In many workplaces, training younger employees to become part of the management team can be a challenge. Manufacturing plants and other facilities are no different.
With much of the older generation at or near retirement age, ensuring that the younger generation is ready to take the reins is more important now than ever to ensure that facilities stay productive, profitable, and adhere to strong environmental, health and safety standards.
Part of the problem is the so-called generational gap, which can cause misunderstanding and conflict. In a nutshell, the older generation often views younger people as not willing to work hard and too dependent on technology. The younger generation sees older folks as out of touch and set in their ways.
Neither side is wrong or right. There is truth in both statements. In any case, both sides need to come together respectfully if vital knowledge is to be passed on to new management or the consequences to the facility and overall business can be drastic.
I recommend using a specific framework to overcome this challenge, what I call the Core 4 requirements for a smoothly running facility:
- Facility Knowledge
- Property History
Mastering the Core 4 gives you a full picture of your facility, including what it does and how it does it, as well as what was done in the past. Only with that knowledge can you make effective decisions. The Core 4 also provides guidance on the best ways of training new employees, ensuring they understand what is needed for effective facility management.
(I covered Communications and Facility Knowledge in Part 1 of this article, which you should read first, if you haven’t already.)
Now let’s explore the remaining parts of the Core 4:
It’s one thing to understand what your facility does today. Just as important, is understanding what happened at the site in the past. This is especially true with older facilities that have changed hands many times over the years and were engaged in a variety of tasks.
This property history can have a huge impact in many areas. And as the current manager, it doesn’t matter whether you were there or not, any issues that come up are your responsibility.
You can get insight into property history in a variety of ways:
- Site maps
- Architectural drawings
- Regulator records, including past violations
- Interviews with former long-time employees
Investigating property history helps you identify and protect yourself against risks and liabilities. You can avoid making mistakes that were made in the past.
Not having a handle on property history can have serious – and expensive – consequences.
In one facility we worked in, the client had to stop a major building expansion in its tracks. When they broke ground, they hit old storage tanks last used in the 1980s by the former owner of the site. Because they didn’t know the property’s history, they didn’t know the tanks were there.
Construction was put on hold so the tanks could be properly decommissioned and removed. Unfortunately, soil contamination was found during the tank removals, which took well over a year to address and obtain regulatory approval so that the building expansion could continue.
Understanding property history helps you to develop a foundation for effective management and training. When you know where you came from and know where you are now (facility knowledge), you – and the next generation of managers – can figure what you need to do next.
That’s why it’s so important to maintain historical records of your facility and collect any documents, drawings, and other materials that helps you develop a snapshot of the past… and continue to build on that history by collecting and organizing the same materials during your tenure so they benefit future generations.
Form more information on Property History, check out another one of our articles here.
All of the Core 4 requirements work in harmony, with documentation playing a central role. As you gain facility knowledge, you must document it. As you build a record of property history, you must document it. And documentation must be in a form that it can be effectively communicated.
Documentation is key in the training process and making sure that a new generation of management has a knowledge base to build on and don’t have to reinvent the wheel when they take over.
One of the generational gap issues we find at many facilities we visit is exactly how to document important information like:
- Environmental, health and safety reports
- Key policies and programs
- Records of training, inspections, permits, and required monitoring
- Work journals that showcase how tasks and processes are done
Senior managers often prefer to have paper copies of everything. They like filing cabinets full of documents.
Younger managers have found that digital records are more easily managed, which means scanning paper copies. (Quick tips: When scanning documents make sure the resolution is high enough and all necessary pages are included. Also, the file format should be standardized and not dependent on specific software to open. And please – make sure you review your scanned images for completeness before you destroy your paper copies!)
A recent experience with a client showed the importance of documentation and just how handy having things in digital form can be.
Regulators were trying to officially close a site in Texas, and the case manager asked our client for the regulatory closure letters for removal of storage tanks that were issued back in the 1990s. The client had meticulously kept records, which is good. But… that closure letter was somewhere in 30 boxes of historical data for that site.
Luckily the client had a small administrative office that handled EH&S management for the company, including the site in Texas. Because they didn’t have room to store documents, they had long ago gone completely paperless with their records. They would scan copies of every paper document, then save the scanned document electronically with, and this is key, a description of the contents. With their system, you could type in a phrase or keywords and find the document you needed in a matter of seconds. Compare that effort to having to physically look through 30 boxes of files for a few letters!
Within minutes, we had the closure letters we needed to satisfy the regulators. It would have taken days if we had to go through the file boxes.
This ease of use and retrieval, and ability to store vast amounts of information, means digital documentation will be the go-to. As a current facility manager, you can get the ball rolling and make it a part of the transition to the next generation.
For more information on the importance of Documentation, check out another one of our articles here.
Making the Core 4 Part of Your Routine
As senior managers make way for younger employees, a key part of that changeover should be emphasizing the Core 4: Communications, Facility Knowledge, Property History, and Documentation.
It’s essential to training and passing on your knowledge and expertise, not just of best practices but also of issues specific to your facility.
This free download can provide guidance and ensure that the Core 4 are always top of mind:
Core Four Requirements Checklist.
As I mentioned in a previous article, The Generational Dilemma in the Manufacturing Workforce, there is a crisis in the manufacturing world that has to be addressed:
The conflict between the generations.
On one side, you have senior management, who tend to be older and near retirement. On the other side, the younger workforce coming up the ranks.
The older generation feels like millennials and Generation Z aren’t ready to replace them because they lack the skills and experience. The younger generation feels like their senior colleagues are out of date and out of touch with technology that could streamline operations at facilities.
It’s a scenario playing out across our society these days. Both positions have some truth to them. Both sides bring strengths and weaknesses to the table.
