Friday, October 26, 2018

Keep Your Employees Engaged – Before It’s Too Late

By: Mike Beels

Although many don’t realize it, one of the most valuable assets a company can have is its personnel. The staff can make or break a business based on their level of commitment, motivation and interest in their work. While engaging employees already is a complicated skill to master, incoming generations of workers are bringing with them new expectations and desires for the workplace, making it even more difficult to keep all employees engaged.

In fact, the number of employees looking to leave their current job is higher among millennials, with 48% saying they will likely look for a new job in the next three months and 56% in the next 12 months.

Did I mention that the millennial workforce (those born between 1977 and 1995) makes up the largest portion of workers in America?

Worried yet?

Are you aware that 68% of American workers are disengaged, costing organizations between $450 and $550 billion annually?

How about now?

It is clear that the importance of keeping employees engaged has reached critical heights. If companies hope to maintain and grow their businesses into the future, the key is to ensure employees are engaged.

Although the majority of leaders agree that improving workforce engagement would improve their organization, only 25% have an engagement strategy. Do you?

First, let’s define engagement. Workforce engagement can be interpreted as the execution of discretionary effort. It is a combination of commitment to the organization and its values, plus a willingness to help colleagues. Engagement is something the employee has to offer the employer. It cannot be taught or required, but rather must be inspired.

Engagement is not just about keeping employees happy. To be frank, many employees have no problem with sleepwalking through the workday, putting only time – but no passion or interest – into their work. They embody what Jack Welch, author and previous CEO of General Electric, said many years ago, essentially stating, “Never mistake activity for accomplishment.”

The goal with engagement is to go beyond task completion, inspiring employees to feel passionate about their work and motivated to perform their best. This requires creating an environment that prioritizes communication, promotes empowerment and offers opportunity for growth. Our surveys conducted among manufacturers consistently tell us that employees are looking for respect, accountability, trust, opportunity, communication and transparency within the workplace. They want to be cared for and listened to. They want management to believe in them, then they will be encouraged to help the company succeed.

This engagement “strategy” starts with leadership. They must support engagement, and not just by saying they do. They must play an active role and provide the resources and budget to make it happen. This is one of the most important investments a company can make in their business, as it will benefit the organization down the line when employees reach higher levels of engagement, efficiency and productivity than ever before.

Heed this warning: You must set your company apart and promote employee engagement or else the competition could steal your most valuable employees. This is especially critical with the talent shortage now facing the industry, making it increasingly difficult to find skilled workers to fill positions. Now is the time to show your employees they are valued and give them the leadership they deserve, before they decide to look for it elsewhere.

Learn more strategies for keeping employees engaged at our upcoming free event on November 6th in Plymouth.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Mike Beels
Lean Program Manager

Mike Beels has served in the role of Lean Program Manager for the Lean Business Solutions Team at The Center for more than 12 years. Mike’s areas of expertise include Change Leadership, Workforce Engagement and Succession Planning, as well as the entire portfolio of Lean strategies and methodologies. He is a professional trainer and has the ability to command an audience and deliver the training message in a way that participants can understand in a clear, non-threatening manner. Mike always leaves trainees excited and ready to complete training transfer to the shop floor or office. 



Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, October 19, 2018

5 Steps to Cyber Safety: IT Perspective

By: Jeff Williams

We recently posted a blog detailing how business leaders could safeguard their companies from cyber-attacks. This week, we will focus on IT-related steps to help ensure your business is protected from cyber-attacks.
  1. Make sure your systems are up to date. While the world of ever-evolving technology may make lives easier and more efficient, it also can leave individuals and businesses at greater risk of issues due to outdated software. New threats and problems in software are identified daily, and it is critical that these points of access are removed. Unfortunately, the older the system, the more difficult this can be. An effective method to ensure older systems stay protected is to make sure your systems are still being patched, and actually apply these patches.
  2. Encrypt data during transport/storage. One of the easiest ways to protect information is through encryption. By encrypting data, information will not be usable to hackers even if it is stolen, effectively preventing unwanted issues when your data is “at rest” (or being stored). Additionally, in this age of portable media, taking information outside of your office is easier than ever. Making sure that mobile devices do not contain key information in accessible formats can make the difference between losing our property and safeguarding it.
  3. Establish company-wide password policies. While it may seem like a minor detail, the importance of password strength cannot be overlooked. Regulations on password length, expiration time-frames and password sharing must be followed by all workers throughout an organization to keep sensitive information safe. It could be beneficial to consider adopting Two-Factor Authentication as well to provide an extra layer of defense to company passwords.
  4. Back up critical data using a secure method. Having data backed up in a secure method is a must for any company, but one step that is often overlooked is to validate that the backed-up information can be restored. Just like any other item you have, back-up media can lose efficiency and reliability over time, and often you cannot be sure if it is successfully backed up. Taking the time to simulate a recovery situation is essential to confirm that not only the information is safely stored, but it can be accessed if needed.
  5. Strengthen your wifi policies. Wifi is everywhere these days – in our homes, in our favorite coffee shop and even on airplanes. But while it is something that is easy to access and use, unfortunately many times it also can be very insecure. Through ensuring your wireless communications are secure with encryption and limited by passwords, you can eliminate the possibility of unwanted individuals accessing your data through wifi. However, due to how readily available wifi often is, many times it is expected that businesses will provide wifi to guests. By separating your internal users and guest users via “guest networks,” you can remove the possibility of outsiders obtaining information they should not have.
Establishing safe cyber practices is the best decision for your company, data and employees as business becomes increasingly intertwined with technology, and cyber-attacks become increasingly sophisticated. With these steps in place, combined with business leaders’ efforts to protect information, your company will be set up for cyber success.

Learn more about how The Center can help protect your information here or contact cyber@the-center.org.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Jeff Williams
Program Manager, Cybersecurity

Jeff Williams is a Program Manager for The Center’s cybersecurity team, leading our efforts to educate and equip small and medium-sized manufacturers to guard against the growing threat of cyber-attacks. One of his main areas of focus relates to the cybersecurity requirements outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-171, designed to protect the information security systems of contractors working with the Department of Defense. In addition to serving Michigan’s manufacturing community, Jeff also is involved with training other Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers across the U.S. This effort will enable those centers to provide cybersecurity services to manufacturers in their states.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Leveraging Technology to Grow Your Business

By: Chuck Werner

In past posts, we’ve talked about the relevance and applications of implementing technology, highlighting the advantages that such innovations can bring to manufacturers of all sizes. But what does it actually look like when these technologies are leveraged to improve a business? For a more detailed picture, let’s take a quick walk through the stages of business maturity.

There are several different maturity models for business development, but the one we will use is outlined below:
Some say the journey is the most important part, but having a destination is the only way to know when you “get there.” For the purpose of this blog, let’s propose that the goal of an organization is to achieve autonomous manufacturing. This is an environment of flexibility within the business. While this flexibility can manifest itself in different ways, it can be fundamentally defined as the ability to have real-time identification and reaction to variation in a product, process or service. In an autonomous environment these deviations would be detected and responded to (correctly) by the appropriate (lowest possible) level of the organization. 

How can an organization reach this level of flexibility and autonomy? As seen in the figure above, a business starts out as a reactive organization, where a centralized group of decision-makers attempt to resolve issues with little to no advanced warning in a ritual we affectionately call “firefighting.”  To escape the constant chaos of their reactionary existence, the organization takes specific steps to improve their management to the cognitive level. The introduction of metrics and measurements provides the first clear glimpse of performance, allowing workers to locate sources of variation. Standard systems and procedures are then put in place and serve to stabilize the environment, as well as enable the business to operate in a preventive manner. Soon it becomes obvious which issues are resulting in poor performance. Reaction plans are implemented to ensure effective and timely responses to minimize the impact of variation. Additionally, focused projects are improved to empower the organization to predict situations that cause variation. Now a predictive organization, the business begins to foresee these situations and is able to identify and implement improvements in processes, products and services to eliminate occurrences of variation. Each step moves the process closer to the desired level of flexibility until the organization performs more like an organism, with each part reacting autonomously to support the well-being of the whole. 

