HATTIESBURG – Sometimes programs that go by the name “leadership training” present a lot of lofty ideas, but there is a gap between what is taught in the classroom and ground-floor application at a business.
However, that isn’t the case with a leadership training program developed by Pearl River Community College Workforce Development Center, which has been taught in four Hattiesburg industries in the past year.
“It is the best program with the community college network provided to date that I have been exposed to,” said Charles Phillips, plant manager, Dickten & Masch MS Inc. “This isn’t like a classroom that you go into and read out of a textbook. It isn’t something you learn and then don’t use for months. This is information you learn today and use today.”
Phillips said leadership training instructor Lee Reid frequently visits on the production floor — even outside of class hours — communicating with supervisors and workers and encouraging them to work through issues. Dickten & Masch has been so pleased with results that they have brought Reid back to teach advanced leadership training.
“This program has been a tremendous asset to our growth,” Phillips said. “We have extremely low turnover and are very pleased with workforce we have here. We continue to have new work and expand our operations. We’re postured to grow.”
Technicians need people skills
Phillips feels that leadership training can be particularly valuable in a highly technical operation such as Dickten & Masch, which is a custom molder that produces plastic components. Supervisors usually start out as technicians. Technicians don’t always have good people skills, so the course is valuable to teach technical people how to deal with issues such as work performance and workplace conflict.
Dealing with crisis
“Normally you run into conflicts when people haven’t been educated and trained to handle crisis-type situations that arise day in and day out in the workplace,” Phillips said. “Conflict in the workforce originates when you have bad leadership. Good leadership, on the other hand, stimulates a team environment.”
The company, whose headquarters are in Wisconsin, began operations in Hattiesburg in 1999. The company’s Wisconsin plant couldn’t expand because of labor shortages in a region with unemployment at 1%. No employees were brought down from Wisconsin, so the entire workforce had to be recruited and trained locally. And since finding employees with the technical skills they need isn’t easy, the leadership training program is valuable because it reduces employee turnover.
Another Hattiesburg company that has seen big benefits from the leadership training is the Kohler Engine Plant, which produces single-cylinder engines for riding lawn mowers. Plant Manager Bob Boor said the program greatly improved communications among managers and employees.
“Lee Reid is just an absolutely fantastic instructor,” Boor said. “He has put together some really good materials on leadership. It was an excellent program.”
Kohler’s plant in Hattiesburg opened in January of 1998. Boor said the leadership program allowed employees who had come from many different previous businesses to develop a common language.
“It put everyone on the same page on leadership issues and how to communicate,” Boor said. “It gave them a common vocabulary and set of values in which to work. I think that speeded up our growing process. The training was extremely helpful in our case.”
Reid said the program distinguishes the difference between a leader and a manager. The instruction focuses on dealing face-to-face with worker development including the role supervisors have both as a leader and a coach. The course discusses what a leader should be (values and ethical behavior), what a leader should know (knowing himself and human nature plus knowing the job and standards) and what a leader should do (providing purpose, direction and motivation to employees).
“We design the course around a concept that offsets shortfalls in previous leadership training,” Reid said. “It is sometimes difficult to relate leadership training as to what the payoff is. What we have found in doing a little research in prior leadership training is that in many cases the students couldn’t relate the training to their job. They would go to the classroom and be exposed to an enormous amount of information in a short period of time. But the course but wasn’t tailored to what they had to deal with on floor of the factory.”
Reid’s leadership training program is customized to fit the worksite, and also has another important element often lacking in previous leadership training programs: followup and feedback.
“We feel like the feedback mechanism is extremely important,” Reid said. “I will try to visit a company location once a week even when they don’t have classes there just to interact with supervisors. I find how they are taking training and relating it to the particular worksite. I not only get feedback from supervisors, but also the management team about how they see supervisors applying the leadership training.”
Reid has been developing the curriculum for the leadership training course for a year and a half, and has received very positive feedback from management level personnel as well as supervisors who have taken the class.
Benefits that companies have reported include higher worker morale, lower turnover, improved productivity, an improved accident rate and lower worker’s compensation costs, reduced absenteeism and cost of replacements, and favorable impacts on production and quality issues. With low unemployment levels particularly for skilled technical workers, worker retainment is a major issue.
Reid said it is important for managers to focus on raising the self esteem of employees. “If you do that, they will feel better about themselves and be more productive about their work,” Reid said. “Turnover in a company can be closely related to employees’ relationship with first-level supervisors. Turnover will happen because we have a transient work society. But there is a correlation between trust between a supervisor and a worker, and a worker’s willingness to stay with an organization.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Becky Gillette at firstname.lastname@example.org or (228) 872-3457.