Blog - Why is culture so important in Manufacturing?

Blog - Why is culture so important in Manufacturing?

By Paul Hughes, Managing Director - Integra Systems

Let me be straight right off the bat: Every business – whether in the same industry or not – is markedly different, so the observations I make in this article are general observations that I am making as a manufacturer who has reshaped (and is constantly reshaping) my company’s culture and practices.

As you will see in my previous article on how we built our company culture, Integra Systems has worked really hard to question the cultural fabric of our organisation and, subsequently, create our own value system. Unfortunately, that has often meant bucking trends that are all-too common to the manufacturing industry. These trends are what I’d like to address while answering the following question:

Where is the manufacturing industry going wrong in terms of culture?

Mass production versus mass customisation

Many people in manufacturing still consider mass production to be the only way to make money and they cannot see beyond this furphy. In actual fact, by implementing flexible company processes, manufacturers can overcome the mass production hurdle and move to mass customisation of products instead.

There is a taboo subject that everyone in manufacturing needs to tackle, whether they choose to or not. That discussion concerns labour versus automation. Automation requires a new and different set of skills-sets which are more engineering and IT focussed.

On the other side of the fence is the argument that not everyone is a rocket scientist – what happens to the manual labourers in this new climate? The traditional approach to process workers and the process environment is changing, and it is abundantly clear through the dismantling of the automotive industry that a process-worker-oriented environment is no longer sustainable.

The balance between employment and automation is a tricky one. It is a delicate balancing act that won’t go away and it needs to be actively challenged if we are to grow both manufacturing and labour opportunities simultaneously.

Change doesn’t have to be a bad thing

In the manufacturing industry, there is a maelstrom of companies caught in a time-warp. They are either resistant to change, or they can’t change, or they have staff who refuse to change. These businesses don’t have a transformative mindset.

Herein lies the dilemma: It’s the transformational culture in any company that is critical to keeping that company growing and moving with the times. Without it, a business culture is unable to evolve and, consequently, it will be left behind.

At Integra Systems, we’ve gone through approximately three or notably four business transformations, and our people have transformed with us. It is the change management that has helped us transform the business into something that is worthwhile pursuing.

If you don’t change, your customers will force you

Design is central to everything we do at Integra Systems – I cannot overemphasise that point enough – and we’ve noticed that manufacturing companies in this contemporary climate without a design frontend often fall down in their operations.

Focusing on design means bringing design into every element of manufacturing. A production manager is no longer just a production manager but someone who integrates the production process into the design process and the customer experience and so on. This is a holistic, totally integrated approach to manufacturing – end to end – which some people in the industry have a hard time wrapping their heads around as a concept.

Manufacturers can be fearful of design because it means change, as well as constantly tweaking and refining something to make it better. We need to embrace such an approach, rather than be fearful of it. If a customer needs something changed, a quality manufacturer should be flexible and transformative and, therefore, willing to do the hard yards for them. It helps build a constant loop where you become part of your customer’s operations and, therefore, they can depend on you as the manufacturing arm of their business.

Customer products can become better through refinement and your relationship with the customer will be enhanced. As an Australian manufacturer, by accepting and encouraging change, you are adding value to the customer relationship that an overseas supplier may be unable to replicate.

Setting the cultural pace in manufacturing

A genuine turning point for Integra Systems has been the introduction of students into our business through university internships. We may think we know it all, but only by embracing the next generation, with new ideas and energy, can manufacturing companies really move towards a viable future.

Once again, this means keeping an open mind that change is good. Initially, change can be costly but it will pay back in spades in the longer term. Establishing your business as malleable rather than rigidly structured is imperative. Then you can be more dynamic and responsive to market changes as they occur.

Your leadership is also critical. As a leader, you need to be a catalyst for change, not a roadblock. Your responsibility may also have to involve motivating your more experienced people, who are sometimes resistant to change themselves, to feeling valuable and active contributors at a time of transformation.

Moving towards the future with confidence

While this article is largely focused on manufacturing, I will refer back to my disclaimer in the introduction: this is more broadly a question of company culture and not all businesses are guilty of the pitfalls we’ve discussed.

In being exposed to a huge variety of businesses, we see that most of them are faced with similar issues – people problems, incentive and motivation issues, productivity challenges, absenteeism, etc. Those we move forward with, have similar problems to everyone but in a likeminded cultural environment to Integra.

Yes, we are very proud to confess that we do not spend a lot of time with businesses operating with an old-school agenda. We dedicate our time – or as much time as possible – to businesses that we can see embracing change and moving forward. Only by adopting such an approach will the manufacturing industry move forward and thrive.

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Published in Blog
K2_WRITTEN_ON August 30 2017
Written by Erika Hughes