Technology Can Help You “Get There”
Taking a business from its original form and guiding it to become a learning organization is a challenge.  A lot of heavy lifting can be involved and, quite frankly, many people are so tied up in day-to-day operations that trying to find the time and information to work on the business can be difficult. Unless a company is blessed with a “people closet” to supply additional support, the efforts may fall short in either resource or priority, causing the improvement initiatives to fail. To combat this challenge, leveraging technology can reduce the resource drain on the leadership team and result in improvements that are not only realized faster, but are easier to sustain and build on in the future. Let’s consider the benefits of using technology to assist in each level of business maturation:
Beginning in the reactive phase, an organization “does not know what they do not know,” meaning they are unaware of how their business is really performing. In order to progress and improve their operations, they must begin gathering data to gain more insight into the strengths and weaknesses of their current practices. However, asking people who are already task-saturated to fill out additional paperwork is never a popular move – and it doesn’t stop there. That paperwork also must be collected, tracked, compiled, reported and shared before it can even be considered. This additional demand on resources can result in failures to collect data as well as delays in receiving it. Using sensors and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT), the data collection process can be automated so that additional burden is not placed on team members. And, rather than keeping file cabinet after file cabinet of stored sheets, the data can be saved electronically on-site or in the cloud in a secure manner.

But, as has been noted many times by many people, data is just data until it is actually analyzed and turned into information. It is only then that the organization “knows what they don’t know,” growing in maturity in the process. They also learn that there are pockets of information existing which should be available to a larger number of team members. Using dashboards to provide real-time information and system integration, a greater number of resources can be used to understand the information and identify ways to prevent, and eventually predict, when a negative or unusual outcome is about to occur. Since the Big Data generates itself, the body of information available will be much larger and more accurate than previously. As the team begins to identify Key Input Variables (also known as leading indicators), they can use the integrated systems and dashboards to communicate the likelihood of issues before they occur, effectively operating as a predictive organization, allowing the team enough time to take appropriate actions. Again, technology enables the team to achieve more with the resources they have, rather than asking more of already-taxed resources.

Once the organization has reached the point of trying to optimize business practices and begins looking at ways to design all variation and waste out of their products, processes and services, technology should again be considered. Ask yourself, for example, if inspection failures are an issue, can the process be automated through cobotics/robotics to ensure 100% performance of the task or to reduce measurement inaccuracies? Can augmented reality be used to provide relevant data in real time or to assist team members in achieving a higher level of training? Through simulation and virtualization, can failure modes be better predicted and then eliminated? And finally, could your product be better made using additive technologies rather than subtractive? Leveraging technology at this level to support product, workforce and process improvements can ultimately help a company achieve and maintain autonomous manufacturing.

Manufacturers often are intimidated by technological implementations due to the high costs, time and labor they assume they will have to invest. But, if effectively applied, technology can help team members achieve a new level of efficiency through the delivery of real-time information. This allows them not only the flexibility to respond to (and capitalize on) situations, but also provides them with time to focus on ways to improve practices and work autonomously.

The Center is here to guide manufacturers through their technological implementations in a way that makes sense for their businesses. From an initial assessment to identifying and applying relevant technologies, we can assist. To learn more about how we can support your company’s Industry 4.0 journey, contact us at inquiry@the-center.org or call 888.414.6682.


MEET OUR EXPERT
Chuck Werner
Lean Program Manager

Chuck has been a Lean Program Manager at The Center since 2016. His areas of expertise are in Lean, Six Sigma and Quality. Chuck has devoted many years to practicing Six Sigma methods, ultimately earning a Six Sigma Master Black Belt in 2011. He is passionate about helping small and medium-sized manufacturers become more prosperous using a variety of tools and methods gathered from over 27 years of experience. Additionally, Chuck is a certified ISO/QS9000 Lead Assessor, Training Within Industry (TWI) Master Trainer and is certified in OSHA Compliance and Accident Reduction.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.


