Why Manufacturers May Need to Change their Management Style

With an aging workforce set to retire in droves in the coming decade, manufacturers are looking to younger generations as a prime source of talent. While gen-xers and millennials can have different generational characteristics, they often are lumped into the same group. And one thing they do share is a preference for a management style that is much different than the ones baby boomers use and are accustomed to.

In fact, some experts say the future successes and competitive advantages of manufacturers will hinge on how they manage their incoming talent.

Previous generations may have been content on taking direction and working 9-5 for 30 to 40 years, but younger workers often want engagement and meaning from the moment they set foot on the job. They also tend to request more training, more feedback and a culture of innovation that embraces new technologies and processes.

Jack Finning, partner at AAFCPAs, said that where boomers use a direct management style of dictating the process for workflow management, younger generations often seek a more “holistic approach.” Manufacturers will need not only to change their management style both for the workers, and for the new younger managers, as well.

“where boomers use a direct management style of dictating the process for workflow management, younger generations often seek a more holistic approach.”

“It’s important that outgoing and incoming leadership alike make an effort to overcome these stylistic differences…When the two differences begin to see the similarities in their perspectives, they can start to tackle harder operational issues,” Finning said.

In some places, factories are trying to convince workers to work past the age of 65. Society for Human Resources Management spokesperson Kate Kennedy said that nearly 20% of factory employers are considering the idea of phased-in retirements by asking senior members to stay with more flexible hours or fewer days. And some companies, such as BMW, are retrofitting equipment to make it more ergonomic for their aging workers.

Yet it still doesn’t change the growing need for younger talent, which is now increasingly working alongside these boomers. While manufacturers struggle to keep their older workers, Finning said AAFCPA encourages their clients to understand the younger generations’ need for transparency, and to support their willingness to spend time on the line learning about the employees tasked with production.

Most managers say they are already “challenged” by managing millennials and that they need new strategies, said Jan Ferri-Reed, Ph.D., President of the KeyGroup consultancy. She said that the results of a manager survey found that 70% spend more time guiding and teaching millennials than they do older workers. At the same time, 73% also said they worry about losing millennial employees.

Ferri-Reed recommends that managers encourage open communication, involve workers in decisions and change efforts, and provide continual feedback for performance improvement. She said that millennials like “lots of feedback” that should be done more often than once per year to determine annual pay raises. “They want to know where they stand and what they can do right away to improve and advance,” said Ferri-Reed.

There also are a number of other things manufacturers could do. Ed Potoczak, IQMS industry manager, said this includes changing outdated preconceptions about the industry, considering initiatives to engage with the community, and doing more to promote the “coolness” of today’s technologies. He said they need to communicate the educational requirements for success in manufacturing careers so that students can understand the skills they need. When on the job, he said leaders will want to immediately and actively engage new workers with innovation and fresh changes to keep them motivated. This means manufacturers should offer meaningful responsibilities beyond “paying their dues.”

During the transaction, Potoczak said there should be an effort to bring all generations together to foster the best of each. “Cross-generational” teams can help foster knowledge transfer from baby boomers to younger team members. He said senior management should incorporate strategies that create a “culture, policies and plans that help employer members of each generation be successful contributors.”