'Gearing Up'

If you were not able to participate in this year's 'Gearing Up' conference put on by the Missouri Association of Manufacturers, you're in luck! The Association has made the recap of the event available on the website, including a segment where the Governor of Missouri, Mike Parson, provides his take on issues that manufacturers face in light of the global pandemic.  

The highly relevant "Rethink. Reboot. Rebuild" conference theme brought incredible insight and advice from local manufacturers on how to sustain and grow the local manufacturing economy amid many unforeseen challenges.

We had the pleasure of hosting a virtual plant tour, as well as a Q&A panel for the Cambridge executive team. Many of the challenges discussed are not unique to our organization, so we hope that sharing our approach might provide ideas and inspiration to others in other people-centric and/or manufacturing organizations.

Here is a sneak peak of the topics we cover:

Human Resources Challenges
Topics covered by our VP of HR, Meg Brown

What is the right mix to create a “healthy working environment” and how does it help to hire and retain employees? 

Communication and on boarding can be difficult anytime, and made harder when the whole company may not be physically present. How can you make that work?


Inviting People in during a Pandemic

Topics covered by our VP of Sales & Marketing, Doug Eisenhart

Why does Cambridge offer lean tours and virtual tours of the plant? What is the value of these tours? 

What is the Morning Meeting daily rhythm? What is its purpose?


Creating and Maintaining a Company Culture

Topic covered by our President, Marc Braun

How do you approach keeping a strong culture during the pandemic?


Moving Forward with Strategic Goals

Topic covered by our CFO and COO, Kevin Thompson

How did you decide to continue with a strategic expansion plan during a year of uncertainty?
 

Thank you to Michael Eaton, the Executive Director of MAM, for including us in this great event as well as all of the great Missouri and Midwest organizations that work every day to bring glory and dignity back to manufacturing.

This lean culture blog was guest-written by Matt Lanham, Regional Sales Manager at Cambridge Air Solutions.

Ask anyone in sales what it’s like to do public speaking and the answer will likely be quite different from the paralyzing fear that some experience. We sometimes take it for granted.  But we all remember that first time we stood up in front of a crowd, trying to remember the lines we memorized, when the question from the back of the room derailed us … yep, there’s that paralyzing fear.

Public speaking, a presentation given live before an audience, remains a common fear for most people. And being able to convey a message, share something personal or educate people plays a vital role in many institutions and in the art of developing solid relationships.

And every day, we practice public speaking by asking our employees to jump in and “take the reins,” although it’s not required.

A daily rhythm

Every morning we experience our morning meeting – a rhythm of anniversaries and birthdays, grateful appreciation ,metrics, improvements and announcements. Scattered inside are stretching, “good mornings” and sometimes hugs (virtually these days). All lead by anyone – literally anyone who wishes to emcee today’s meeting and often share something or anything about themselves.

It’s not about the content, it’s about the action

Inside that sharing, we get to know our emcee better and understand the things that motivate them and things they care deeply about. Sometimes funny, sometimes serious; but we always walk away knowing SOMETHING more about that person, and conversations start to flow. These are the beginning stages of relationship building.

They sign up to do it again ... and again.

It’s some of the first stages of developing leaders. Those that are willing to jump in, mess up or nail it and feel the rush of fear and excitement all in one 20 minute timeframe. It’s about remembering that first time and exuding more and more confidence in subsequent runs in front of your peers and guests. That confidence spills over into small group meetings, peer groups, friends and their home life.

Come witness for yourself

For years I have been saying that our customers love us for a couple simple things – the quality of our products and the ease of doing business with us. None of that is possible without laying witness to our greatest asset and what I refer to as our “secret sauce” – our people and our desire to help build up the leader within them.

Come see us on one of our morning meetings – you will see what we see daily – the growth of our people and the respect we have for one another. Come see us on our journey to improve everything we do – everyday.

Employee retention is a puzzle that can seem impossible in a normal year. Enter a global pandemic and hiring shortages, and it is even more critical that you are actively creating a workplace that your employees will feel a sense of loyalty to and want to stay at to advance their career.

