5 Ways to Quickly Lift Employee Engagement

by davelandryjr on February 7, 2014

The daily grind: they don’t call it this for no reason. Maintaining a job and performing well can be stressful and a lot of times this can lead to unhappy employees. Stress can evolve into feelings of being under appreciated or being overworked, which can lead to a poor quality of workmanship or a desire to leave the company.

Every job has its moments of stress, and very rarely are there jobs that can leave its workers happy each hour of every day but there are, however, methods to increase employee engagement. These methods can be put to use to try to make an unhappy or unengaged employee into one that is more than happy to work for you and have a rapidly increased output.

The following are five tested and true ways to increase employee engagement and create a better work environment for both the employer and the employee.

Knowing the difference between alignment and engagement

To create engagement, an employer needs to know the difference between alignment and engagement. Alignment is the knowledge of what to do, while engagement Is the will to do it.

Often times, employers only tell employees what to do but not why they should do it. Employees should feel free to ask questions and managers should be ready to answer, giving meaning to day-to-day tasks.

Finding out the amount of disengagement in your business

It’s important to understand the level of employee disengagement in your business because this can severely affect the effectiveness of your organization.

Gallup has an engagement ratiothat indicates a company’s health and tracks the amount of engaged to disengaged employees. In the average American business, that ratio is 2:1, meaning that about half of American employees are categorized as un-engaged.

Employees who are actively disengaged affect the organization by lowering the morale of other colleagues and hurting the bottom line, so by assessing the amount of disengagement you can change that and help your company and its employees.

Focusing on what spurs engagement

Gallup, Towers Watson, and other organizations have analyzed factors that count for levels of high engagement, which have revealed many interesting reasons. Kevin Kruse, a NY Times bestselling author and entrepreneur has created list called Employee Engagement Research Master List of 29 Studies, which for further reading provides an interesting look for engaging employees.

Two drivers can be associated with spurring engagement: that management has an interest in the employees’ well-being, and that their skills and capabilities are steadily improving.

By analyzing how your organization handles these two employee drivers, it can offer you a look into how to improve the engagement of your employees. Creating initiatives that would provide ongoing feedback, goal alignment, and development opportunities can peak the commitment and engagement of your employees.

Creating an engaging workforce is ongoing

Keeping employees’ engagement high involves a change in business ideas; goal setting, feedback, and development needs to be a year-round activity. This change in mindset allows employees to understand how their role relates to a larger purpose, and to keep them engaged in contributing to the company’s performance.

By constantly working on raising engagement, employees will never feel bogged down by their work and try to achieve success inside of the company.

Using Technology to Raise Engagement

Providing a technological foundation to your workplace can create a connected environment with employees, management, and the company’s vision and purpose. Social media, company intranets and collaborative tools all can be utilized to engage employees by providing a level of communication and collaboration.

Technology can be used in the workplace to increase engagement within the organization. Allowing employees easy access to connect with one another through collaborative tools (that allow them to work on projects and share documents or even chat with each other and provide feedback to management) can provide a level of engagement that may have been previously missing.

The Year-End Finance Check-Up Guide

by davelandryjr on December 26, 2013

The last of the seasons is now at hand and the as the year ends, the need to address financial matters becomes of utmost concern whether we think it or not. The following list of financial practices should be put in order in order to prepare for the coming year. In doing so, one can project a sturdy financial position and will be ready for the impending taxable year.

Make Sure Your 401k Is Where it Should Be

Keep contributing to your 401K amount if you haven’t already reached the maximum limit (in 2013, the is $17, 500). Adding a boost to your 401k, no matter how large or small of a contribution, is a great habit to get into at the end of each year and will ensure you reach a healthy number by the time you are ready to retire. Also make sure, as mentioned in Ashlea Ebeling’s article for Forbes, that you receive any free matching money offered by your employer, which will cushion your account even further. So, before the year closes, make sure that 401k is up to par and you’re receiving all additional benefits for it.

