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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Kelly Springer. Kelly Springer serves as Metal Flow Corporation's President and Chief Executive Officer. Metal Flow Corporation manufactures technically sophisticated custom metal components primarily to the global automotive industry.
Kelly has made significant contributions to the community through her involvement in various organizations, including her current roles as a member of the Michigan West Coast Chamber board of directors, the Michigan Women Forward Advisory Council, and as Executive Champion for Inference Manufacturers next group. In addition, she was recognized in 2017 as the recipient of the Lakeshore Athena leadership award. Kelly, welcome to the show.
Kelly Springer: Thank you for having me excited to share some time with you today.
Lisa Ryan: Great. As we get started, please share a bit of your background, including why you chose to go into manufacturing. What led you to Metal Flow?
Kelly Springer: Well, I started in manufacturing way before college. I worked in a family-owned business that had a manufacturing bent to it. It was a printing company and a family business. After graduating college, I went into accounting because my degree was in accounting. I was a public accountant for 23 years.
During that time, the main focus of my practice was tied to manufacturing. Metal Flow was one of my clients. I joined the organization in 2013 as the chief financial officer was intrigued about leaving the consulting side of public accounting and being part of a team that was running a successful business.
I spent a fair amount of time on the manufacturing floor and learned more about our processes in a family-owned business setting. I'm not a family member; I'm responsible for executing along with my executive team on all the things that make this business successful. We're going to talk a bit about people, and people are certainly the number one cornerstone of what we do here at Metal Flow.
Lisa Ryan: When you look at how the labor market is right now, people are incredibly hard to find. The focus is on retaining the people you already have, those good people who are making everything work, and, of course, getting rid of the toxic people bringing everybody else down. Your tagline is people, process, products, pride, and where people come first. Please share your philosophy and how you've changed the culture over there.
Kelly Springer: When you think about people, you don't have to go too far to hear lots of articles, podcasts, and media coverage about the uptick in automation in American manufacturing. That's an aspect. But the core foundation of what we do requires people to do it. We want folks to take great pride in the fact that they're part of the Metal Flow.
We refer to our employees as team members. It starts by valuing them and the technical talents that so many of our roles have and recognizing that retention becomes a vital part of understanding what all those roles involve.
So for us, it's just as crucial that the person who packs our parts in a box that ultimately puts the shipping label on them and sends them out the door feels equally as valued as the individual who ultimately manufacturers that part, with an extreme level of technical expertise that we relied on. When we think about that, and that philosophy, and or culture, we really were in a position where that became critical, even before the pandemic. Labor was tasked, and indeed, retention of those technical string paint trained individuals became essential to us, well in advance of that. We have focused on retention as a strategy for people for many years now, and it built that into our culture.
Lisa Ryan: What are some of the things you do to make sure that that person like you said that was shipping the boxes out the door feels just as valued, listened to, and heard as the technical people making the products? What are some of the things, some of the ways you're creating that?
Kelly Springer: Now, certainly there's the given right, I think you have to be market competitive - whether that's with your wages, whether that's with your health package your benefits, and to me, that's just a given in this day, and age it's so easy for that information to be readily available to folks. We view our team members as part of one larger team, so no role is more important than another. We have stepped back to say there's no magic bullet when we think about it. It's all the smaller individual things that we're able to do.
So we recognize that health insurance, check Giving a given 401k, check. Those things are presented. We're focused on how people feel when they walk into our building every day. We want to make sure they are engaged in the vital work that we think we do, making safety-critical parts.
And do they feel like their contribution, whether it's any role in the organization, is valued by those around them? So building that team environment, recognizing those efforts, and celebrating success collectively can be almost something that becomes part of your culture but doesn't necessarily come with a big price tag.
We have intentionally done what we refer to as Metal Flow high fives things that are simple that don't cost dollars. But again, a way that you can recognize someone with hey, you're getting a card that says we're giving you a metal flow high five, and their peers recognize their efforts and trying to celebrate in that way. Some of the small things. We've done fun activities around food, fun activities around games, and interaction in ways that break the norm. We also have outdoor picnics, food trucks, and things like that. While that aspect is essential, it's the camaraderie and the gathering together. Even with the pandemic and being outside with a safe distance, we develop further a team's relationship.
When you talk about retention and why individuals leave often, it could be tied to who they work for in that management role. So we've been intentional about providing additional training to our teams' managers and supervisors to let them understand how their position and engagement can make a difference.