Sure, that’s easy to say, but how do you create such a workplace? We have a few ideas that have helped us, and we are always happy to share (and learn if you have ideas of your own!)

It’s important to know that we try to approach every initiative with a lean mindset. If you are unsure what a lean mindset is, we invite you to come visit how it is ingrained in our culture. In a nutshell: lean is eliminating waste and improving quality through continuous improvement. Starting to use this thinking will prove to have positive short term and long term effects on both your people and your product (and therefore - your customers), a win/win/win every time.
 

With a lean mindset in mind, here are 3 surefire ways to better employee retention:
 

1. Make them comfortable. 

According to Occupational Health & Safety Magazine, extreme heat “can reduce the energy, focus and passion employees can dedicate to their tasks.” Discomfort that crosses dangerously with workplace safety in extreme climates needs to be addressed by facility leaders and planned for ahead of the seasonal changes.

Providing a healthier and more comfortable workspace for your employees is conversation we have frequently with our project leaders – but to be authentic, we needed to be sure that we were holding ourselves accountable. St. Louis, where our headquarters are, is known for its heat and humidity, and our employees could certainly feel the effects. We couldn’t figure out the best path to fix that, until we started working closer to evaporative cooling technology that is designed for high-bay buildings like ours. Now that we’ve designed, manufactured and installed a two-stage direct and indirect cooling unit for our building, there is a great sense of relief knowing that our employees will have a much more enjoyable working environment when the warmer months are back.
 

2. Create autonomy to better their workplaces.
It’s time to abandon top-down directives that could rely on inefficient, miscalculated or unnecessary processes. A lean culture depends on each employee’s genius to be an expert in their own processes workspace, and to be able to improve upon them as they see fit.


Imagine being encouraged to fix a process or a process that has been bugging you. Is there a better way to log that test? Is there too much back and forth motion between lines? Your employees probably already know a better way to do things, allow them to implement change (with the understanding that quality and safety must be maintained) and everyone will see the reward.

The continuous improvement that comes from having ownership over processes and workspace will not only provide better quality to your customers but will create a higher satisfaction to your workers.
 

3. Celebrate them.
It’s easy to get caught up in deadlines, budgets and day-to-day crises - so much so that you forget to notice the achievements your team has made. Going too long without pausing to celebrate the progress made, the hard work of your employees and the milestones passed might make you lose sight of what you’ve accomplished and how much hard work your team put in to get there.

 

What steps are you taking to create a healthy (both physically and mentally) for your employees? We’re always looking to improve upon our practices!

When the first words anyone reads when they visit your websites homepage is “Helping Leaders Create Better Working Environments For Hard-Working People” it would be a good idea to practice that within you own facility as well……just saying.

Here at Cambridge Air Solutions we have always practiced what we preach throughout the cold winter months through the use of industry leading High Temperature Heating and Ventilation (HTHV) heating technology. Through the use of HTHV units we have the ability to keep our facility comfortable warm where the hard working people are…..down on the factory floor. Along with our commitment to utilizing energy efficient HTHV technology to reduce our carbon footprint we have also installed solar panels on a major portion of our roof to help further reduce our carbon footprint and generate electricity on those bright sunny days.

But there was still that last piece of the puzzle, and just as important as comfortably heating a facility in the winter, which was to find a way to cool our facility during the hot and humid Saint Louis summer months. A better working environment is comfortable year round, not just when the temperature dips below freezing. The biggest hurdle in cooling our facility is not the lack of technology but the acquisition and operating costs of different technologies that are available. Even with the electricity that our solar panels generate a DX mechanical cooling solution for our facility would be too costly to operate. Instead we have chosen to use a two stage evaporative solution to provide a more comfortable indoor environment for our Cambridge family members who work on the factory floor that uses less electricity and continues to reduce our carbon footprint.

To follow our journey as we work hard to provide a better working environment during the summer months as well, follow us of Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/cambridgeengineering/  - as we will post updates throughout the journey.

What happens when an employee is asked to leave behind the realities of their home life when they walk into their workplace? The outcome is a conflicted person who is forced to figure out where their loyalties lie. As leaders, if you can recognize, celebrate and try to help with different facets of their lives, you can tap into their "whole person" - somebody who is much, much more than somebody you just pay to complete a list of tasks. 