Charitable Donations Deductible

 The end of the year is also the best time to realize the benefits one receives from donations given to charitable institutions. It is best to deduct them early instead of later, as advised by finance blogger Sheryl Nance-Nash in her Year-End Financial Check-Up.

Family Gift Exemptions

Family gifts of money or items are allowed to be tax exempt until exceeding a value of USD5.12 million. Thus, computing what can be given to family members as gifts under the tax threshold is key to realize the benefits available under the law.

Changes to Personal Circumstances

It is also important to determine the financial implications of changes to personal circumstances. These include getting married or going through a divorce, job movements or having a child. All these have financial implications in taxes, insurance and other aspects of your life. Make sure to adjust for this before the coming year.

Updating Yearly Taxes

The end of the calendar year is the third quarter in a tax year. This would provide you the taxpayer an overview of the current taxes to be paid. At this time too, one has the opportunity to find ways to lower or minimize one’s tax liability. This is to be done with a tax planner or certified public accountant (CPA) to update one’s taxes and find ways to gain more tax benefits before the year’s end.

Full Benefits Review

The end of the calendar year is also the best time to review the health care benefits as well as insurance coverage for both the principal and their dependents. Other benefits need to be reviewed are spending accounts, social security and other emoluments. This review is important in order to determine the financial impact for any changes that would be made in the coming calendar year.

While doing this year end finance check up may seem to be a ‘bah humbug’ activity, the information gained can provide you an understanding what lies ahead as well as project the financial burdens of the coming year. Collecting on your year’s 401k, deducting charitable donations, computing gift exemptions, reporting changes in personal circumstances, updating tax reports and making full review on benefits receivable may seem to be a gargantuan task at the time of merriment. In the end, though, you can laugh and be merry all year round when you receive the financial windfall from the work put in as the year closes out.

The New Responsible Capitalism: Trends in the LA Apparel Manufacturing Industry

by davelandryjr on September 28, 2013

Clothing has long been as much personal item as trading commodity, and its manufacture has shaped world systems, trade movements, and even pan-regional balances of power: English wool and Flemish mechanical looms directed flows of capital in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and these in turn drew Europe’s political map accordingly.With the ‘discovery’ of low-cost East Asian manufacturing in the last few decades and the resulting offshore outsourcing (in reality, long a feature of world system theory and tracked by the likes of Ian Morris and Jared Diamond through the longue durée), the apparel industry followed where others led. Today world apparel exports total $200 billion per year.

Diagram of Wallerstein's World Systems Theory Model

Apparel Manufacturing Centers

It is significant that, were a map drawn according to the price point of manufactured apparel, cheaper options would cluster in the Far East (China, with 31% of the world’s apparel exports, dwarfs the US at 1%, according to the International Trade Center, while Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam, and Hong Kong each command a significant share), while the more expensive manufacturers are led by Italy, France, Germany, and Spain and normally sell at considerably higher price points. Of the top 25 firms in “apparel, accessories, and luxury goods” in 2012, these European firms comprise 68% of sales and 77% of gross profits.

The demarcation by price point, then, superimposed upon a cluster distribution spread of luxury brands, maps in a relatively straightforward manner the two possible responses to the rise of offshore outsourcing: the first, taking advantage of the increased profit margin from the convergence of low-cost skilled labor, low-cost raw materials, and reliable transportation to move their manufacturing abroad, while the second calls for re-trenching and, on the one hand, relying on significantly higher price points that allow for higher profit margins, while, on the other, making their artisanal processes a principal part of the brand’s story. Hermès, in particular, comes to mind, though a number of initiatives (including the Made in Italy and Save the Garment Center campaigns) continue to re-assert the value of this Marxian approach to labor and production.

