People are your most valuable asset. To get the most out of your employees, empower them.

Employee empowerment is one of the many strategies that recipients of our Quality Plant of the Year award cite as a reason for their success. From our inaugural winner, Diamond Electric Manufacturing Corp. (Eleanor, WV), to this year’s winners, Lockheed Martin MS2 Tactical Systems-Clearwater Operations (Oldsmar, FL) in the large plant division and Personna America Safety Razor (ASR, Knoxville, TN) in the small plant division, employee empowerment is part of the culture at these award-winning plants.

Turn to page 48 to read Special Projects Editor Michelle Bangert’s article on Lockheed Martin. According to Lockheed’s corporate philosophy, employee empowerment is part of the company’s operational strategy: “Through exceptional quality, continuous improvement and empowered employees, we will leverage our success with existing customers to win new business from customers within MS2, Lockheed Martin and within the defense electronics industry who align with our value proposition.”

Starting on page 42, you can read about Managing Editor Maggie McFadden’s visit to ASR’s facility. Encouraging employees to get involved in continuous improvement projects is one way management tries to empower its operators at the company. “We use almost everybody in an effort for quality and continuous improvement, but most of our projects are driven by operators. They are the ones that really drive improvement. I think it energizes employees. It allows for some personal growth and basic job enrichment to be actively involved in what they do, day in and day out,” explains Martin Day, quality manager at the plant.

With only three operators from press through grinding and more than 400 blades per minute whizzing by on each line, ASR’s management empowers operators to make judgment calls on the shop floor when necessary, including shutting down a machine.

For manufacturers that seek to instill a similar work attitude in their employees, a strategy is needed that allows employees to make decisions. First, set some boundaries. What type of decisions can be made on a daily basis and what decisions can be made only when you’re out of the office? Help employees by coaching, training and providing the necessary information to make those decisions. In turn this will help employees develop skills, talent and decision-making competency.

But to empower employees means to give up some aspects of control. In return for giving up that control, managers will have more time to look at the big picture and engage in strategic thinking.

That’s a pretty good trade-off. Managers have time to become strategic thinkers, and employees take ownership of their work, thereby improving motivation and productivity. What better people to serve your organization than competent, capable people who know they are valued?

Are you willing to give up control to start the path to becoming a strategic-thinking leader? Do you work at a company that empowers employees? Share your stories with me at [email protected].