Today is Manufacturing Day in the United States, a day to celebrate the industry and inspire the next generation. Held annually on Oct. 6, it’s a day when many companies invite the public in to educate them on what opportunities exist in the industry, but also to recognize the people who are the backbone of our economies.
Hopefully, it’s also a reminder to these companies that recognition shouldn’t just be reserved for one day a year — whether it be Manufacturing Day or even an annual review. Recognition is for every one of your people, as often as possible.
A few years back, while at one of our Thiele Technologies (now BW Integrated Systems and BW Flexible Systems) plants, I had a conversation with the leadership team about recognition and the challenge of saying “thank you.” Vice President of Operations Brett Dexheimer told me a story about a Thiele team member named Bruce.
A few years earlier, the plant had experienced a labor stoppage. It was a pretty tense standoff — strikers banging on the president’s car as it came through the picket line. Bruce was a passionate Union member and was at the front of the group banging on the car. Eventually, the strike was settled and everyone came back to work.
Later, a project manager told Brett, “I’ve been working on a project with Bruce. We were struggling to get this machine to run for a customer check out, and we were all frustrated — the engineer, the project manager and Bruce, who was there as the test team member on the project.
I finally said, ‘OK, let’s give it a rest. We’re all tired, it’s getting late. We’ll come back tomorrow and get a fresh start.’ Bruce said, ‘Would you mind if I stayed? I want to try a few things. Maybe I can have it working for you guys in the morning.’ Now, that’s what I consider true leadership.”
Brett said, “I have seen a real change in Bruce since we had all our struggles. It was all I could muster a while back to pull Bruce aside at the end of the day as he was walking out the door and say, ‘Hey, Bruce, I’ve seen a real change in you. I appreciate the leadership you’re showing, the contribution you’re making. I just want to let you know that I really appreciate it.’”
I said to Brett, “Why don’t we get Bruce in here? Ask him if he remembers that. This is part of our learning and the evolution of our journey.”
Bruce came in and stood against the wall awkwardly as they related the story to him. I asked him if he remembered when Brett gave him that compliment. It had been about six months.
Bruce said, “Do I remember? Do you know what it’s like when the big boss pulls you aside and says something like that to you? I thought about it all the way home in my truck, and I thought about it all the way back the next day. I still think about it nearly every day.”
See how something so seemingly small and simple can have such a big impact?
Manufacturing often has a reputation as being a very masculine industry — a bunch of gruff guys who never cry and keep their feelings close to their vest. And many people have been taught that emotion doesn’t have a place in business, that successful people leave it out, and that brutal honesty is the only way.
We want to make it safe for people to care and to express caring. We bring emotion into business in a constructive way. It seems so obvious and easy to recognize people, and in most cases, it costs very little.
So, leaders, use this Manufacturing Day as call to action. How often do you tell your people you appreciate them? How often do you stop and say “thank you”? How often do you celebrate your people in big and little ways?
Recognizing and celebrating people for their contributions is one of the most important ways we let people know they matter. Use this day as a reminder to make it an organizational priority.