Manufacturing Civility

People treatment as a continuous improvement strategy

By Christian Masotti

As a manufacturing leader, you probably have a solid handle on your organization’s processes and procedures when it comes to the actual production of your wares, and you’re probably working a strategy of continuous improvement for these processes. 

Ask yourself these questions, though: Is your company including your people and your people processes in your strategy for continuous improvement? Do you know the effect that your company culture is having on your productivity and your effectiveness?

Roughness poisons your culture

In traditional manufacturing environments, you often need to show you are not weak. Fitting in often requires being “rough” which might include engaging in what many perceive as uncivil behaviours: 

• Swearing 

• Calling people names 

• Ignoring people 

• Criticizing people in public 

• Walking away when people are talking to you

• Shouting 

• Demonstrating physical strength, e.g., punching a wall, stomping, making a fist 

• Toughing it out when you experience small injuries 

• Crowding others, e.g., getting into their personal space 

• Overtalking and/or interrupting 

• Rolling your eyes 

• Gesturing rudely 

• Shutting people down verbally 

• Speaking in a harsh tone 

• Taking a staunch stance, e.g., wide postures 

• Failing to acknowledge others 

• Avoiding showing softness, e.g., formal thank you, hugging, too much smiling 

• Avoiding apologizing 

• And generally, just not being nice. 

Some of this behaviour might be understood as normal or acceptable by those who live in these organizations, but technically, these are uncivil behaviours which, when left unaddressed, collectively create a toxic work culture. 

Sure, the noise, the time constraints, the stress, the union aspects, etc. all contribute to a what can be described as a toxic workplace culture, but the hard truth is that for the most part, the lack of niceness is due to leadership (including supervisors and managers) and their respective attitudes toward what constitutes acceptable ‘people treatment.’ 

Treat your people properly

People treatment is a term coined by my colleague, Lewena Bayer, that refers to an overall attitude about what constitutes a fair and good way of interacting with people. People treatment includes how you speak, nonverbal gestures, the extent to which you are empathetic, and how you define honesty and integrity. An individual’s idea of positive people treatment can vary from one context to another.

In order to navigate the interpersonal dynamics of both the workplace and the world at large, each of us, but especially those of us in leadership positions, needs to be able to both convey positive people treatment and read cues and behaviours of others so that we can encourage civility in interactions.

The recommendation for manufacturing organizations, where command and control management style, and the often-associated negative verbal and nonverbal behaviours might be deeply ingrained, is to focus on social intelligence training. In a very short time, this strategic training can build skills such that there is immediate measurable impact to the workplace culture – specifically to the overall tone of communications. 

Reading the room is critical

Social intelligence is the ability to read and effectively interpret verbal, nonverbal, tonal, and contextual cues. Social intelligence includes social radar (being present and paying attention), social style (the ability to adapt your approach to interaction), and social rules (knowledge of the unwritten and written guidelines that vary with context). 

Social intelligence teaches people skills which can offset communication skills gaps, enable people who cannot problem solve on their own to ask questions, and builds trust such that people can collaborate more effectively.

 Social Intelligence training enables people to: 

• Read verbal, nonverbal, contextual, and situational cues to interpret the mood, motivation, and needs of others 

• Exhibit nonverbal, verbal, and situational cues appropriately 

• Be present, e.g., pay attention to what is going on around them 

• Recognize when gestures, language, behaviour, or approach is grounded in culture, generation, or gender nuances 

• Pick up on subtle changes in tone and behaviour, e.g., sense when a mood shifts

• Learn unwritten rules, e.g., unspoken and unwritten expectations for how to live in a certain environment, e.g., aspects of workplace culture 

• Learn written and known rules, e.g., codes of conduct, regulation etc. 

• Become self-aware of one’s own social style 

• Adapt one’s social style to what is appropriate or required for a certain situation 

• Adapt to change quickly by shifting social gears when necessary 

• Respond to events calmly e.g., due to ability to anticipate and/or monitor 

• Recognize the appropriate time to ask questions 

• See aspects of personality that are otherwise unnoticed 

• Send a positive first impression 

• Make others feel at ease 

• Build trust, e.g., due to paying attention 

• Be a better listener 

• Be cordial and approachable 

• Show humility, e.g., recognize when help is needed 

• Read emotions, e.g., be empathetic when needed 

When leaders in manufacturing have high social intelligence combined with some experience interacting with others in the workplace context, for example, they know the general expectations for the workplace culture, they know the industry jargon, have some knowledge of the terms and processes, etc., they can apply their social intelligence in a way that fosters social acuity

Indicators of social acuity 

Leaders need to have high social acuity. That is, they need to have a keen social sense. They must be consistently accurate and timely in their perceptions and assessments of social settings. They need to know how to: 

• Read contextual cues

• Be attentive to the nuances of workplace culture

• Navigate politics in union environments

• Identify who will be an ally and who will be a challenge

• Build trust

• Repair when a trust is broken

• Consider contextual aspects when timing everything from greetings, to feedback to workplace coaching and performance reviews

• Communicate in a way that leaves everyone involved in the interaction feeling valued

• Acknowledge differences that make a difference, e.g., related to gender, culture, generation 

• Give timely and effective feedback 

• Monitor and manage nonverbal cues to boost credibility and perceived competence 

• Adapt supervisory approach and style to meet the needs of individual workers

• Apply adult learning principles

• Maintain credibility as a leader but still be perceived as approachable by the production team 

One of the outcomes of high social acuity is a recognition that each individual in an organization has value. But we have to be careful not to attach only monetary value to individuals.

In Doing Virtuous Business, Theodore Roosevelt Malloch states that, “Every person has a fingerprint of personality and potential and desire to contribute. When we define people solely in economic terms, our motivational and incentive schemes tend to become mechanical and manipulative. We try to define a system that will idiot-proof the process, which can in turn make people feel like idiots.” 

Value just from being

From a civility perspective, each individual of course has value as a human being. As such, every individual is deserving of respect just because he or she is human and on the planet. However, trust is something that must be earned and not every person is deserving of trust.

In terms of workplace value, individuals at all levels should be acknowledged for: 

• Potential (amount of potential might vary) 

• Intelligence (nature of intelligence might vary) 

• Education (type and extent of education might vary) 

• Social contribution (nature and volume of social contribution might vary) 

• Experience (time on the job and type of experience might vary) 

• Resilience (extent of resilience might vary) 

All of these elements are aspects of value, but it is each individual’s understanding of civility, and his or her choosing civility that enables us to recognize and appreciate these aspects of value.

Without civility, and without respect, people often fail to see the value of others. As such, it is important to also recognize the Civility Quotient

• Civility commitment + civility competency = Civility Quotient 

The idea is that when everyone in a workplace understands that each individual has value, overall civility and positive people treatment in the organization improves. 

Christian Masotti is Director of Business Development with Civility Experts Inc. With decades of industry experience with some of the world’s largest manufacturers, he is a continuous learner who combines technical skills in continuous improvement with social intelligence and cultural competence. He is author of Three Phones and a Radio, and co-author of Lean on Civility: Strategies for Changing Culture in Manufacturing Workplaces.