If people are allowed to speak and act freely about their non-work life, they are likely to have a better sense of belonging, stronger loyalties, and often bring innovative ways to problem-solve to the table.

What exactly can leaders do to encourage a "whole self" at work?

  1. Acknowledging that mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, and wives all have unique concerns and burdens that might be weighing on them. 
  2. A friendly listening ear can provide immeasurable support, but even if that is not possible, leaders can provide support through understanding and accommodation if PTO is needed.
  3. Making a genuine effort to learn more about your coworkers' families, including their accomplishments and current life obstacles 
  4. Celebrating accomplishments such as graduations, milestone birthdays, family additions and other changes 
  5. Creating perks and/or benefits that help people personally as well as professionally. One example at Cambridge is the subscription to SmartDollar, Dave Ramsey's online plan to financial freedom.

Watch the video below to hear the benefits first-hand from people who are more than just Cambridge employees, but also mothers, fathers, an Army National Guardsman, baseball enthusiasts and home cooks!

This video is part of our Enriching Lives series. For other ideas of what it means to enrich lives, click here. We'd love to hear your stories of how your company encourages whole selves. Tag us on social media with your story and the hashtag #enrichinglives!

 

This blog was guest-written by Darla Gibson (Executive Admin) with input from Meg Brown (VP of HR) and Conner LaLonde (Safety Coordinator) - all members of our COVID-19 Steering Committee.

This is Part 2 of a blog that we developed to help remind us that in this time of uncertainty, we can still live out our mission of enriching lives. Read Part 1 here.

Enriching Lives During a Pandemic - From the Perspective of the Cambridge COVID-19 Steering Committee.

When we realized that we were going to have to address the COVID-19 situation at Cambridge Air Solutions from a corporate standpoint, we started a Steering Committee, as I am sure many of you did. Our COO/CFO Kevin Thompson was part of this committee and he stated up front that the Committee needed to act within four core principles: Wellbeing, Generosity, Creativity and Transparency. These principles fall into line with our “We exist to glorify God by enriching every life we touch” mission statement. But how exactly do you “Enrich Lives” when things are changing faster than you can react?

Fortunately, we have a culture that allows us a lot of flexibility in being creative, trying something that may or may not work, being quick to act, quick to fail and quick to improve! So, the following are some of the things that our COVID-19 Committee put into place to enrich the lives of our employees, vendors, and customers.

Once we verified that we were an essential business and could continue our operations, we did something that I never thought I’d see at Cambridge as we have historically been a traditional organization, working in the office. We knew we had to find a way for people to work from home.  Obviously, our manufacturing operations cannot do that, but what if the office personnel did? That would allow us to have less people crossing paths AND, allow the office side to deal with the fallout of childcare and school closures.

Then, we said, how do we address these same items (childcare and school closures) for Manufacturing, as well as keeping them safe when they come to work? This was more difficult, and as St. Louis County said, “stay at home” we decided to take a week, pay our employees, and give us breathing room to make it happen.

In that week, we worked on alternative schedules based on each employee’s need, we worked on how to make the building safe for the return, as well as on-going after the return, we reworked how outsiders could visit our building – we had a very open policy for delivery and pick-up that had to change, and we found a communication channel that we could utilize to communicate with the employees on what we were doing.

That was a tough week. The Committee put in overtime galore to make it all happen. From policy changes, governmental as well as corporate, to reworking how the lunchroom flow was going to work, it was crazy!  It didn’t feel like we were enriching, it felt like we were turning the world upside down!  Our Morning Meeting had gone from all company, in person, to virtual from home, with only the office employees! No more high-fives, fist bumps and laughter, but tired, stressed out “Brady Bunch” screens of employees!

In a little less than a week, we put together a plan, implemented it and were ready to welcome back our Manufacturing team. We made it!  We tried to make them feel welcome and safe by keeping with our brand promise of “enriching lives”. But, how did we do that?

