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Employee engagement as a crucial factor for bringing about change

The ADMA project assists European manufacturing SMEs in the transformation of their organization towards next-generation factories with more competitive, modern and sustainable production. The manufacturing SME leaders more than once gave the feedback that they were confronted with « the employees’ unwillingness to change towards a more automated, digital way of working ». How did they actually tackle this ‘unwillingness’?

We’ve seen that an important condition to go for breakthrough innovations is about having the right innovation-oriented culture in the company. One way to enable this is through the change in engagement of every employee.  We’ve asked the European ADMA showcase companies what projects they carried out in this respect (see video on the right). Their approach of solving the problem was to:

  • Create and deploy a ‘being different‘ strategy
  • Install and execute a training & people development culture
  • Make sure there are always new things to discover
  • Actively manage the testing & try-out of new solutions
  • etc.

A budget for mistakes
“In order to stay ahead of our competition we have no choice but to look for unprecedented and innovative solutions – both organisational or technological. After we understood the business we are in, we decided to find the right framework for controlled risk taking activities. As a result on a yearly basis we allocate a budget between 0,5-1% of our revenues to mistakes we might make in our daily operations. This has turned out to make our employees more eager to take risk, to look for solutions. They are simply not afraid to try, even if they make mistakes. What is crucial here is to make sure we learn from these mistakes to become a more robust business in the long-term.“
Jakub Kaszuba – Owner & CEO
Base Group Poland

Another important factor in creating engagement, is offering your employees the appropriate development opportunities. As an example, the ADMA showcase Urola (Spanish blow molding machine constructor) has realized a breakthrough in monetizing the use of machine data. As Mr. Jose-Luiz Fernandez (general manager) said : “Training was a must. The shift in the way of making business takes some time to make everyone understand and make them “believers”. Using a computer to understand a situation that is happening afar and remotely working with local technicians without getting their hands “dirty” was a challenge; but when the new technology really works, the company tends to adopt it naturally and nowadays some of their toughest technicians looks like digital natives…”

Mr. Hervé Valliet, owner & CEO of the ADMA Factory of the Future Champion Sori, shared a particular and inspiring experience :

So, the first employees I sent on training to our Belgian machine supplier LVD were people without a real degree, and I had to convince them to go abroad. Five days in Belgium was a bit complicated, because we are used to go home from work every evening. And I had to deal with this problem. On top of that, the 5 days training originally started on Monday morning and continued until Friday evening. This meant that the workers would have to leave on Sunday evening for the TGV and return on Friday evening very late or even on Saturday morning. So there was a bit of a complication there and they asked me: can we leave on Monday morning and return on Friday evening? So a 4-day training course that was originally planned to last 5 days.

LVD didn’t believe in it, but they said: we’ll try. So our employees left on Monday morning with the TGV and they came back on Friday evening and it went really well. Every evening they had a few Belgian beers too.

They had a great feedback of this training and then demystified the complexity towards the colleagues, because it was very complicated to send these people there on this type of training, to work on computer stations which they were not used to. So it was a first beautiful adventure and it made them come back with a big smile. They themselves explained it to their colleagues and from that point onwards it didn’t cause any problem to send other workers to Paris or Italy. But what also made this training a success was the fact that it was only done between them, with people who knew each other, not with people from outside, precisely to avoid the fear of being of a lesser level than someone who had a degree. And today I have Jean-Philippe who nowadays installs and pilots robotic cells. He joined Sori 10 years ago just to take down products from the paint line and to do a little packaging work…

Change of DNA
“The most difficult thing was to start and to get our people involved and convinced. Therefore it is important that you have a team who believes that these changes are good for the company and for the people.
Over the past 10 years we created a spirit of Continuous Improvement and now I can say that change is also in our DNA. Employees feel much more involved in their work than before. They steer their own work and are very capable of doing so. The work is also more varied. We also invested heavily in cross-training so that operators can take over each other’s tasks in order to keep the cells flexible.”
Ben Proesmans – Owner & CEO
Provan – Belgium

Every journey towards a Factory of the Future clearly is a team effort. Especially the company’s employees, supported by relevant domain experts have an important role to play. It all starts with an open, detailed communication about the FoF-journey and the details of the different transformation areas. An online open course therefore has been created by Agoria (www.7transformationsexperience.be). This course contains simple, video supported explanations of all ADMA transformation topics, their benefits and tips on how to start implementing related actions.

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