Are you really listening to your electronics manufacturing staff?

An ongoing challenge for many electronics manufacturing organisations is effective internal communication. We all know that the Greek philosopher Epictetus was spot-on when he said ‘we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak’.

Unfortunately for many of us it’s much easier to switch these ratios around - or worse still to speak into the wrong sets of ears.

Think about your own business for a second. Do you have systems or procedures to identify and record issues found out on your manufacturing shop floor? How easy is it for production staff to suggest process improvements? And finally how do you keep all staff regularly updated on the progress that is being made?

If you are passionate about driving change and accept that internal communication within your organisation could be improved, this blog post will highlight 4 areas for you to review which may help during your quest for change.

One mouth

In order for your manufacturing staff to feel that they are being listened to, they must first be given the opportunity to speak up. If there is not a clearly defined and accessible channel for them to use, it’s likely that the only people that get to hear their suggestions for improvement or causes for concern are those that share the same tea break as them.

Another important factor here is trust. They will need to feel confident that any feedback they do provide will be listened to and acted upon and won’t be used to fuel what they may feel already exists – a blame culture. So how can all of this be achieved within your own organisation?

1. Share your vision. It’s vital that your staff understand why you want their feedback. They are in an excellent position to drive process improvement, improve quality and resolve day-to-day challenges which lead to some of their frustration. If however they do not feel empowered to make changes or are concerned that their input will not be valued, the chances are they will keep their ideas and concerns to themselves.

2. Make your system accessible. A challenge for many shop floor workers, particularly those in a manufacturing environment, is the lack of direct access to a computer. Whilst it may not be necessary for them to have access, you’ll need to make sure this doesn’t become an instant barrier for collecting their feedback. It’s likely that you’ll still want to record the information electronically so you may decide that a paper based system is used initially by them to record their thoughts, which can always then be entered onto a database by their supervisor or member of the QA team at a later date.

3. Keep things simple. If the process is too longwinded or complicated it will both put staff off and become an administrative nightmare to manage. Colour coded systems can be useful here. For example the famous ‘traffic light’ system could work well for you in that areas for improvement could be marked down on green paper or card, areas of concern on amber and any issues that need immediate attention on red.

4. Follow up with actions. The worst thing that can happen with any new system, particularly one designed to improve the flow of communication, is its failure to follow up on actions or provide feedback on the progress that is being made. As your staff start to embrace the new system your QA teams could experience a flurry of activity which may then need to be prioritised. This is fine, in fact it's great as it means staff are starting to communicate to you but make sure they are kept fully aware of what is being worked on now and what will be dealt with later.

Two ears

Finally it’s important that both the Senior Management Team and the Board of Directors not only encourage and support the new system but are regularly updated on those issues that require immediate attention i.e. the red pieces of paper! Whenever sales output, quality, or customer service have the potential for being jeopardised I’d recommend they are notified right away.

And to avoid anything falling between departments, or worse still an overreaction or duplication of effort, you’ll need to make sure that the actions being taken, the timescales involved and those assigned to see things through are made very clear. By firmly integrating the Senior Management Team and Board of Directors within the process, you help reinforce your message of continuous improvement and a passion in driving companywide cultural change.

So what are you waiting for – sounds great doesn’t it? Well, before you rush in and implement your exciting new system why not talk to some of your colleagues and staff about your ideas to see what they have to say – but don’t forget to listen!

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Written by Neil Sharp

Neil has over 25 years’ experience in Electronics Manufacturing Services and Component Distribution. During his career, Neil has held a range of leadership positions in sales, marketing, and customer service. Neil is currently part of the ESCATEC Senior Management Team and is responsible for setting and delivering the overall Group Marketing strategy. Neil heads up the marketing department and is responsible for both the strategy and the implementation of innovative marketing campaigns designed to deliver high quality content to those seeking outsourcing solutions.