  1. Safety – is always our first criteria for everything we do.  So, we put a portable water closet for our truck drivers, with a vanity, thanking them for “keeping America Moving!”, we rented portable hand washing stations to put them closer to the employee work stations, we took out the high-touch things like water coolers and coffee supplies, we revamped cleaning protocols…everything we could think of to keep them safe and flatten that curve!  It didn’t always feel like enriching lives, but if safety comes first, it is an enriching moment! 
  2. Communication, Communication, Communication!  This was the most difficult to execute as we had to find a platform that would work for everyone.  WhatsApp was our solution, there were a lot of choices, but this allowed us to send out messages to the employees to let them know what the changes would be and what they could expect.  It also allows them to reply if there are questions.  We use video a lot and this platform allowed us to continue the use of video. We utilized our partnerships with other businesses through our corporate memberships, such as St. Louis AME Consortium and AME National, to find and adapt documents and ideas that they were using. Being able to share and adapt what was working (or not working) at other organizations kept our speed up on these changes and communications. We also put together a survey to send out to the Operations team. This went out the end of the first week and gave us some feedback on how we were doing and the employees’ willingness to return. We are sending this out every two weeks so we can get continued feedback from them. 
  3. Scheduling – We spoke to each employee about it being voluntary to work or not work. Our goal was to help them figure out the options for pay (or no pay) given their individual situations. 
  4. Remote Meetings – I mentioned our Morning Meeting earlier, but we moved ALL meetings to remote, using Zoom and have found our employees are thankful for the flexibility this allows them as their home lives are as different as their work lives!  Our Operations team is also able to be part of the Morning Meetings in this format. We have made it purposeful to keep normal updates going through this format too. For example, our CFO does a monthly update on finances and we have continued to do this.  We are also working on our Quarterly update meeting in April and finding new solutions to making that happen. It may be a different format, but it is an important communication we do not want to skip! 

The COVID-19 Steering Committee meets as often as needed to discuss, review and update as the world and guidelines keep changing.  Then, we COMMUNICATE! Our VP of HR, Meg Brown has made sure we posted something once a day minimum at the start to keep everyone aware of what was happening.  She continues to update as things change.

Although Safety is always #1, if I had to pick an item of most impact, it is the Communication piece.  The what we are doing and why, is what lets the employee know you are thinking of them first, along with their families, our vendors, and our customers.

So many things have changed in our world but looking through the lens of “Wellbeing, Generosity, Creativity and Transparency”, allows you to always think of others before anything else.

Enriching Lives During Uncertain Times

With global and domestic news that can be downright terrifying, it’s ok to do whatever you can to maintain a level of normalcy and comfort right now. However, it can be said that this is the time when we must do what we can to enrich a life of a fellow human being, even if that means doing so from a safe, socially distanced space. As we are all lacking the comfort of a normal routine and proximity to extended family and friends, there are things that we can still do to make another human being’s life better in some way.

Personally / At Home

Spend time with your family

We all wish we “had more time” to try a new hobby with your family, to live in the moment and get to enjoy each other’s company, rather than just rushing to get things done or make your next commitment. This is the time. Make the most of it. Slow down and enjoy each other.

Tackle Your To-Do List

With all of this new found “togetherness,” we may need to take a break or feel that we are being productive (or maybe not!). We all know what our chores are that need to be done to keep the household running, maybe that’s the best you can do right now. But, maybe, you can finally get that linen closet organized for the sanity of your spouse or put together that donation bag of clothes to help the needy. Whatever the task is, enriching a life can come from providing a clean, healthy living space to providing happiness after a finished task.

Professionally / “At Work” or Working From Home

Talk to your employees and colleagues frequently as you would speak to your family members.

Empathize that most everyone is confused, scared and uncertain of what the future brings. If you have a solid plan of action for the future, be sure to communicate openly and make yourself available for any questions or concerns. If you are still trying to work out what the future of your company looks like, you can still communicate that to your employees, solicit input and research what options are available to both you as an employer and them as employees. Let it also be said that generosity during a trying time is never forgotten.

Be willing to try a new way. Learn how to be lean.

Perhaps the way we can all get through this is through creativity and willingness to try something a way we’ve never tried before. In a lean context, the first idea for improvement might be the worst, but it is something to grow on, and a way to get started.  The lean lifestyle is an amazing adaptable one, and can be applied in almost any situation. Identifying and eliminating waste might be easier with a different vantage point or in a new working situation.

