8 Strategies to Build Strong Company Culture in Manufacturing Teams

April 23, 2022
By Sheri Pepper

If your employees were to describe your manufacturing environment’s culture, would their description inspire a job candidate to accept an offer to come on board? Or better yet, would your team provide consistent insight or share the most critical components of your business’ values or mission? 


For manufacturers with a well-articulated and intentional company culture, the answer should be a robust: Yes. For others, where the culture is less defined, the answer might likely be: I’m not sure.


A strong culture breeds competitive advantage


With the industrial sector still facing a labor shortage, manufacturers need every advantage for employee recruitment and retention, including a good reputation based on a strong internal philosophy. 


Workers who believe in the company brand are more likely to be happier on the job and more committed to outcomes, giving the business an edge over competitors whose employees are less dedicated or invested in the organization.  

What exactly is company culture?


The Society for Human Resources Management describes culture like this: “An organization’s culture defines the proper way to behave within the organization. This culture consists of shared beliefs and values established by leaders and then communicated and reinforced through various methods, ultimately shaping employee perceptions, behaviors, and understanding. Organizational culture sets the context for everything an enterprise does. Because industries and situations vary significantly, there is not a one-size-fits-all culture template that meets the needs of all organizations.”


Manufacturing culture: A work in progress


The business of creating a solid culture requires articulating your company’s “way of being” and getting buy-in from employees so they both understand and embody the attributes the company wants to be known for.


Even if a company has done the work to build and communicate its vision, the employer/employee relationship needs ongoing attention so it can be adjusted to reflect the values of both your current and potential workforce.


Whether your organization’s philosophy is well-established or needs an assist, here are six ways you can build a strong manufacturing company culture:

  1. Start with respect



    Cultivating respect for and between all employees is fundamental to a welcoming workplace culture and should begin with onboarding. Set the tone by extending respect to employees at all levels and expect the same of your team supervisors. This simple “golden rule” can easily get overlooked during a busy shift changes or as temporary employees come and go, but the impact is powerful.

    Some easy ideas: Shake new employees’ hands (if Covid safe) and ask and remember their names. Ask existing employees a few questions to learn bits and pieces about their personal lives. Besides formal feedback surveys, take a few moments to check in on existing team members to see how they’re doing or if they have questions or suggestions. Keep dialogue open and consistent so workers feel important … and respected. These simple daily acts go a long way. On the flip side, lack of respect is a fierce driver of employee resignations. The positive power of respect cannot be overstated.


  2. Empower ideas in all corners of the organization

    Great ideas can come from the least expected sources, but they are more likely to bubble up when employees are encouraged to participate and share their thoughts. This can be especially challenging for manufacturers who employ temporary or part-time staff but creating space for employees to share ideas doesn’t have to be complicated. Simple ways to foster innovation include making sure teams know whom to talk to or where to submit suggestions. 

    Try sharing production challenges with the people closest to the processes to solicit ideas for improvement. Make sure to offer recognition when suggestions produce positive results. Also, encourage teams to keep trying even if ideas don’t yield intended outcomes. Consistently reinforce to all employees that their ideas are important, whether their suggestions are big or small.

  3. Make sure employees know where their job can take them

    A job with a vague future is a job an employee can easily walk away from. Teams need to know how they can move up and what taking on more responsibility means for them down the road. It’s important to communicate pathways for advancement so employees understand what opportunities they might strive for and what’s required to move up. 

    Be clear about prospects for lateral or interdepartmental moves so teams get a full picture of how they might work in other parts of the organization. The availability of job and professional growth are strong indicators of employee retention.

  4. Help employees advance with upskilling and on-the-job training

    If your training and development program is stale, take the time to assess new cross-training or upskilling opportunities. For example, in Nelson’s 2022 Salary Guide and Future of Work Report, over half (58%) of industrial/manufacturing companies surveyed said they retrain employees to take on new roles. At the same time, only 24% of companies provide training so new hires can gain high-in-demand skills. A slim 15% offer paid internships or certification programs.

    Request Your Copy of Nelson’s 2022 Salary Guide
    With Highlights of Our 2022 Future of Work Report

    While many employers prefer to hire candidates with existing critical skills or experience, offering on-the-job training opens up your candidate pipeline to high-potential individuals who can quickly grow into the job with your support. If you don’t have an official training program in place, consider pairing newer hires with tenured employees to allow for knowledge transfer and skills development. 

    Additionally, rotational programs can give employees insight into other areas of the company, and mentorships can be one-on-one or in a group setting, either live or virtual. Keep tabs on which employees are attending school outside of work. Maybe their next new job is with your company.

  5. Commit to transparency

    People want to know what’s going on; it’s human nature. So when you have information that might help your teams, share what you can. Keeping employees informed of company progress or challenges helps them better understand decisions and feel more invested in outcomes. Sales forecasts, quarterly goals, and new initiatives should be communicated, not only to the people who need to know, but also to those who would like to know.

  6. Remember that small rewards make a big impact

    Everyone appreciates a thank you, and in most cases, simple acknowledgement of a job well done will make your employee’s day at the same time you reinforce a positive work environment. Although raising pay is always a winning strategy to bolster your culture, rewards can also be incidental and don’t have to be elaborate. Read our article that offersideas for employee engagement without raising pay. 

  7. Factor in employee well-being

    According to Mary Lynn Bartholomew, Nelson Regional Vice President, manufacturers can boost their corporate environment by addressing enterprise-wide advancements in community engagement, worker health and safety, and equity initiatives. “Industrial and warehouse companies compete for employees with tech and other progressive companies in industries that have moved toward supporting the whole employee,” Bartholomew said. “Adding tangible improvements that demonstrate a commitment to worker well-being put them on better footing to become an employer of choice.”

  8. A sincere corporate conscience and good deeds matter

    Bartholomew also notes that public manufacturers should promote externally and internally their commitments to the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) standards that investors use to vet socially conscious investment opportunities. According to Bartholomew: “Increasingly, people chose to work for companies that consider environment health in their operational practices, do right by employees, vendors, and local communities, and have trustworthy leaders who steer the company ethically utilizing strong internal controls.”

Culture is the essence of an organization. Consider implementing some or all these steps to ensure yours is positive and positions you as the company where employees want to be.


Have workforce questions or need help hiring new team members? Connect with Nelson today.

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