But what’s most important is that the two sides work together to create more productive and profitable facilities with strong environmental, health and safety programs.
I recommend using the Core 4 to help bridge the generational gap. By focusing on communications, facility knowledge, property history, and documentation, both sides are on the same page about what’s going on at the facility, which makes things run smoother and reduces costly mistakes. These four elements also provide a structure for everybody to work together effectively and for knowledge to be passed on to new employees.
It’s no secret that older and younger generations communicate quite differently, not only in their personal lives, but also at work. The difference was quite evident in our work with a client in the northeast. We were helping them conduct due diligence prior to an acquisition of a site that last operated in the early 2000s.
To get an idea of what the operation was like back then, including raw materials used and stored, locations and types of process areas, wastes produced and storage areas for those wastes, and past spills/releases - all with the intent of getting a better handle on property history and potential environmental areas of concern, we had to interview some of the retired “old timers” who were on the job back then.
The team at the real estate group working for the sellers was all about communicating through email, often in brief messages. All the back and forth was frustrating for those retired employees. They would rather talk in person or by phone.
The heart of effective communication is understanding how each party is most comfortable speaking to others and exchanging information. You have to be willing to use different communication methods as needed.
In the case of this client, jumping on the phone with those retired workers gave us a plethora of important data on the site in a relatively short period; while it was like pulling teeth to get the same information by email.
Once a mode of communication is established, it can be used as a channel for passing on facility knowledge and property history. For it to work, the older generation must be willing to pass on that information, and the younger generation must be ready to respectfully receive and retain it. It’s all about listening.
Clear communication is vital to this coaching process. In fact, the simple act of communication and passing on knowledge often serves as a prompt for the older generation to see processes in a new light. I know when I’m coaching one of our employees or even a client, I’m forced to think through the whole process we are reviewing, and I often gain insights on how to streamline things.
Let’s say you are a facility manager and you’re coaching a younger staff member that has just come on board. You’re working through a certain task with them. As you do so, you realize that you haven’t been historically completing that task the best, or most efficient way possible. As a result, you may start to rethink how you are doing certain tasks at your facility.
With that said, you also have to be open to the possibility that the person you’re coaching might have valuable insights, as a newcomer with fresh eyes.
That means you have to take that younger person’s feedback as well. You must realize that despite their youth and relative inexperience, that up and comer brings a lot of knowledge and capability to the table, not to mention familiarity and comfort with technology.
Technology can help you improve and streamline processes and make your life easier as long as you know how to implement and utilize it correctly. Allow younger team members to demonstrate what technology can do and then make the decision if you want to use it. It shows respect to this new person willing to contribute.
Don’t fall prey to the widespread belief of the older generation that using technology is the lazy way. And, often, you’re so entrenched with the way things have always been done, you’re blind to alternatives, which can be a barrier to improvement. Please avoid the old saying – “Well, we’ve always done it this way.” Be open to change that leads to improvements and increasing efficiencies!
Let’s break that mindset. For effective communications, both sides must listen and be willing to learn.
As younger workers learn their jobs, thorough facility knowledge is key. This is all about understanding what the facility does and how it’s done – a good general knowledge of operations, essentially.
This is not about knowing all the nitty-gritty details of every single process. You don’t need to know how to run every machine. But it’s important to know the raw materials, required permits and reporting, the finished products, and any waste products generated.
As the senior team member, you must pass on this information, using effective communications. The new employee must listen, seek to understand, and ask questions when something is not clear.
That last part is critical.
Always ask questions if you don’t understand. I always tell our team members to not be afraid to ask questions. The only time you should be afraid of questions is when you don’t ask them when you don’t understand something. You can’t just transcribe information when you are being instructed on something, whether at a job site or when in training. Whether the trainer or trainee, never be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” That’s the first step to finding the answer and filling in the gaps on facility knowledge.
For the younger generation, you need to build a solid foundation on facility knowledge in order to establish a productive present and successful future. There is no easier way to do this than to tap into the knowledge base of the experienced, long-service employees at your facility.
For the older generation, you are critical in your facility’s future successes by making sure past mistakes are not repeated. Repeating a past mistake is one of the costliest things a facility can do. Make sure that does not happen by passing on your knowledge to the younger generation at your facility. Make them aware of not only how to do something, but also how not to do something. Help groom the younger set to ensure continued successes at your facility.
Remember, you must know what you do and how you do it, in order to know what you need at your facility. That’s the key to facility knowledge.
I’ll cover the remaining two parts of the Core 4, property history and documentation, in Part 2 of this article.
In the meantime, download this free checklist I’ve put together to help you identify problem areas in your facility and address them.
Core Four Requirements Checklist.
The country is getting back to work, and that includes manufacturing plants, warehouses, office complexes, shopping centers, and other facilities.
There is a crisis in manufacturing that has been slowly but surely coming to a head… with the pace quickening the last few years, especially now with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our workforce. Its impact will be felt for years to come.
If you’re looking to buy a building or property to open a new facility or expand your existing operations, you have to keep in mind more than just the price. And that’s especially true if you’re looking at former or current manufacturing sites, warehouses, or other commercial/industrial properties.
As the country starts to get back to work and our returning work force expands, we need to maintain our focus on getting back to basics.
The issue is what I call “workplace fog,” which is leading to many workplace mistakes that result in issues and accidents that can have serious consequences.
First off, kudos to anyone who must manage environmental, health and safety (EH&S) issues at a facility.
As an environmental consultant who has been up close and personal with many facility and plant managers over the years, my hat’s off to you because I know how much responsibility you have in so many different areas. And that makes the role challenging beyond the official job description you were hired under.