Click here to watch some of our lean video compilations and stay tuned for new virtual lean resources!

This is Part 1 of a 2-Part series. Click here to read Part 2 - from the perspective of the Covid-19 Steering Committee and Safety Coordinator.

This blog was guest written by Darla Gibson, Executive Admin at Cambridge Engineering.

We all know what employee engagement means, getting our employees to be present at work. Getting them to make things better, paying attention to quality and making sure our customers are taken care of. But how do we get it?

Over the 20+ years that I have been at Cambridge, I have seen so many iterations of getting the employees heard. From the suggestion box, to a database of issues that they encounter and want solutions for (we called it Employee Action Request or EAR), to rearranging where the departments are physically located to make sure the resources are near to where the problems occur. But it never seemed to work. But, why? 

It wasn’t that we didn’t hear them. It wasn’t that we didn’t believe them. It was a matter of having enough time and figuring out what the priorities were. Once the employee handed the problem to leadership, we had to put it in a bigger engine. Now, we had to prioritize it with the other projects from other areas. It became a bunch of “red tape.” So, what changed that for Cambridge?

I believe that the change came when we told the employees to fix it. That may sound harsh but basically, we said, if it bugs you, fix it. Don’t bring it to us, use the resources within your circle of influence and figure out how you can make it better. Most of the little issues, suddenly get fixed. If the employee was not changing the way our product looks or feels to the customer, we allowed them to find solutions. 

These solutions took a lot of their headaches away. Many times, they had the relationships within their departments and amongst other departments to fix the problems that plagued them day in and day out. They became more engaged because they felt they had a voice in finding the solutions to their own issues. No longer did they have to wait for the item to become top priority, no longer did they wait for a magical solution, they just took care of the issue.

The truly inspiring part of this is that we asked them to record it. We asked for a video that gave the problem and showed us their solution. This gave them a voice.  Now, they had the permission to fix what bugged them, and to show the entire organization their creative process. 

Did this make everything better? Of course not. There were larger problems that needed to be addressed within the bigger engine. However, what I believe this did was give employees a place to be creative and ask them for their ideas to fix problems. 

We have many people come through Cambridge to visit to see what we do. They have heard so many things about our Morning Meeting and our employee engagement.  When they are here, they see and feel this engagement.  This sense that the employee’s voice matters and therefore, the employees are willing to step up and tell us when they have an idea, rather than stay in the background. Everyone’s question is “how did you make it happen?”

It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t overnight. We have been on this journey for several years and the iterations keep happening. We have added so many places where the employee can come with ideas and be creative. What all the systems do is recognize that the employee voice needs to be heard, and the employee needs to have a space to be creative.

So, how can you make this happen in your organization?

  1. Create a pathway that works in your organization.  One that is simple and easy for the employee to access. 
  2. Allow the employee to tell their story.  Video is as easy way to share.  Find a venue – email, company meeting, some way for the stories to get published.  Allowing the employee to show off their creativity. 
  3. Celebrate.  Make sure the employee knows that you appreciate their efforts!

Find that space in your organization and let your employees become engaged and thrive!

A quick rhythm that sets the mood for the day. 

Corporate leaders know that creating daily rhythms can make the difference between a “great idea” and a lasting impact on you and your company. These rhythms can range from a team touchpoint meeting on goals to spending 20 minutes reading up on industry trends and news.   
 

A specific rhythm that makes so much sense logically, but can be hard to exercise is giving daily gratitude. It’s not lost on us that sharing gratitude and showing vulnerability in that manner can seem out of place at work, and uncomfortable for some.
 

We feel that this daily rhythm is incredibly important, so much so that we started doing it “first thing” in our morning meeting, before we go over daily sales and metrics. Our practice includes passing the microphone for people to volunteer to thank someone for their help or share a personal moment of gratitude.
 

One may ask “Couldn’t the 5 minutes a day (30+ minutes a week!) be better used?” We are a manufacturing facility that measures the Takt Time it takes to produce one our our HVAC units. Yes, it could be used elsewhere, but in our opinion - not in a better manner.


