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Manufacturers: It’s Time to Move from Operational Excellence to Inclusive Excellence

multi colored hands reaching towards a star for a success in business concept
Credit: iStock/wildpixel

This blog is part of a monthly series brought to you by the America Works initiative. As a part of the MEP National Network’s goal of supporting the growth of small and medium-sized manufacturing companies, this series focuses on innovative approaches and uncovering the latest trends in manufacturing workforce development.

In the wake of the killing of George Floyd two years ago, many organizations and companies made commitments to racial and social justice. Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) offices were created and DEI officers were hired. But have they been given the resources they need to succeed? Have they been given the teams and leadership buy-in to make real change happen?

Nichole Thompson is working to help organizations reach the grand visions they have laid out as they relate to diversity, equity and inclusion. Thompson promotes “inclusive excellence,” a framework and approach for assessing your company and determining an action plan to improve your work culture. Inclusive excellence is rooted in the notion that if everyone in your organization understands where they stand, what value they deliver, and what their future in the company looks like, then the overall culture will improve. As we know, when organizations are inclusive, they have greater productivity, retention and profits. This model is well-established in academia (see, for example, this graphic from the University of Virginia).

inclusive excellence model
Credit: University of Virginia

Now, it’s time for American manufacturers to borrow from our universities. It’s time for us to move beyond simple operational excellence — making your processes as efficient and cost-effective as possible — and start thinking about inclusive excellence, which prioritizes people above products and profits. The inclusive excellence model has five aspects:

  1. Access and Success – Who are you recruiting? Who are you not recruiting, either intentionally or unintentionally? What are the barriers to accessing the great careers your company offers? Are your employees giving you the output that you’re seeking, and if not, what barriers might be in place that are causing that? One important point Thompson shares is that frontline workers need to be at the table for these discussions, reminding us, “Don’t talk about me unless I’m at the table to give my viewpoint and opinions.”
  2. Training and Education – If we want individuals to succeed, are we equipping them with what they need to reach their goals? What are you assuming your workers know about the company that they might be mistaken about? These could be the hard job skills, the culture or the history of the company.
  3. Community Engagement – Whether it’s inside the community or external to the business, do your workers feel engaged? Does your recruitment plan for new talent also include a retention plan? Thompson has a laundry list of examples of employers spending millions on recruitment but then losing those great people because there’s no sense of community or retention plan in place once they’ve accepted the job.
  4. Organizational Climate – What is it really like to work at your company? What are your company values, and are your employees really living up to them? Who is thriving at your company, and why are they crushing it? Chances are you don’t actually know. Many MEP Centers offer an assessment of your company’s morale, including gauging its strengths and shortcomings. These third-party, unbiased surveys are critical to identifying blind spots that are impacting your workplace and your workers’ morale.
  5. Organizational Infrastructure and Investment – What are the policies of your company, and how do they advance or hinder inclusivity? What are the communication mechanisms, and how are people measured? So many aspects of this infrastructure are set up by leadership, and it can be hard to critically examine them and make the changes necessary for improvement. Again, that’s where an external consultant such as an MEP Center can play a critical role.

So, what’s the first step to inclusive excellence? Having an open, creative and adaptable mindset. “We have to work hard to have a broad perspective,” says Thompson. “If a leader isn’t open to new thoughts, it kills creativity. When leadership is closed to new ideas, inclusive excellence isn’t possible.”

Now that you’ve decided to approach inclusive excellence in a serious way, what are your next steps? Well, Thompson suggests you FOCUS, using this five-step process:

F – Find specific areas of weakness or need through one of the third-party assessments mentioned earlier.

O – Outline how best to affect near and long-term change.

C – Communicate areas of change to leadership and staff for buy-in.

U – Use current best practices, personnel and other resources.

S – Specify specific, systemic and sustainable changes you want to make.

In closing, Thompson advocates that servant leadership is no longer enough. Instead, we have to ensure that the employees and team members we’re serving bring a diversity of perspectives so we can create organizations capable of solving the complex challenges of our modern world. She quotes a piece of wisdom floating around on the internet: “Great achievements are not born from a single vision, but from the combination of many distinctive viewpoints. Diversity challenges assumptions, opens minds and unlocks our potential to solve any problems we may face.”

About the author

Matt Fieldman

Matthew Fieldman is currently Executive Director of America Works, a nationwide initiative to coordinate the American manufacturing industry's training efforts, generating a more capable, skilled, and diverse workforce. Based at MAGNET: The Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network, Matt works across the nation's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) system to increase collaboration, efficiency, and impact of local and regional workforce development efforts.

Previously, he was Vice President of External Affairs for MAGNET, a nonprofit that helps Northeast Ohio’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers grow locally while competing globally. In this role, he launched the Ohio Manufacturing Survey; mspire, a regional startup pitch competition; helped launch manufacturing apprenticeships for inner-city youth; and is responsible for fundraising, legislative relations, media relations, and more. Concurrently, Matthew is the founding Board Chair of EDWINS Restaurant and Leadership Institute, Cleveland's first nonprofit restaurant and one of the first of its kind nationally to train formerly incarcerated individuals to work in fine dining. He raised over $600,000 to start EDWINS and was named “2014 Fundraiser of the Year” by Fundraising Success magazine for his efforts. He is also the founder of Cleveland Codes, one of the nation's first nonprofit software bootcamps devoted specifically to training low-income adults for careers in technology. Originally from Orlando, Florida, Matt earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology, cum laude, from the University of Florida, a Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University, and a Certificate in Nonprofit Management from Case Western Reserve University. He is a former Ariane de Rothschild and American Council on Germany Transatlantic Fellow, and is currently a Civil Society Fellow at the Aspen Institute.

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