Managing a machine shop when it’s busy and flush with jobs is, dare I say, fun because most everyone is happy knowing their hard work equates to a bigger paycheck. However, when you’re at the epicenter of an economic reconstruction, it’s more difficult and, let’s face it, tiring. For most shop managers, including me, this year’s experiences are testing our mettle and placing serious demands on us.
As an owner or manager of a machining business, you’re accustomed to dealing with all sorts of people and unanticipated situations. Most of this is part of our everyday responsibilities and handled in routine fashion. But those of us in this position have to be consistently “on our game,” regardless of the economic circumstances.
Employees go home without all the responsibilities, but shop managers must ponder, strategize, plan and deal with things day and night. We have to stroll around the shop looking confident when we’re not, motivate and inspire when we’re not motivated or inspired, convey bad news to good people and carry the entire burden. It’s these scenarios that can make or break us, and our steadfastness and management wherewithal are put to the test. How we perform under these circumstances is what sets us apart.
Many have studied leadership and effective management, and endless theories exist about how to be successful. But regardless of the particular management style, employees can sense if you’re wavering or lacking confidence. They can tell if you’re stressed, so maintaining professionalism through good and not-so-good times is imperative. This doesn’t mean you hide bad news when business isn’t going well. Reality is reality, and tough decisions have to be made. But leaders and managers must exude a we’ll-get-through-this attitude—especially around employees.
Communicate with employees and delegate so you can focus on the essential matters. Cut where you have to, but include a plan to attract new business and discuss it often. Discourage inefficient activities by letting employees know that wasted resources are costing them potential income. Convince employees they are the eyes and ears of the company—and are needed.
As you walk through your shop and manage activities, do so with strength and confidence. Employees desire it. Will it be easy? Of course not! It’s one of the most challenging situations you’ll ever experience. Staying the course, being decisive and trusting your instincts are difficult. Pondering these matters while out with the family has been a common occurrence for me this year and I hate it. It goes with the territory, but even so, it’s still a tremendous burden when you can’t relax because of persistent concerns about your livelihood. While there are no magic formulas to remove such stress, it’s important to remember that many others in your position are going through the same experience, and brainstorming with peers can be helpful.
It’s also essential that employees have confidence in your skills and the company’s direction. You’re expected to display calm, decisiveness and honesty, among many other qualities. In other words, a visibly stressed out, overworked owner or manager doesn’t come across well. You’re expected to set a rock-steady example of management prowess, even when inside you may be scared to death.
College degrees, training classes and seminars may provide some useful techniques, but, ultimately, your ability to lead during tumultuous points in your company’s history is why you’re in this position and the benefits to be reaped later will be sweet indeed. It’s the difficulties and challenges that make us better. Make the most of them. CTE
About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, laser cutting, metal fabrication and metal stamping. He can be e-mailed at email@example.com.