Putting everyone on the same page
While the company has a smaller workforce than it did 10 years ago and more of its employees are in their first five years of service, the average tenure is still about 15 years.
“Over a period of about five years, the culture has changed. They’re not intimidated by the concept of a robot. In fact, they kind of like it,” Bill says.
Some of the old guard who were set-in-their ways have moved on, he says. Between the newer people with more open minds, and the proof that people won’t lose their jobs — and could actually improve their opportunities — the culture has changed. Now, it’s much more receptive to the concept of automation.
Channellock doesn’t have as much trouble finding people as some manufacturers do. There’s a lot of resources in Northwest Pennsylvania.
“We can hire basically entry-level operations and associates to come in, and then we train them specifically on the type of gauging or machining we’re doing,” Jon says.
However, the expectations are high. Sometimes the employees might think it’s too high, but Jon says the alternative is worse.
“Our people think: ‘Your bar is too high. We can’t do all these things.’ But I’m thinking: ‘If we don’t, we’re not going to be competitive. Our costs are going to go through the roof and we’re going to have to go to the market with a price increase, which just triggers line reviews at all our retailers and that opens the door for more competition to come in and steal our hooks,” he says.
Jon, who has been in his current role for three years, taking on more responsibility as his father steps back from the day-to-day operation, is working to improve his communication skills so employees can feel comfortable with all the changes at Channellock.
While he finds it easy to fall into a technical role, such as writing a report, filling out a spreadsheet or looking at a process, interacting with people on a high level doesn’t come as naturally. He’d rather get into the details of how many pliers are being made today or what happened yesterday.
“It’s more so, ‘Does everybody understand what’s happening and communicating with the workforce and getting everybody on the same page.’ That’s been a big change for me,” Jon says. “And just doing things like sharing weekly updates with everybody and trying to get to as many department meetings as I can, with the focus on high-level strategic topics versus the day-to-day operations.”
He’s discovered networking with other executives and presidents to be useful.
“Networking outside of the organization is a big part of my personal development, and I think that helps the company as well,” he says.
For example, he got the idea for a weekly email blast that shares what’s going on in the company. It should take 20 minutes or less to write it, and five minutes or less to read it or it’s too long.
“That was something I heard at one of the meetings, and I said, ‘Oh, that sounds easy enough.’ It’s hard to do, to stick with it, but I think it’s effective if you’re consistent,” Jon says.