Lisa Ryan: So let's break it down with a couple of the things you shared. Let's start with the high fives. Is everybody given a stack of these cards? Is there a common place where you keep them? Are they printed out? What is the procedure that you use for them?
Kelly Springer: Our procedure is our HR team coordinates that activity. It can be someone recognizing one of our core values or principles, and they are following our mission. Or they helped me out when I was having a tough day. So there are wide open criteria. The process is straightforward. You can recognize them. We take occasions where we use that same approach and do it 100% across the board to the whole team.
Manufacturing day is a great example. It is celebrating that we get to work in manufacturing here, and our work is essential. But, in terms of Michigan and the US economy, when we think about those simple things.
Lisa Ryan: and I love the fact that you're doing things with manufacturing day. I can't tell you how many audiences when I mention manufacturing day, very few hands get raised. It's a meaningful way to introduce people to manufacturing, bring it into the schools, and bring that pride back for American manufacturing. What are some of the things you do for manufacturing day?
Kelly Springer: Well, we make it a day of celebration. We highlight some of the wins that we've had collectively as a team over the last year. We use it to talk about the great things about manufacturing and the parts we manufacture. Our parts go all over the world.
Our team meetings talk a lot about leveraging this broad reach that we all have to make safety-critical components, specifically in the automotive space. We're doing that with an American flag hanging in our production facility. Our uniforms have the American flag on them—our production uniforms, put that pride celebration that comes with that.
We also host students on that day. This year, we released a testimonial Video about why we work, and that will flow. The great thing about what we do here is that it included lots of different team members that we then featured in the video, and we released it for the first time on manufacturing day.
Lisa Ryan: So did you bring in a whole production team, or did you use your cell phones, and walk around the plant, and talk to people.
Kelly Springer: Well, we did a little bit of both. We brought in a production team that helped us with items that will be used to sell our product moving forward. The fact that we wanted team members to be part of that. Then we separated all that footage and used some drone video. The video of our facility was shot by one of our team members who happened to have great skill with drones. It showcases who we are, what we do, and, most importantly, the people that we have.
Lisa Ryan: It's also in finding little personal details about that one employee. Who would have known that they were an expert drone operator unless you have those conversations, and you allow that employee to shine by being involved in this incredible project?
Number one, that's super cool, but when you think about attracting people to metal flow, if I'm a candidate. I'm checking you out. I'm going to go and see what kind of videos you have out there. I'm willing to see those interviews to see if people look like me. Does it look like a great place to work? That's why I asked about the cell phone. In addition to the production crew, of course, the production looks great.
Still, having honest conversations with people will make candidates more likely to come to interview. Because they can see what's going on there, and that pride, and that you know the joy you have of working together, I'm sure coming through on those videos.
Kelly Springer: It certainly does. When you talk about recruiting, you also think you have many different tools in your toolbox. We try things to see if they work. One of the critical things for recruiting talent has been our existing workforce - by using them to tell their story. Sometimes that's been done through bonus programs and referral bonus programs, but we don't have that in place right now.
But when we walk through the facility, we're giving a potential candidate, who we feel we're selling. The opportunity to see what we do and who we are. We walk them up to a Work Center and ask why you don't tell this candidate and why you work at metal flow. Why are you here? What gets you excited about coming here every single day? We can then use those answers directly from our team members to build and recruit others. Again no cost to asking those questions.
Lisa Ryan: On the other thing too is it's giving that potential new employee people they've already met before they even walk in the door, instead of being the total new kid on the block. You're allowing your current employees to reinforce What they like about working there, and as you said, while capturing what they're saying, you can use additional fodder to put out there to bring in more people. It all comes back to culture. If you don't have that culture where people enjoy working there, it's going to come across on the videos too. If you don't have that culture, you probably won't do videos to begin with. These are the little things that you're doing. What are some of the other things you're doing that surround your culture?
Kelly Springer: Creating this career path for our team members becomes very important. You can look at the statistics and know whether you group it by age or that folks can move a fair amount. In a country that has a lot of manufacturing opportunities for individuals, one of the critical things that we've focused on is how we create a career path that requires, in many cases, a variety of training opportunities. We're certainly very proud of our apprenticeship program designed explicitly for our journeyman toolmakers, and that program is approved through the Department of Labor. We've taken great pride. We had great success, But we onboarded a training coordinator. We started to focus on the skills and competencies needed in our roles. How can we help our team members? Do we understand where they want their career to go? Are we asking the right questions through our performance management system to understand their long-term desired role? What skills do they need? Do they know the skills and competencies required? How are we helping them through in-house training?
