Almost everywhere I’ve gone for the past several years, the top issue facing American manufacturing and industrial finishing is the lack of skilled workers. From meetings and conventions to trade shows, everyone is saying the same thing: “We can’t find and keep skilled workers!”
When we learned about a company meeting the challenge of finding and keeping skilled workers head on, we were anxious to learn what they were doing, why they were doing it and what impact it was having on their business. I recently had the privilege of visiting with Lippert Components, Inc. CEO Jason Lippert; one of his plant managers, Pat Moore; and Amber Selking, Lippert’s Director of People Performance. I found the conversation inspirational. Here’s how it went!
Conversation with Jason Lippert, Lippert Components CEO
Can you provide some company background on Lippert?
Lippert Components makes a wide array of custom products, including towing, leveling, awnings, chassis, axles, slide-outs, storage, windows, doors and more for the recreational vehicle and residential housing market and associated markets such as bus, heavy truck, cargo, equestrian trailers, and marine. We have over 65 facilities worldwide with more than 10,000 team members that help us bring innovative solutions to the marketplace.
Tell me about your powder coating operations.
We have seven powder coating facilities, five of which are in Elkhart, IN, where 50% of our manufacturing is done. We switched to powder coating in 2000 and built our first custom powder coating line with Systems Technologies. We learned we could improve our coating of parts and the quality of our products. As we’ve added more powder coating lines, we made each subsequent line better. We have eliminated 400 tons of VOCs each year by switching to powder coating.
You offer the ONEControl™ mobile app, myRV® tablet and Linc® Remote system for your customers to automate their RV systems. What automation do you have in your powder coating processes?
Historically, we’ve shied away from automation because we are custom-oriented and deal with an extremely high number of SKUs. Over the last couple of years, we’ve invested in automation projects and now have an automated system that coats aluminum rails and long skinny parts.
It looks like you are the third generation to run the business. At what point did you decide to offer a leadership development program?
In 2013, our management team made the decision to bring in a leadership coach for mid- to high-level folks. Once we started the program, we decided to focus on our front line. We have a team of 1,000 managers leading 10,000 employees and many didn’t have prior leadership training. By developing leadership skills among this group, we’ve been able to obtain results across the board.
How has that program developed over the past five years?
Well, we started with one coach in 2013 and we now have 13 coaches led by Dr. Amber Selking. Our goal has been to get our executives out in front of our plant management teams, to encourage and inspire our team members. I haven’t met anyone that had a leadership coach on staff in 2013 and now we have 13, including some who travel for us. Three quarters of our coaching team is here in northern Indiana.
How did you go about finding coaches?
All of our coaches are outside folks who did not previously work for Lippert. I tell people “God dropped them in my lap.” We look for humble people that can connect and develop relationships with others, both on a personal and business level. In turn, they are supporting our operations.
Tell us the difference between plant managers and coaches.
We want our plant managers to focus on running the plant operations, while our coaches are responsible for the leadership development of our employees. Our leadership coaches come from a wide array of backgrounds such as expastors; those who have sports coaching experience; and those involved in athletics in general. They are responsible for helping our Core Values live and breathe in our organization on a daily basis, and for training our team members in the Leader Qualities we have deemed important for effective leadership to occur. They really serve as leadership trainers, coaches, and trusted advisors in our operations.
What has the investment in your employees done for the company?
We believe that if we invest in people and help them develop personally and professionally, they will stick around for a long time. It’s stressful to switch jobs and make ends meet. Personal life and work go together here. It’s impossible to separate them, so we try to encourage people to talk with someone if they have issues. If you help them by just listening or help them solve a problem, it enables them to get more comfortable while they are at work. Between our Leadership Development and our Personal Development teams, we really want our people to know we care about them being their best selves in every aspect of their lives.
Our employees have shown us that they are dying for stuff like this. They want the people they work for to create safe environments where they like to work, and they want to know that they are appreciated. We started this program at one facility and have continued to expand it. Our hope is that the employees we are developing are becoming better leaders and it goes up or down from there.
I think we are building to a revolution in changing the culture of manufacturing operations. How can you justify not caring for your people? I can tell you 100 stories of how caring for people has led to better results in our manufacturing operations. A lot of the stuff we are doing doesn’t cost a ton of money. Hiring the coaches does cost money and you must be willing to invest money in providing a nice environment, but the payback is tremendous. You must create facilities that feel like a “home.”
What happened that made you want to change the company culture?
Our employee attrition was extremely high; there had to be something better than trying for 20% growth. I got Bob Chapman’s Ted Talk dropped in my email and I got so excited watching it; a light bulb clicked on for me. We were already working on core values and reducing attrition. We began holding people more accountable. We started laser focusing on our employees and took core values and leadership to the front lines of our business about two years ago.
What impact has the program had on your staff?
It doesn’t matter if someone has been here for five, 10, 20 years; they all tell me it’s a different company. They can tell the values are real and that management really cares about them. Today, we get people who come in and say thanks and encourage us to continue what we’re doing because we are now a family. These people are being impacted by the leadership they are reporting to. We believe these changes had to happen at the front lines of our business.
