Leading By Example, One Rubber Strip At A Time

February 22, 2022 Brad Perkins

Staff Management | SMX Account Manager Cliff Lee

In automotive supply production, everything is connected. From sourcing the rubber, steel, chemicals and textiles needed to build the tire to embedding steel cord into the rubber layers to running the machines that build the strips that will become a tire, one small hiccup can delay the process significantly. And with more than 2 billion tires produced globally each year, slowed productivity can affect many things across the supply chain.

For Staff Management | SMX Account Manager Cliff Lee, much of that was on his mind when he took over management of a team that shapes the raw materials into strips that are then shipped to other factories to put together tires. They provide material for five plants across North America.

“If we don’t provide material, we shut the other plants down,” Lee said.

And when Staff Management | SMX took on this account, the machines they were in charge of were doing just that -- shutting down other plants and creating trouble for the tire manufacturing client. And when they were working, the teams in charge of them were only producing enough material for a couple of days’ worth of work for the other factories.

Now, less than a year after taking on the account, the team is producing 20-plus days’ worth of material, they’re avoiding machine errors and issues and are often so far ahead in production, they have to slow down for the other plants to catch up. That allows the associates to cross train in other jobs in the main plant, illustrating what Lee often tells his associates -- that enjoying what you do will help you grow your career -- while also showing the client that his team can handle its production goals.

“We weren’t able to do anything when rollout first happened,” Lee said. “We couldn’t keep the machines running. We needed a lot of maintenance and we needed better discipline at the site because this is one of the most important sites Staff Management | SMX has.”

But the shift from barely producing a day or two of inventory to where they are now -- producing more than 140,000 yards of tire strips per shift -- did not happen overnight.

So how did Lee increase productivity and morale while reducing turnover?

“What I did was hands-on with them, to show them that I wasn’t an exception,” he said. “I told them, ‘this is what we need to do, let me walk you through it, let me help you do it.’ Once they realized that, they got a better understanding that I was willing to teach them and work with them. This is a peculiar culture and we have to give them the right tools and we have to be there to support them. We have to always lift them up, explain mistakes and show them how they can do it better. That’s my goal, I live to help people to the best of my ability.”

Lee did more than just teach. He instilled a culture of friendly competition but also of collaboration. He empowered them to make suggestions and to learn new skills that will help them grow. He approached the needed improvements with care for the associates and a coaching mindset. And he showed them that success on the line can lead to greater things in their careers.

Now, instead of turnover that happened almost daily at the beginning, no one leaves the team and many have referred friends and relatives to join them. His team of 32 associates works 12 hour shifts and always checks what number the previous team hit.

“They’re happy to come to work, they enjoy their jobs and they look forward to coming in,” Lee said.

And that’s because Lee built a teaching mindset. From the site director to Lee to the supervisors on the team to the associates, everyone is willing to learn from each other and help each other grow.

“That’s what’s most rewarding,” Lee said. “To see people excel and enjoy what they do is what I love to see. Seeing them do exactly as instructed and follow the working standards lets me know I’m being a good leader. But when I’m not here and things are still working according to plan – that’s one of my biggest achievements. That makes me proud to be a part of this team.”

About the Author

Writer. Photographer. Runner. World traveler. Sports fan. Proud left-hander.

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