We also have a very successful continuing education program that allows us to support those future career paths for our team members. So being able to show that, yes, I started in this type of role, but I can talk to others who've made lateral moves. Who's made vertical moves; who've grown their career in a variety of different roles? That testimonial helps us on the retention front and the recruiting front. We don't expect you to stay in this entry-level role in perpetuity, but we can help you create a career path that will work for you long term. That's an attractive opportunity for someone considering employment.
Lisa Ryan: It also sounds like you're taking quite an individualized approach with employees. How do you find out from them? How do you work with them to set the career path they want?
Kelly Springer: Our performance management system identifies what contributions they feel they've made to the organization, so we can celebrate those and recognize those. But a vital part of that with their direct supervisor is understanding what you want. So I believe the question we asked is where you want your career to be one year from now it's less about the title, wage and more about what position you are interested in learning more about how we can showcase you. That way, in some cases, we've done internal internships. You have a chance to see what another role might be like; some are very much in line. You can start as an operator. You can become a technical operator. Those are very well understood. Still, it creates other opportunities, even outside of some of those roles. We also task our team members with learning something new every year. What new skills or training would you like to have And those that their supervisor has identified for them. So through that process, we've been able to highlight some nontraditional career paths that have worked out exceptionally well for some of our team members.
Lisa Ryan: So is there one or two particular stories that come to mind as far as an employee that may be surprised, you with the career path they chose or a unique way that you helped a particular individual.
Kelly Springer: We have had an individual who went through our apprenticeship program. They then decided to take additional coursework, supplemented through a program that we have. Now, this person is leaning more towards a technical design engineering position. They could do an internship in our design engineering group and then make that transition. We've had individuals who have worked in our sales estimating roles, who now, in one case, the director of procurement.
Based on coursework and additional training done, we have other individuals who have started individual roles for all of the purchasing that we do. We've been very intentional about moving them to other areas of the organization.
For example, we have a college student who started with us as an intern, joined us full time in our sales development role, spent time on the floor doing tool assembly, and then moved into a project management role. We'll do a rotation through quality to enhance his long-term sales engineer goals. So these are lots of different examples.
But ultimately, each can be individualized as long as you have the building blocks within our system to help them achieve those desired outcomes.
Lisa Ryan: Well, and you're showing people that there are lots of opportunities for them because what we see too many times is that When people feel that they want to move ahead in their career, they think they have to go to another company to do so. When you're figuring out how to put all of these programs into place, it's helping you keep those people. They not only see it for their peers, but they can see themselves in those same roles as well.
Kelly Springer: Absolutely. They are the best person to tell what that journey through their career path has meant to them. You have to capture what that experience has been.
Lisa Ryan: Right. When looking at your employees who are learning something new every year, is there anything you're using to train other employees? They're highlighting that knowledge or how you are disseminating it through the peer-to-peer type of training.
Kelly Springer: To some extent, we are. It's informal - it's happening informally today. We also have examples of learning a role or some aspect of a role that may complement what you do. An example of that I would give is building a forecast to forecast what our sales volume would be our materials scheduling team does that. Our financial analyst potentially reports at the end of the month on performance. An example might be a learning opportunity for that team member. They might need to sit with the person who builds the forecast for one month to understand the data that goes into it and how that completes that picture of all of those different functions within the organization.
Another example is someone in the production environment who doesn't understand all the different types of quality checks required in another production area. They could spend time learning that technology, whether that's a key on a piece of equipment or just a new measuring technique, and ultimately they're enhancing their skills. Still, they're also doing a level of cross-training independent of the skill they're developing.
Lisa Ryan: Well, in steadily cross-training, but that communication allows people in different departments to understand the actual process instead of just assuming that it should be done a lot faster because until they get in the midst, and see everything that's that is going on in there. They also get to see what goes wrong along the way. So that adds time to it, then it just keeps people communicating instead of just those silos that we run into so often.
Kelly Springer: It builds on our concept that we're one team - one Metal Flow working together. Each role is critical. Someone will say, well, I have no idea what people in accounting do sitting in an office all day. I said, well, you don't ever not get paid when it's time to be paid. They play a critical role. Their role is vital; it's just different than your role. I think building that through and creating the concept of understanding what others do and why their role is