Friday, October 5, 2018

5 Steps to Cyber Safety: Business Perspective

By: Jeff Williams

The number of cybercrime victims grows by 2.7 million every day, or 1,861 victims a minute. The total global cost of cyber-attacks in 2018 so far exceeds $600 billion, with organizations spending $8 billion a year on ransomware alone. It is clear that the risk of cybersecurity continues to grow, with a variety of agencies from the Department of Defense to the Automotive Industry Action Group mandating new industry-wide standards for cybersecurity. As businesses of all types and sizes are vulnerable to these attacks, the time is now to establish safe cyber practices to ensure companies can operate securely in the increasingly technology-dependent business landscape.

As seen in the infographic here, cyber-attacks can have devastating impacts on companies – especially smaller businesses. While the risk of cybersecurity is clear, the ways to avoid such catastrophe are not as obvious. Fortunately, there are ways that leaders of organizations can effectively manage risk associated with cyber threats through safer business practices, including:
  1. Know your information. Everyone has something worth protecting, even if you don’t always realize it. Such valuable information could vary anywhere from technical drawings to specific intellectual property to key marketing campaigns. The first step to protecting this information is to actually know what it is and what its loss could mean for your organization.
  1. Understand how the information is used and who can access it. Once we know what information we want to protect, the next item we need to understand is why we have this information and what it is used for. Historically, many companies operated based on the concept of “you can never have too much information,” holding on to old documents and data in case it is needed at some point in the future. While that might have worked in the past, the idea of “keeping everything” should remain there – in the past. We now live in a time where every bit of information we have could potentially be used (or stolen) by others. The best, most effective way to protect something is to simply not have it. This is especially true in light of recent restrictions and requirements placed on the handling and storage of personal information. Start by asking yourself, “Do I really need this information?” If the information is truly something you need to have within your company, as business owners and decision makers you then need to take a hard look at who has access to this information. Consider the following questions:
·         Do I know who has access to the information I deem worthy of protecting?
·         Is this information stored in an area that all employees can access simply?
·         Do all current employees with access actually need access as part of their job, or is it as a side effect of our current business practices?
  1. Document company and system policies. While it is important to document all company policies and procedures, it is equally as important to ensure all team members are aware of the policies. For example, if one of your policies prohibits sending emails with specific types of documents, yet this information is not known throughout the company, how can you be sure that employees are not breaking this rule? If employees do not know what information you are trying to protect, and what practices you have in place to protect it, they will be unable to prevent breaches from happening or notice once a breach has occurred.
  1. Create an Incident Response Plan. In the world of information security, it’s not a question of if a breach will happen, but when. Preparing your company for the worst is essential, and it is best to complete these preparations before an incident occurs. Ask yourself this: If you were to be attacked by ransomware, would you know how to recover your data without paying the ransom? Or: If you were asked to show the extent of damage a breach created, would you be able to? Who do you need to notify if a breach occurs? What steps do you need to take to reduce further damage? These are all questions that would be answered in an Incident Response Plan.
  1. Audit your policies periodically and update as needed. Business changes every day. This also is true for cyber criminals and the methods they use to attack. Tactics and policies that work to prevent attacks today might not work tomorrow. Additionally, changes within the organization might call for new or updated cyber practices. Perhaps you take on a new business venture that has additional information in need of protection. Perhaps you replace your infrastructure or bring on new staff or equipment. Without reviewing your policies periodically, there is no way of knowing if they are still adequately protecting your information.
While it may be impossible to completely eliminate risk associated with cyber-attacks, business leaders who follow these steps to establish safer practices and policies within their organization stand a better chance of avoiding disaster down the line.
To gain additional insights about cybersecurity, be sure to read our upcoming blog, which will outline IT-related steps to safeguard your company from cyber threats.
Learn more about how The Center can help protect your information here or contact cyber@the-center.org

MEET OUR EXPERT
Jeff Williams
Program Manager, Cybersecurity

Jeff Williams is a Program Manager for The Center’s cybersecurity team, leading our efforts to educate and equip small and medium-sized manufacturers to guard against the growing threat of cyber-attacks. One of his main areas of focus relates to the cybersecurity requirements outlined in NIST Special Publication 800-171, designed to protect the information security systems of contractors working with the Department of Defense. In addition to serving Michigan’s manufacturing community, Jeff also is involved with training other Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) centers across the U.S. This effort will enable those centers to provide cybersecurity services to manufacturers in their states.




Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at www.the-center.org.