can expect from us.” Luis stresses how critical this point in the process is to the overall success of each new employee: “If you can present your organization to your new hires in a way they have never been presented before, you get their attention. They sit there and think, ‘No one has ever talked to me like this before. No one has ever looked at me as valuable as they do.’ And they come walking through the door ten times more engaged and ready to become part of a team that they’ll end up loving.”

Simply put, A-1’s approach to new hires is “share the mind-set!” This is the starting point for the kind of two-way communication that Luis encourages with every employee in order to stay on top of each person’s needs and in turn, their engagement with the company. Fully aware that managing these issues isn’t always easy or comfortable, the webinar series will include a session on “Having Crucial Conversations to Foster Success,” which will examine the art of dialogue and how different styles can either kill or kindle the kind of safe, effective communication that leads to smart decisions and best practices.

While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the production labor challenges in our industry today, taking a fresh look at the culture in your plant could reap rewards. A better understanding of human needs could be a starting point for retaining loyal employees and building more productive teams. From Luis’s perspective, the bottom line for their approach to hiring and retention is that it’s measurable: “Over the past two years, A-1’s seen about 30 percent improvement in our turnover rate.”

About the Author: Mindy Caldwell explores how component manufacturers find success growing market share and building their employment base.
What has your company done to adjust for the current labor recruitment and retention challenges? Email to share your workforce development story. To learn more about how to set and share your company’s mindset for developing and retaining an engaged workforce, check out parts 1 and 2 of the Truss Life series: “Hiring Smarter for Production” and “Coaching a Career Culture in Your Plant.” Part 3, “Having Crucial Conversations to Foster Success,” will be rescheduled for this fall.

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