Leverage relationships outside the shop

Author Keith Jennings
January 29, 2019 - 03:45pm

Happy new year, and welcome to the winter grind.

In winter, it might seem easier to focus your time on internal matters and rarely leave the shop. Becoming overextended by trying to manage everything can happen to the best of us. You can end up so busy managing others that you forget your own motivational needs.

Throughout the year, find peer groups, trade shows and other reasons to get out of the shop every now and then. For example, in November, a machine tool dealer invited me to a luncheon, equipment demonstrations and a presentation by the company’s CEO. While I could have declined the invitation because I was busy, I decided to check out the event. It was well worth my time. The CEO’s insights were not only motivational but useful. I left with a renewed sense of enthusiasm from being around people who were willing to brainstorm about shop life.

No matter the season, issues like cash flow, employee drama, equipment maintenance, taxes, safety, insurance, maintenance contracts, bad customer drawings and personal devices on the shop floor ensure that this isn’t exactly a 9-to-5 cubicle job.

Maintaining professionalism when faced with challenges is critical, and your mental toughness will be tested. One way to stay inspired is to cultivate a network of relationships among peers and leverage opportunities to confidentially discuss issues. This group may include fellow machine shop managers but ideally should be an assortment of professionals with unique perspectives who have no interest in selling anything to you.

I’ve been able to leverage relationships through a monthly roundtable of business owners. This group of about 20 people was chosen by its organizers, two retired executives, to ensure that members are not competitors but peers who can confide in one another about work. The discussions provide me with fresh ideas and cost nothing other than an obligation to reciprocate by sharing my own insights and knowledge. The former executives leading the group even assist participants at their workplaces if desired.

Because a manufacturing operation encompasses all facets of business, you don’t want to reinvent the wheel any more than necessary. Relationships can prevent head-scratching scenarios by offering solutions that have worked already. The business owners understand my obstacles, and I’m looking forward to the next meeting.

However, a formal group setting isn’t always required. Our town has a restaurant that is a well-known hangout for the local business crowd, including professionals in medical, information technology, manufacturing and engineering. It’s easy to meet, converse and build interesting, useful relationships with acquaintances, if not form long-lasting friendships. I have found that most people are eager to share their knowledge and warn you about potential pitfalls.

Whatever manner you choose, remember that networking can offer relief from the manufacturing grind and the blinders it can create. An effective manager needs motivation outside the shop, and a great source for that is friendly people in a relaxed atmosphere. It’s good therapy. Most people are supportive and will keep you pumped up. Be open to receiving advice and encouragement from your peers, and be willing to provide the same to others.


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Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.