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applicants Still apply…But why?

Several months ago, I sat down with three different groups of our employees. The first group included 10 employees who had worked at the company for less than 90 days. The second group of 10 had worked one to three years at the foundry. The third group had approximately ten years of seniority. Several questions and responses from these focus groups provided in- sight as to why they applied and why they stayed.

All three groups said they were at Dotson because of the pay and benefits. Beyond that, most said they had a friend or fam- ily member who had recommended Dotson. What really got to me were the answers to why people stayed. The answers all revolved about these words: people, culture, friends, security and challenges. In addition, all three groups said, “It’s not bor- ing.” I think this is a compliment. The “American Heritage Dictionary” defines the word as such: “Boring is monotonous, tedious, irksome, tiresome, and humdrum; these adjectives re- fer to what is so uninteresting as to cause mental weariness.”

Some people in the groups said that it was the fact that every day is different; you never know what is going to happen. Others noted that even if they were doing the same job, there were hundreds of different parts. Some said that things were always changing. A couple even said it was exciting.

Our leadership challenge is to take our companies from bor- ing to exciting. To make this happen, employees must be personally engaged in the company’s success; empowered as teams to make a difference; and aligned to the vision.

what is Engagement?

From the management side, employee engagement is proac- tively cultivating discretionary effort; that is, when employees have choices, they will act in a way that furthers their organiza- tion’s interests. T he goal is to eliminate the “What’s in it for me?” mentality. From the employee side, one of the best defini- tions comes from Wayne Cascio’s book, “Investing in People:”

“Engagement is a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption. Vigor refers to high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work and persistence even in the face of difficulties. Dedication is characterized by a sense of significance, enthusiasm, inspiration, pride and challenge at work. Absorption consists of being fully concentrated, happy and deeply engrossed on one’s work whereby time passes quickly, and one has difficulty detaching oneself from work.”

Confucius had it right with the saying, “Choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

A simple example of an engaged employee can be seen at 8

the shipping dock. At the end of a long and busy day, an employee could choose to use the last minutes to either lei- surely clean up or rush to make sure that one more ship- ment was loaded for another on-time delivery. The supervi- sor would not criticize either choice. The engaged employee would commit that extra energy to do what is best.

I had the benefit of meeting a disengaged employee very early in my career. A boom year for foundries was 1974 and we needed additional capacity. I was this hotshot son of the boss with an MBA and did all the analyses that showed if we in- stalled an Osborn 3191 molding machine, it would be very profitable. We had a high production job that was running on a smaller line, and we could put two-up in a 20 x 36 flask on the 3191. The machine was purchased and installed. On the first production day, I was there to watch it make money. After several very painful hours, Dick, the molder, turned and said to me, “I could have told you it would never work!” Based on the way we had it set up, it was impossible to get more than four molds an hour, which was far less than 50% of the smaller machine. This experience showed me a couple of les- sons. First, there is great wisdom on the shop floor. Second, the culture had to change so that employees would speak up.

how Engagement Started at dotson

I must start with a disclaimer. My comments on Dotson’s en- gagement are not to say that we do it best or better than other companies. Instead, they are intended to prompt thought and serve as possible examples.

Our employee engagement journey started 30 years ago when, in 1981, the agricultural and energy markets collapsed. At the bottom, our sales were only 20% of what there were in 1980. Survival was the only thing on our mind. I was very fortunate to realize that I needed to lead the company back to profitability and that the strength of the company was its employees. We asked the union for a wage concession, and they quickly responded by saying, “You only tell us the profits when there aren’t any.” They believed that we had two sets of books and voted overwhelming to reject any concessions. The employees were correct—we had not communicated with them. They had no real understanding of the severe financial situation (they were not correct on the two sets of books). We started weekly communication sessions and three months lat- er were able to unilaterally cut wages from $11.25 per hour to $5.75 per hour. Our message was simple. “You are worth the full wage, but we cannot pay it. We will however, keep track of the difference and pay it back with interest if we survive.” Every employee showed up for work the following Monday. Communication has been a high priority ever since.

We tried many different approaches to communication over the years and many different incentive and strategy plans. Gradually, we evolved to using the Dotson Philosophy (Fig. 1), which is a one-page summary of what we are, where we are going and how we are going to get there.

International Journal of Metalcasting/Fall 2011

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