Keeping Your Knowledge Base While Restructuring

By Amanda Earing, News Editor, When wide-scale layoffs take place, manufacturers need to carefully evaluate their work force to ensure they keep the right people or it may end up costing them more in the long run.

In a manufacturing operation, knowledge is crucial. An employer must know the efficiency, competency and suitability of their workforce. An employee must know what is expected of them and their role in the manufacturing process. But when a company lays off large groups of employees, that knowledge can easily fall through the gaps.

Manufacturers often will eliminate numerous positions, but when a business fails to closely evaluate on an individual basis what talent should remain, it’s setting itself up to become less competitive and lose substantial revenue.

“Measuring your employees’ knowledge is an important part of the process when restructuring during and after layoffs,” says Mary Clarke, CEO of Cognisco, a consulting firm specializing in measuring employee knowledge and confidence.

Clarke suggests manufacturers remain objective and use employee-based knowledge development solutions. By working with consultants they can identify areas of knowledge development that need attention and can help ensure that employees are consistently in a position to excel.

A combination of online assessment modules, face to face interviews and consultation processes can help analyze and provide the employee data for businesses to remain operational and plan ahead for the upturn.

“It is all about understanding how much you know in terms of how jobs are done. By measuring the knowledge skills for each job, the competence workers have and how confident they are, employers can ensure they are placing the right workers in the right job when they consolidate operations and restructure,” says Clarke.

An assessment of your knowledge base can vary depending on the complexity of the jobs being performed. A 30-45 minute assessment will give manufacturers a good indication of where all employees fall in relation to a particular knowledge application or specific goal, such as understanding safety procedures when using a specific piece of equipment.

However, measuring an employee’s knowledge regarding an entire production line, industry standards, why certain procedures are done, and other aspects of the job could take much longer and should be assessed on a regular basis.

Companies should perform knowledge evaluations not just during time of restructuring, but on a recurring schedule. Using an online training solution, manufacturers can consistently assess their staff over a planned period and as they progress through the assessment modules, employers will know where there might be knowledge gaps and if employees are working at optimum levels.

“It is a bit like a school curriculum in which you have goals and measure performance based on how well students meet those goals, except here you plan for training goals and the assessment modules are arranged so employees take them over a planned period of time -- but it’s more than testing just memory, you’re looking for the right workers for the right process,” says Clarke.

Redistributing Work After Layoffs
In order to redistribute the work after a layoff, manufacturers need to know how the manufacturing processes will change.

“It is very important that in any restructuring you look at mapping the processes to the jobs and workflows,” says Clarke. “Companies need to be as strong as possible, so it is not only a question of keeping the best employees on board, but also identifying who are the indispensable employees and how they can pull together their new workforce to create a competitive operation that is ready for the upturn.”

It is important that manufacturers plan ahead by identifying individuals within the workforce who are capable of perhaps being redeployed elsewhere or perhaps becoming trainers. By identifying individuals in an organization that are knowledge custodians, these employees can help train new workers for a particular job.

“In any downturn, you have to be certain you don’t lose those knowledge custodians because they are going to be invaluable as you move forward,” says Clarke. “They are going to be the folks who will provide you with valuable training and mentoring necessary for a redeployed workforce environment and may well enable you to cut further costs moving forward.”

As employees take on more work after a mass layoff -- oftentimes without more pay, it is crucial for employers to carefully monitor staff morale and motivation. Clarke advises manufacturers to have a program in place that allows knowledgeable individuals to work directly with other staff, to not only train those left behind, but to also help boost morale.

“It isn’t just about increasing knowledge on the job, it’s also about working directly with your staff to encourage them to work with you and be successful,” says Clarke.

Another way to help keep morale up and also to prevent your knowledge base from leaving voluntarily is to create a development program that ensures promotional commitment.

“If money is tight, money doesn’t necessarily have to be the basis for a reward, as employees are always looking to excel and be the best they can be,” Clarke points out.

Encouraging educational training and providing promotional incentives can go a long way in keeping workers happy.

Take The Time To Do It Right
Manufacturers looking to cut jobs to save more money must not rush to remove heads in attempt to bring costs down. Doing so can easily mean losing the wrong people, which can also affect the individuals that remain and their productivity level. Clarke stresses that any job cuts made must be done with some objectivity.

Communication is key during a restructuring and one major mistake Clarke has seen far too often is companies that assume the redistributed work force knows their new jobs. Individuals not only need to know their new roles, but why they are doing it.

“It’s important the new processes are clearly understood. It’s always a misconception that the job you had when you joined the company is the same job you have today and very often it isn’t,” notes Clarke.

As a result, Clarke suggests periodically updating training manuals.

“When you take out larger numbers of the same job roles, you could also lose some of the processes, so it’s important that manuals cover all aspects of the job,” says Clarke.

Manufacturers need to pay attention to cultural changes that will occur as a result of restructuring as well.

“You’ll have quite a different mix of employees and relationships and when mass layoffs happen, it not only affects the people forced to leave, it also affects the people that are still there which is why it’s important to keep up mentoring and coaching and directly working with your employees whenever possible,” says Clarke.