I’m embarrassed to admit this, but when I worked in manufacturing—long before I was the NTMA president—I’d tell people, “I don’t care if you drag it behind the car or send it to the moon; I just want to make it.”
It was a common mentality among machine shop management. “I just need the work. I just need the business. I just need to make money so I can pay my people and expand my technology.”
But that’s not what modern CNC machine shop employees and customers want to hear. (It’s probably not what previous generations of employees and customers wanted to hear, either!)
When was the last time you hired an incredible employee or booked a major job for any of those reasons?
Real Success Starts with Inspired Manufacturers and Buyers
The everyday challenges of running a modern CNC machine shop tend to obscure the purpose behind the products we manufacture: where a part will end up and how it will be used.But a clear purpose is deeply motivating to our employees, and it’s what attracts loyal customers.
Whether you’re trying to hire a new machinist or win a new customer, you’ll be more effective if you can clearly connect the dots between the parts you make and their purpose. You must look beyond the facts and find the story.
You have a Haas mill? That’s a fact. You offer lathe services? That’s information.
The story is something else entirely.
“These parts will be used by the medical industry in life-saving devices.” That’s a story.
“Our shop helps manufacture products that protect our troops.” That’s a story, too.
But for those stories to take the forefront, you, as the owner, have to broaden your perspective beyond your everyday tasks and start telling stories that inspire.
You Can’t Tell a Story Unless You Know It
Orders rarely come in with any kind of story attached. (I get it; you’re lucky if you get all the CAD files you need!)
Just as you’d reach out to a customer for their missing drawing or 3D model, you can—and should—ask your customers, “Can you tell me exactly how and where this part will be utilized so I can communicate that information with my team?”
One of NTMA’s member shops keeps a huge poster of a fighter jet on its wall. Why? Because they make parts for that jet! So, when a team member needs a reminder of why they’re doing the work they do, all they have to do is look at the poster. And when a customer drops by the shop to learn more about the shop’s services, the team directs their attention to the poster.
That poster is the story.
And the story is what allows every single employee to go home and tell their family, “Look what I did today!” It’s what that customer will remember when they go back to their team and say, “Guess what our manufacturing partner has been working on?”
Stories Fuel the Future
When stories are central to your company’s culture, your employees carry those stories into the world, where they spark interest in your work, your company, and the manufacturing industry as a whole. If a passion for manufacturing is a flame, then stories are the spark.
No one grows up dreaming, “I want to go to the same building every day for 30 years and get a paycheck.” No! They want to do something that matters. That’s why kids want to be firefighters and doctors and astronauts. They have no idea what actually goes into those jobs, but they DO know that those jobs have a purpose. And purpose is compelling.
My dad ran a machine shop, but that wasn’t what excited me. I was drawn to manufacturing because I learned that my dad made parts for the first astronauts in space!
When I see a family-owned shop shutting down, and I learn that none of the owner’s five kids wanted to take over, I can’t help but think, “That shop’s stories never got told.”
Stories Cultivate Quality
No one ever means to make a sub-par product, but when employees lose sight of the big picture, they’re more apt to cut corners. And cutting corners can have huge consequences.
What happens if a manufacturing misstep leads to an oil pipe coupling not sealing tightly enough? We have an ecological disaster on our hands: an ocean spill, wildlife smothered in sticky oil, and human lives lost.
And I’m sure you’ve seen the shop signs showing kids in construction hats and the phrase “Drive like your kids work here.” Modify that for machining, and you have, “Make these aerospace parts like your kids will be on the plane.”
Stories like these are the dot-to-dot connectors between the immediate work and the ultimate result. When we do our jobs well and right, we manufacturers have the potential to change and even save lives.
Stories Sustain Your Success
As a modern CNC machine shop owner, you’re probably thinking, “I don’t have time to be the shop storyteller. I’m busy trying to make ends meet so my people can pay their mortgages and feed their families!” And that’s noble work.
So get someone else in your company to take ownership of the stories—someone gifted at connecting the dots and building excitement over the bigger picture of whatever the team is working on that day.
Because your shop is doing great things. And its stories are just waiting to be told.