By Eric Miscoll, EMSNOW Publisher
The electronics manufacturing industry is producing more new and impressive tools that are intended to make processes more efficient, improve quality and minimize human error. Technology can indeed enhance a company’s operations – AI, Industry 4.0, additive manufacturing and so forth can enable a company to track and monitor, control and connect machines and bring new capabilities to the table. But ultimately, these tools are only as good as the humans that wield them.
Therefore, the number one asset of any company truly is – now and since time began — the human resources; the people that interact with the technology to build products and bring value to customers. And I don’t mean just the sales and business development folks that are always in such high demand.
The question that companies therefore need to ask themselves is: Are we managing our #1 asset (i.e., people) effectively? I would argue that developing tools is more science than art, but managing people is more art than science.
There are common issues related to people management in our industry as in all industries. In my experience, these are some of the key issues companies face in this regard:
Culture beats strategy every time!
Many companies are so focused on what they do, that they ignore who they are. Corporate culture refers to the shared values, attitudes, beliefs, and standards that characterize the members of an organization and define its nature. ) This is an element that benefits from continual attention and care and should be a managed asset of the enterprise. This is where the axiom, ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ holds true. Failure to manage a positive culture means that a culture will still develop, but one that may be toxic to the organization’s goals. Culture must be defined, communicated, practiced, and modeled, especially by the executive team. If the goals of the organization are unclear and miscommunicated, or if the executive team is not on board in a visible way, employees won’t believe they are important enough to bother with. Therefore, companies should focus more on who they are as this is important to the long-term retention of quality employees.
If you think good employees are expensive, try bad employees!
It all begins with the hiring process. Recruiters must be clear on what the requirements are for the position they seek to fill. As the first person the prospective employee meets, it’s important that the recruiter is knowledgeable and respectful of the candidate’s time. Make sure candidates are carefully screened for required competencies, and also to ensure a good fit with your company’s culture. Avoiding miscommunication at this stage can ensure an efficient hiring process.
Hiring doesn’t end after an offer is accepted and the person shows up for work. There must be a well-considered and planned onboarding process in place. Many potentially good employees may leave once they get a glimpse of the reality of your organization or if they feel overwhelmed and unsupported. Once you hire them, you have an obligation to help them succeed!
According to IPC’s Q1 2019 Pulse of the Electronics Industry survey, recruiting challenges (recruiting, training and labor cost increases) now appear to be the biggest concerns in all regions and segments of the industry; 33% of respondents cited it. It’s not easy finding qualified candidates, so it’s important to get it right. One way to bring awareness of the importance of the hiring practice is to track the total cost of a new hire and remind staff of this metric. It will make clear the importance of hiring well.
Performance management cannot be an algorithm!
The whole issue of the performance review process that culminates in the dreaded annual review has been a pain point for companies in this and other industries for decades. In many (most?) companies, the process is inherently flawed.
Companies mostly administer the same traditional model and it’s a flawed process that takes a lot of time and effort, creates a lot of anxiety (for supervisors and employees), is rarely handled well, and can result in too much rating bias and “gotchas.”
There is now a lot of research and writings on this topic, and there are other models being developed that should be considered.
I am a fan of the Big 5 Performance Management system defined by Roger Ferguson. It is a simple, cooperative and timely process between an employee and his/her manager.
The important thing to remember is that the process is intended to be cooperative that supports and benefits both employees and the employer.
People are promoted to their highest level of incompetence
Remember the Peter Principle? In our industry this is most evident when people with technical competence are promoted to manage people, assuming that their abilities in one area will translate to success in the other.
The stark truth is that engineers and salespeople are not generally the best people managers. They simply have different strengths that have allowed them to be successful. Yet in this industry we see a lot of engineers especially being promoted to manage teams of people. This is not to disparage engineers. Clearly, they are critical to this industry. But as managers…. well, let’s just say they are not all created equal in this regard.
Why does this matter? Because good employees generally don’t do well under bad managers, and many choose to take their skills elsewhere.
Companies need to understand that there is a distinct skill set involved in managing other people and should therefore be selective of who they decide to put in charge of their #1 assets. These skills can be developed, but a deliberate program must be in place to ensure managers have done so.
I have always believed that business is inherently rational, and that it is only when we add the human element that matters become confounding. Managing these dynamics is a critical skill that many companies either overlook or take for granted. So, I would encourage senior management to review how they are performing in this critical area. It is not the hard skills that will engage, retain and motivate employees. It is the soft skills., and these also require hard work.