Competing for Talent: How Workplace Culture (and Even Your ERP) Can Set You Apart

By Erin Koss, CPA is an Andersen Business Consulting Alumni (1993-1999), and CEO of Syte Consulting Group, Inc.

Trends in employment come and go, but the upheaval in the workforce in the past two years has created upheaval inside manufacturing businesses too. Attracting and retaining skilled talent was already a challenge before the global pandemic and all the seismic changes it brought, but the "Great Resignation” (the economic trend in which people have left their jobs en masse) that followed the pandemic is making it even harder.

At Syte, we’ve seen how this challenge has affected our manufacturing clients firsthand. Turnover of highly skilled employees can leave a gaping hole in operational abilities, and it’s a gap that isn’t easily filled. But thanks to our track record of helping manufacturing companies transform their businesses with the right ERP solutions, we’ve also seen how technology can be a game-changer for talent recruitment and employee satisfaction.

This post looks at the forces that have so dramatically changed the job market for manufacturing companies. It explores some differentiating factors that can help those businesses leverage technology and workplace culture to position themselves as employers of choice.

It’s an Employee’s Market

The churn in the labor market (across every industry) is hard to ignore. While the world is starting to emerge from the turmoil of the global pandemic, the labor market hasn’t quite returned to stability. But it isn’t for lack of jobs: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2021, 47 million Americans voluntarily quit their employment. And according to a recent survey from Willis Towers Watson, a majority of U.S. employees (53%) say they’re open to leaving their employers.

It’s not called the “Great Resignation” for nothing.

But I think there’s an interesting story behind all this data. One study from the Pew Research Center found that the majority of workers who resigned from a job cited low pay, little to no opportunity for advancement, and a general sense of being undervalued as reasons for leaving. Moreover, that same study found that over half of employees who left their jobs in 2021 did so to switch careers and pursue work that would prove more satisfying over the long term.

So, I look at that and wonder if all of the disruption over the past two years — in pretty much every aspect of life — has given people the courage to make big moves in their professional lives. They’re going to companies that better align with their own values, and that value innovation, whether that be technology or just new ways of doing things.

I see this as a huge opportunity for manufacturing businesses and their Human Resources departments. By focusing on building a strong workplace culture, and using technology as a differentiator, forward-looking companies can position themselves as employers of choice to attract and keep highly skilled workers over the long run.

A Strong Workplace Culture Is Sticky

Given all these shifting conditions, HR leaders have their work cut out for them. After years of restructuring to contain costs and supporting their organizations through the mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic, there hasn’t been a lot of room for developing strategies to attract and retain talent.

I believe that a strong workplace culture is the cornerstone of a thriving business. I’m talking here about the organizational environment in which employees operate, and how well it reflects the company’s values. Are there opportunities for professional development? Are there mechanisms for employees to voice their opinions and be heard? Are there policies in place to publicly acknowledge and celebrate individual and team contributions when warranted?

HR leaders have a strong role to play here. Putting programs in place that create mentoring and skill development opportunities is one way to motivate employees and encourage internal mobility. Likewise, putting a focus on employee work-life balance pays dividends when it comes to creating a thriving workplace environment.

And fostering an atmosphere where cross-team collaboration is the norm breaks down silos and empowers workers to build meaningful relationships with colleagues.

The Business Process Assessments that we go through with our clients here at Syte to determine what solutions they need are cross-functional by nature. We pull in stakeholders from different business functions to capture all the relevant information, and people from across the company end up sharing knowledge and expertise with each other, as part of building that bigger picture. So while these Business Process Assessments fulfill an important tactical function, they also transform relationships and make way for closer collaboration.

Technology Is a Powerful Differentiator

At Syte, we’re all about helping family-owned manufacturing companies leverage technology to improve operational efficiency and scale for growth. But over the decades of helping our clients implement ERP solutions, we’ve seen how technology delivers many far-reaching benefits to the business beyond digitization and process automation. Technology like ERP can vastly improve the employee experience and enable innovation across the organization.

On a purely practical level, it isn’t hard to see how technology can make working life easier. The right ERP solution, for example, can connect disparate systems and enable employees to leverage business data more efficiently. Giving employees the tools and technologies they need to perform their jobs well not only makes for smoother business operations, it also increases productivity. Technology helps break down workplace silos, so employees have more visibility into other areas of the business, and the way in which their own roles contribute to the larger mission.

The right ERP system can improve overall employee experience, leading to a renewed sense of commitment and purpose.

Another aspect of technology in the workplace that’s perhaps less tangible (but equally important) is the signal it sends to current and prospective employees: It says, “We’re a forward-thinking organization that values innovation and empowers our employees to do their best work.” A company that’s willing to invest in new technologies is an exciting place to learn and grow, always looking to the future rather than remaining stuck in the past. That’s a powerful value proposition for anyone looking to build a career with purpose and meaning.

The bottom line? Technology is a tide that lifts all boats, and I truly believe it has a big role to play in attracting and keeping highly skilled talent.

The Future (of Work) Is Bright

There’s no question that the past two years have been extremely challenging for businesses and workers alike. While employees may be flexing their muscles and “voting with their feet” when it comes to career advancement and development, there are big opportunities on the horizon for employers. I believe that the companies that are willing to invest in technology and build a healthy workplace culture with intention are going to win the battle for talent.

Are you looking to scale your organization to position your company for more growth? We’d love to help you identify your needs. Schedule a complimentary collaboration session right here.

Erin Koss, CPA is an Andersen Business Consulting Alumni (1993-1999), and CEO of Syte Consulting Group, Inc. Talk to Erin about preparing your company for sustainable growth.