According to a Gallup poll, only one in three workers in the U.S. strongly agree that they received recognition or praise for doing good work in the past seven days. Even more, another Gallup Poll shows that 65% of employees haven’t received any form of recognition for good work in the last year! We can all agree, that going an entire year without some feeling of appreciation in your daily work has major impacts.

 

The benefits of daily gratitude that we see:
 

Positivity begets Positivity.

Starting the day with insights to how one person helped another just makes you feel good. It’s not a rat race, we’re all in this together and are better because of one another. And that feeling of positivity is a great way to start the day off on the right foot.
 

You learn a LOT about who your coworkers are outside of work.

People are “whole beings” – they don’t leave their personal matters at the door when they clock into work. During our ‘Grateful Appreciations’ – we may learn that they are celebrating a child’s birthday, or saved up enough to put a down payment on a house – all things to celebrate and understand them as a mother, father, sister, brother, daughter or son.
 

People feel appreciated for their work, and that work becomes a passion.

Though bring kind and bettering a life is reason enough, a feeling of appreciation has an enormous impact on retention, referrals, and employee engagement. We also believe that the pride in one's work equates to producing higher quality products on the plant floor and going the extra mile to help a customer out in a service call - actions that you can't exactly interview for but is reason for celebration and recognition when you see it in your employees.


It's simple, right? Maybe not, but I hope that by now you at at least see the importance. Start with a personal goal of seeking out three people to express your thanks. I imagine, you'll find that you exceed this goal on the first day once you're consciously doing it. See how it can really take impact on your organization once you introduce it as a company goal - to give gratitude on a daily basis. 

This post was guest-authored by Doug Eisenhart, VP of Sales, Service and Marketing at Cambridge Engineering.

How do you answer "What do you do?" 

Changing perspective might be your game changer. It certainly was ours.

“Helping Leaders Create Better Working Environments for Hard Working People” is the message on the home page of our website. It signals for the reader, the answer to the question, “What is it that you do?” For years, we answered that question by saying that we are an HVAC manufacturer. Technically, that is true - however, “What we do” is help business leaders support their people by delivering a system along with our equipment that creates comfort and well-being for an organization’s most valuable asset – their people.

Leaders support their people through comfortable indoor temperatures? How?

Facility and operational leaders can make an impact on an employee's health and employment satisfaction by focusing on the quality of the environmental conditions in which they are working. In our HVAC world, it’s about providing fresh outside air ventilation for improved indoor air quality (IAQ) to evenly heat manufacturing and warehousing spaces during the winter months and to provide cooling during the summer months. To provide an example, in our own manufacturing facility, we know the toll that the hot and humid St. Louis summers have on our people and are taking the steps to install and operate a two-stage (Indirect/Direct) evaporative cooling system to lower temperatures in our factory. These evaporative cooling and ventilation units will boast a dramatic operational cost difference compared to traditional mechanical or DX cooling systems, but that is merely a perk to making the plant temperature more comfortable for our employees. More comfort translates into more joy at work. More joy means more people engagement, more employee genius and more fun.

The difference between “What you do?” versus “Who you do it for?”

In Patrick Lencioni’s book "The Advantage,” he challenges business leaders to invest significant time in the development of organizational health. Patrick states, “an organization’s health trumps all strategy.” We agree wholeheartedly. While we work on sales and technological strategy, we recognize that our work on organizational health is first and foundational.

We talk about organizational health frequently. We invest in organizational health continuously through our lean methodology that includes daily meetings with the whole organization and a time commitment made to improving things every day. The organization blocks time out for everyone to work on improving their job daily. This time commitment to improvements as a daily rhythm puts people in contact with one another to solve problems and collaborate on solutions.  Whether a process improvement, safety improvement or product improvement, we are working to improve the quality of our customer’s experience with our brand. Ultimately, a better working environment translates into superior quality and performance of our products for our customers. One’s working environment can have a big impact on the organization.

We welcome business leaders to come visit us in Chesterfield and share your great ideas on how you are investing in better working conditions for people. Come and see us and let’s continue the conversation.