After five years, we’re down to 28% attrition from a high of 115%. That’s made a huge difference in our business and the change in the quality of our manufacturing is measurable. Everything and everyone have benefited through our culture change.
What message do you want to share with other company CEOs?
That’s the best question you’ve asked! I want other CEOs to understand that they, too, can create the type of company culture we’ve created here. We are developing programs here that can help other CEOs build the same type of culture we have. We plan to launch the LCI Academy for Leadership™ in early 2019 so we can share some of the insights we’ve learned that will help other companies get on this journey to build good leadership.
Conversation with Pat Moore, GM, Lippert Chassis
After speaking with Jason Lippert, we visited with Patrick Moore, General Manager at Lippert’s Chassis plant in Middlebury, IN. As a 16-year employee of Lippert, we were curious to hear from a staff member who has been there through Lippert’s cultural changes.
Can you tell me a little bit about what is powder coated at this facility?
We manufacture and powder coat RV, trailer, park model and residential housing chassis, running two powder coating shifts with 35 people per shift. We’ve added a second oven to increase throughput and reduce cycle time.
In your 16 years with your company, you must have seen a tremendous amount of change.
I have absolutely seen a great deal of change. We used to have nearly 115% turnover in our workforce. Then the company began the leadership development program that helped me focus on developing the people working on the lines. We now have been able to build relationships as a team because our employees stay and get to know each other; they work on their routines and they are producing better quality parts.
Tell us about some of the changes that have been implemented.
We recognize behaviors we want to see happen here. We say thank you and tell people they did a good job. People leave here happy at the end of the day and feel like the job they are doing matters. I believe we are sending people home in a better state of mind. In my early years with the company, we didn’t think about people; we thought about bottom line.
Do you believe that the changes have truly had an impact?
Definitely! Our people today have a voice. We do believe that treating people well and showing them that everyone matters has improved everything at the company. We’ve learned to listen! Everyone has ideas, and if you aren’t listening you never hear those ideas. We’ve been able to generate a ton of good ideas by simply listening to our team members. They feel more engaged and are comfortable bringing things up. They feel more ownership.
Can you give me an example of an idea that was implemented?
We used to have 100% staff-based inspection but today we don’t have inspectors. We have audits that prove the processes are getting done. Employees compete for who has less rejects; who has best attendance; etc.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the culture change?
Yes, there is. We were known for nomadic workers but not anymore. With the culture changes we’ve made to the company, we’ve become an employer of choice. It’s more than a paycheck and getting products out the door. We’re engaged in employees’ lives all the way up to their communities. We try to do things in towns where our employees live. We are teaching people to work in their towns to build better communities. It’s more than giving money; our employees are using their hands and muscle in the communities. Lippert Components gives more than a paycheck. We promote families and the belief that everyone matters. That culture shift has allowed us to bring in better talent and that ultimately helps with quality and efficiency in our manufacturing processes as well. We are truly a different, and better, company today because of the culture changes that have been made.
Conversation with Dr. Amber Selking, Lippert Components Director of People Performance
Most of our readers will not be familiar with your title “Director of People Performance.” Tell us what that means.
Dr. Amber Selking:
My background is in human performance psychology and understanding how to help optimize individual and collective potential. I have the incredible privilege of working with five of our “People Teams” here at LCI, including Leadership Development, Personal Development, Cultural Integration, Philanthropy, and the LCI Academy for Leadership™. Together, our team works to impact and influence our team members in different ways to help us prove to the world that we can make a profit and take care of people while doing so.
Tell us about the Dream Achiever™ program at Lippert Components.
The mission of the Dream Achiever™ program is to educate, equip, and empower team members to live more engaged and intentional lives, to help transform business and society.
Who is involved in making this program work?
It’s a total team effort, driven by our Personal Development Coaches, but supported and encouraged by our operations team leaders. They truly value the program and want as many people as possible to be able to experience the Dream Achiever™ program. We also build community connections with places like banks that connect and work with our team members to teach them and provide guidance around six categories: Financial, Adventure, Physical, Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual. We also use the program as team building with various teams throughout our organization, as you really get to connect with and talk about things outside of the normal confines of work in that setting.
Can you describe the program in a bit more detail?
It is a six-month process of personal development where our team members meet three times as a small group with their Personal Development Coach, and then have the opportunity for up to six one-on-one coaching sessions. Each session includes an educational component to help improve well-being and personal responsibility and then strategizing to help our team members set and achieve their dreams in the six categories mentioned previously.
We emphasize the importance of productive mindsets to achieve anything in this life, and the training helps our team members understand the power of their minds. We’ve also found that it helps motivate and build confidence, in both their personal and professional lives.
The program concludes with a celebration. We’re excited that the program started with one division and will now expand to all our divisions. It’s another tool that helps Lippert team members know that leadership is invested in and cares about them.
Powder Coated Tough readers can hear Dr. Selking give a keynote address about changing company culture at PCI’s Powder Coating 2019 Technical Conference in Orlando. Dr. Selking will speak on Wednesday, April 3. Visit https://conference.powdercoating.org
to read more and register to attend.
Anne Goyer is president of Goyer Management International and a PCT contributor