Minnesota Manufacturers Empower Leadership, Reap Rewards
There's no doubt that behind all great companies are great leaders. But two Minnesota-based manufacturers have recently taken that truth one step further. Alexandria Industries and Ultra Machining Company serve as proof that developing leadership qualities in employees at every level in a business can reap even greater rewards, from culture to quality to customer satisfaction.
Monticello-based Ultra Machining Company got its start in 1968 in founders' Terry and Mary Tomann's family garage before growing to 160 employees. The precision machining company had enjoyed continued success, but was challenged by a lack of role clarity as it had expanded from a small business into a large organization.
UMC Director of Human Resources Mary Pettit says limited leadership experience among the management team presented a second hurdle, as many supervisors and managers had risen through the ranks over time.
Growth was also the catalyst for leadership development at Alexandria Industries. The business began as Alexandria Extrusion Company in 1966 and now produces custom, aluminum-extruded components for a wide variety of products and industries. In response to customer requests, it added machining, molding, finishing and assembly capabilities in a series of strategic acquisitions beginning in 2003. The renamed Alexandria Industries currently encompasses six facilities in Indiana, Minnesota and Texas.
Alexandria Industries Director of Organizational Development Lynette Kluver says the new acquisitions were an ideal opportunity for the company to pursue leadership development, as more employees would be needed for leadership roles. "We realized that we needed to be proactive in preparing the next generation of leaders for two reasons: First, because the business need was dictating it, and second, because it is a tremendous retention tool," Kluver says.
Both companies worked to define the competencies they felt were important for their individual firms at various levels of management, including executives, directors and supervisors. Companies then developed those competencies in employees through a series of training sessions. Each session focused on building one competency, covering topics like leading change, decision-making, empowering others and managing performance. UMC's Mary Pettit also worked with management to rewrite every job description throughout the business to achieve role clarity for each employee. And Alexandria Industries employees met with leadership coaches for one-on-one coaching.
Alexandria Industries and UMC have since seen a string of resulting benefits. Kluver says Alexandria Industries' commitment to developing leaders has enabled it to capitalize on current and future growth opportunities. In the past few months, Pettit has seen UMC's newfound culture attract both a new director of sales and a new president. And both companies say encouraging leadership has inspired a higher trust level among employees, helping managers to feel more comfortable delegating tasks, and fostering a greater sense of unity among them.
"We are more one now," Pettit says. "We have a common vision of our culture, goals and mission."
For the full story, read Empowering Leadership in the November issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine, available in print and online Nov. 20
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