One of the things I enjoy is working with companies to help them better show appreciation to their employees. Studies show that most workers do not feel “valued” in their job. High-performance organizations know that people are their greatest asset and are very intentional about growing and developing their teams. Dan Bednarzyk, a vice president of manufacturing for Nissan North America Inc., is a believer of positive reinforcement. Bednarzyk, who is responsible for all manufacturing operations at Nissan’s vehicle assembly plant in Canton, shared, “I think it is important to motivate people regularly through positive reinforcement.”
Bednarzyk is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and Morristown, Tenn. His father also worked in the auto industry, and Bednarzyk shared, “I learned so much about how to treat people in a respectful manner from him.” Bednarzyk earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Tennessee Technological University in Cookeville, Tenn., and a master’s degree in business administration from Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. He joined Nissan in 1985 as a manufacturing engineer in the stamping department at the company’s vehicle assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn. He also spent 18 months in Japan as a long-term trainee at Nissan’s Oppama Plant and at the Nissan Technical Center. In 2002, Bednarzyk transferred to the Canton plant start-up team, where he served as plant manager of body assembly and stamping, and later was named director of engineering and maintenance. He assumed his current responsibilities in October 2007.
On the theme of motivating through positive reinforcement, he continued, “You can’t always focus on doing better, you also need to reward people for a job well done. This will instill confidence in your workforce. It can be difficult to do this but it’s absolutely essential.” One of the mistakes that I have personally observed is that leaders “sandwich” in positive and negative comments. That is ok in an evaluation or formal feedback session; however, if you want to provide positive reinforcement don’t add a “but” to the end of your statement. Let the person soak in your positive feedback. You can save the other feedback for another time.
Providing positive reinforcement is a step in building relationships which is critical for leadership. Bednarzyk shared, “I try to create genuine relationships with the team I am leading. Although it may be difficult to know everyone, I believe relationship building leads to reputation building, which builds the leader’s credibility.” He continued, “Mutual respect is essential to being able to lead successfully. When I realized that fact, I truly knew what leadership was and that I could be an effective leader.”
For future leaders, he advises them to first recognize themselves as a leader, and understand the influence they can have as a leader. He also emphasizes that it is important to strive for continuous improvement, both for yourself and for your team. Bednarzyk noted, “Even today, I see myself as someone who must continue to learn on a daily basis. Never stop being curious. In order to learn, we need to ask questions and get thorough understandings of our operations as well as our team dynamics.”
Nissan is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its Canton plant this year. The plant serves as the anchor for developing many of the company’s products built primarily for the U.S. market including the Altima, Armada full-size SUV, the Xterra mid-size SUV, and the Titan and Frontier pickup trucks. In January, Nissan announced that one of the company’s more popular vehicles, the Nissan Murano, will move production from Japan to Canton beginning in 2014.
As a leader both in his organization and the community, Bednarzyk has had a big impact through his leadership. I appreciate the impact that this facility and leaders like Bednarzyk have had on our state.
Martin Willoughby, a business consultant in Jackson, is a regular contributing columnist for the Mississippi Business Journal. Willoughby can be reached at martin.willoughby@ butlersnow.com.