All business owners know that the key to long term success is for businesses to deliver value to customers and investors. But, have you considered how essential it is to deliver value to your employees, what that value looks like to them and what the impact of that value will be on your business?
Fortunately, we don’t have to figure out how to deliver value to our employees. Zeynep Ton has already done that for us. In her Good Jobs Strategy, Ton laid out the steps we need to execute, discussed in my last blog post. Here’s a recap of her guidelines paraphrased.
1. Concentrate on fewer, higher quality products.
2. Standardize work requirements so that workers can have the freedom to work more efficiently.
3. Train workers in more than one task to reduce fluctuations in workloads.
4. Have more workers on hand instead of fewer, cross training them so that they can be employed full time on regular schedules.
The point of these guidelines is to create value for employees. To them, a valuable job would have fair pay; a stable schedule; management that is respectful; engaging tasks that are aligned to the worker’s abilities (emotionally and physically) and intellect;, and, I would add, accessibility by reasonable transportation. Structuring a new business in this way or restructuring an existing one, results in a mindset for owners in which employees are viewed as assets instead of expenses. Here’s how these guidelines function when applied in my own business, United Sewing and Design.
United Sewing and Design is a sewing contractor for outside businesses. We also manufacturer our own line of products from re-purposed materials which currently includes soft home decor and personal accessories. I have internalized Ton’s employee value picture and am applying it as an ongoing effort to make United Sewing and Design a company with the highest ethical employment practices possible. Here’s how we’re doing so far.
Concentrating on fewer, higher quality products
Most manufacturers in the sewn products industry (like many in other industries) make one thing: jeans, men’s suit jackets, women’s running shoes, snow mobile covers, kevlar vests for law enforcement, car upholstery, etc. This concentration allows those businesses to become very skilled at doing one thing after only having had to invest in a small number of units of specialized equipment. Contracting with outside businesses has made this concept a challenge for us because I have tried to avoid narrowing our field of what we can produce both in complexity and price point. Fortunately, the businesses that have contracted with us so far need products that do not require belt loop tackers, rivet presses or double needle, cylinder bed sewing machines. That has made our flexibility easier to maintain so I have had to turn away very few contracts while still being able to produce a high quality product. However, higher quality plus our minimum wage of $15 an hour may mean higher production costs. Fortunately again, the businesses that I have contracted with so far, are more interested in the value of having their products made in the U.S. which offers many very important advantages as I discussed in this blog post. So, my policy of generalizing at a higher price point has worked so far.
Standardize work requirements
My life partner was a sports fanatic. He also coached sports when his children were younger. One of the most meaningful concepts I learned from him was the value of carefully evaluating the strengths of each player before constructing a team thereby making the team stronger and more effective. To maximize a team members’ strengths, coaches match them with the best position on the team where their physical and mental skills make them the most productive. I have done the same with my team members. So far, they (my independent contractor partners) are only working on production tasks. Some are more advanced in their skills than others and are able to do pretty much any task I ask of them without guidance. Some are very happy to be cutting out the same shapes over and over. It takes all kinds. Standardizing tasks has definitely worked for us.
Train workers in more than one task to reduce fluctuations in workloads
Since I am working with independent contractors, I am not training anyone. I source labor from people whose skills I am already familiar with who are having difficulty finding and keeping well paid work. I also source labor from social service agencies who are familiar with their client’s abilities, work habits and skills. I evaluate them with a work test then discuss what will be expected of them including adhering to deadlines and quality standards. I also make sure that they have the appropriate equipment and a dedicated work space away from food and pets in a clean, non-smoking area. Currently, contractors may experience fluctuations in work loads because their skills may not be appropriate for every project.
Have more workers on hand instead of fewer, cross training them so that they can be employed full time on regular schedules.
I have not been able to apply this guideline either because I don’t employ anyone full time except myself. However, the current manufacturing model I am using as explained above is building a foundation for cross training in the future.
These days, more wholesale customers are demanding ethical treatment of employees from their vendors and transparency in reporting workplace policies. This can be an advantage for U.S. businesses when competing against off shore vendors of similar services. Ton’s guidelines also reduce worker turnover and training costs. I hope that you will consider applying Zeynep Ton’s strategies for creating good jobs that provide value to your employees and your business alike.
Mary Ruth, Owner of United Sewing and Design has over 30 years experience in the manufacturing of products by sewing and is author of “Industry Sewing Construction Methods” http://amzn.to/2yMxMmk. Her focus is on design, entrepreneurship; social enterprise; the connections between the environment, the apparel industry, and manufacturing; and how owners can leverage artistic methods to benefit their business.