Use data to verify effective communication strategies
Are you on a journey towards a more transparent leadership? Meet Dirk:
Like many other good leaders I interview, Dirk Feldhaus, General Manager at Lohmann-Koester Mexico, is modest when he speaks about his transparent leadership and their workplace culture.
We had a chat about their 4 years of measuring employee morale on a daily basis.
What have they learned?
How do they get such high scores in their manufacturing facility?
Dirk is the leader who together with his HR Manager decided to install survey kiosks.
“We didn’t want to wait 1 year for our work climate survey. We quickly wanted to know if our employees were satisfied with working in our company… or not.”
“Initially, we started our experience with Celpax with 1 device to observe the participation and enthusiasm of our employees”, he says.
Not your ordinary factory canteen
“Our learning curve was pretty fast. About 3 months in we realized that the results we were getting were influenced by the quality and taste of the food we served in our staff cafeteria.
‘A good meal defines whether it’s a good work day or not!’, was one of the comments the leaders got from employees.
Dirk would probably have the left it here. But I happened to remember from a previous conversation that the leaders made some adjustments to their canteen approach.
“Yeah, food is a very important part of our Mexican culture”, he says. “We realized that some of our workers didn’t eat to well at home because they prioritize feeding their family.”
Lohmann-Koester listened to their workers and hence introduced a symbolic price in their Mexican canteen so workers could get two meals at work.
“It’s not totally free for them. But it’s really cheap and they get good meals, prepared by people who know how to prepare nice food. Our employees really appreciate it.”, says Dirk.
Employee turnover rate
And it’s not just the canteen that the employees like.
One of the reasons we at Celpax think that Lohmann Koester has a consistent high Employee Engagement KPI is the genuine care and interest they show their employees.
Headquartered in Germany, the company develop industrial and high-tech bonding solutions for the hygiene and medical market.
“We try to keep our workers as long as possible”, says the Mexican General Manager. From a business point of view, they prefer permanent contracts. Hence they try to avoid temporary workers.
“It takes time to train people”, the leader clarifies. “Our processes take time to learn. Working our machines require experience so temporary workers wouldn’t help us that much. We can be low in production but I still try to keep people and have them doing other activities like maintenance or cleaning. Because I know they have the experience that we will soon need again. ”
So when production picks up, the factory has employees with experience who can quickly work the machines in a proper and safe way. Thus, performance rates remain high.
People come knocking on our door
Additionally, when talking about the employee turnover rate, a few interesting things come up.
Lohmann-Koester increasingly gives their employees more outside the standard salary.
They offer private health insurances to complement the Mexican standard which Dirk feels isn’t good enough.
They also run employee saving schemes that help them be more competitive in the market. As a consequence, it makes people want to stay longer with the organization.
Fernando Uribe, HR Manager for Mexico, qualifies their employee turnover rate as “low, below 10%”.
One way to look at employee turnover is to see how competitive you are in your local area.
In this case, 75% of their staff live in Zapopan, Guadalajara:
“When I compare us to one of the companies in front of us I see that they have 50% employee turnover rate. People start and leave very fast. This way you can see if a company cares about its employees or not. We have people who come over, knocking on our door. They’ve heard good things and want to come work with us and not them”, says Dirk.
Effective communication strategies
The first time Lohmann-Koester identified a drop in their daily Employee Mood KPI, was when they had several problems with the machinery in production.
Shortly after this, a coworker died due to a non-work-related illness. These events influenced the employee mood and were reflected in the organization’s data.
“This was when we realized that the Celpax was indeed giving results”, says Dirk.
The second time the Mood KPI dropped, the General Manager was travelling a lot.
“I wasn’t physically in the factory and we had limited options to act. I could easily validate in the data that ‘today we have a problem we didn’t have a few weeks ago’.”
When the leader came back to the manufacturing facility he checked the dashboard. The Mood KPI kept falling. The company realized they had to step up their communications in the business.
Consequently, they arranged various staff meetings.
And this is where trust and a transparent leadership difference from a leader that buries problems. The general manager decided to face the problems by opening up the conversation:
“We talked to our workers to find out what was happening. I asked them very openly about what was going on. Within short, some began to talk and share how they felt.”
“We got feedback like ‘My boss is not working together with this other guy from the other department’.” That tension created a temporary bad working climate.
“It’s impressive how we came back. The motivation went up after the meetings and just talking to people. I could see in the numbers when we reached the bottom.“
“And we validated when we had managed to stop the decline in our Employee Mood KPI”, Dirk concludes with a smile.
So what impacts employee satisfaction at the Mexican production facility?
Fernando and Dirk quickly realized that production elements have an impact, and changes the employee mood.
When production is low or very high, or when there are days of periods with added stress, they immediately see how the Mood KPI goes down.
“People have red days if a machine isn’t working. So sometimes it’s not related to people. It’s due to a machine!”
Lohmann-Koester has a transparent work environment. For instance, they share their Employee Engagement KPI results on a daily basis using screens around their facility.
If you’re in the canteen and are interested in the last mood results, it’s available so all employees and teams can see how they are doing.
“I can see that our employees have been talking more about these issues at work. Everybody has the opportunity to press. So press red if things aren’t good! If you don’t, how are we going to improve?”, says Dirk, looking out over the Mexican shop floor.
The workplace transparency pays off
The first year of measuring, 2017, the company got a Mood KPI of 75% green.
The following year, 2018, the company managed to stabilize their Mood KPI.
This was thanks to the business leaders’ effective communication strategies and acting on “red” feedback.
The average for the second year was 92% green.
From a benchmarking point of view, that is a very high level for a manufacturing facility, worldwide.
Looking at 2020, a year where the Coronavirus has wreaked havoc, you see how trust and a transparent leadership style really pays off.
The company has achieved a Mood KPI of 87% green during the last 6 months. The mood temporarily dropped to 76% but they quickly steered back up.
“There is still a lot of information that we need to analyze with the information we receive from Celpax”, says the HR Manager.
“We are making progress and it is giving us good results. The next step is to start analyzing the differences between the work shifts. And cross-check with production KPI’s like incident reports”.
Transparent Leadership: Learnings
Dirk and Fernando are convinced that the main reason for achieving these results is due to their transparent work environment and communicating more with all their staff. This leads to higher performance in their organization.
And their open and transparent leadership style and effective communication strategies are paying off.
The leaders verified using the Celpax data that every time they organize an informative meeting, their mood improves.
“Our staff feel integrated into our company. They genuinely appreciate that we continuously make the time and effort to keep them updated around the most important issues for our business”, says Dirk.
“Our learning is that today we make a bigger effort to keep our staff well informed about the direction of the company.”
The management team use transparency to explain what things are going well and where they have to improve.
“Even when things aren’t going well, our people are OK as they know how things are going. People are happier when they feel informed” the General Manager concludes.
An interesting situation arose a while back while Dirk was at a group management meeting in Germany, discussing transparency:
“Some people said that it’s better not to give too much information to workers. That it just makes employees worry more.”
“I got up and said: Sorry but I really have a different opinion. And I have the numbers to show that it’s exactly the other way around!”
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