Map of Largest Apparel Manufacturing Exporters

Though apparel manufacturing in the US has grown to more than 2% market share–yes, that is an export penetration of more than 97% of the apparel market–the jury is still out on the so-called demise of offshore outsourcing. Certainly, rising costs in China continue to make offshore manufacturing less attractive: predictions at The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and private firms all point to the inevitable demise of offshore outsourcing, at least in China. Meanwhile, complex trends in globalization continue to erode the local/global dichotomy that marks the analytic frame favored by economists; ‘reverse outsourcing’, for example, more than an ironic turn, is actually a shrewd strategy to profit from the very branding campaigns that seek to valorize ‘Made in Europe’ products against their foreign-made competitors.

Apparel Manufacturing in Los Angeles

While the Garment District in New York continues at the center of a real-estate/local manufacturing controversy, the apparel industry in Los Angeles now accounts for the largest manufacturing subsector of its kind in the country. Even as apparel manufacturing has taken on a 43% decline since 2001, that hit pales in comparison to the 63% downturn the industry has taken throughout the United States.

 In fact, a location quotient study suggest that the 52,000 apparel-related jobs located in Los Angeles, which mostly comprise sewing machine operators, and account for nearly 10% of manufacturing in the region, has been steadily increasing due to factors of pay, location and popularity of the industry as a whole. In short, L.A. has 7.8 times the national average of apparel industry jobs compared to 4.9 times the national average. This surprising trend follows recent findings on metropolitan manufacturing centers: according to a recent Brookings Institute study, 79.5% of all manufacturing jobs in 2010 were located in metropolitan areas.

Some Positives, Some Negatives

This is impressive, particularly as many apparel jobs have moved overseas. But as the apparel industry continues to bring large economic resources to Los Angeles, the average worker–who makes $44,859 yearly–is less than $1,000 above the national average. Even so, apparel still searches out new workers as it continues to increase its workforce in manufacturing and other sub-industries like textiles. As of 2012, there are approximately 19,900 jobs in apparel manufacturing in Los Angeles, comprising 1.4% of total private sector industry employment.

Despite the increase in jobs, however, apparel lags behind other industries in Los Angeles, both in job creation and pay scale. According to a recent EMSI article, industries such as scientific and technical consulting services, port harbor operations and surgical and medical instrument manufacturing have, in most cases, doubled its workforce while provides much higher pay. The caveat to this, however, is that those employed in these industries are diverse and highly-skilled, with job performance requirements that far surpass the credentials, skills, and training required from a worker in apparel manufacturing.

The American Apparel Story

American Apparel is a unique clothing manufacturer with production facilities exclusively in Los Angeles. With a campus downtown and its flagship store up the Coast Highway in Malibu, California, the company has built a vertically integrated business model in which manufacturing, distribution and creativity is all found in-house.

Like many other US manufacturers, American Apparel is both cognizant and proud of the cost of local labor: much like European luxury goods manufacturers have turned labor costs into a value-proposition for their brand, so has American Apparel built their brand upon their vision of a ‘responsible capitalism’. The company pays its workers a minimum of $30,000 a year with benefits, as opposed to workers in Bangladesh who make $600 yearly and are, as you may know, at risk of horrifying catastrophes; the outlook is certainly grim. By contrast, American Apparel insists on training their workers for careers, not jobs.

The result has been a yearly profit projected to be in the $1 billion range, all centered around its production facilities in Los Angeles: by their estimation, the largest apparel-oriented manufacturing facility in North America. Not bad from a company whose principal selling point has been, for quite some time, its status as “Sweatshop Free” and “Made in Downtown LA.”

Vertical Integration Model at American Apparel

Their so-called ‘vertical integration model’ in particular deserves attention; at heart it is basically the time-tested manufacturing truism that, first, ownership of the entire manufacturing chain of production is a means to maximize profit margins, and second, that geographic concentration makes this both tenable and profitable. The key, however, is in the branding probabilities: the rhetoric through which this truism is communicated looks to the green movement, to environmentalism, and, quite explicitly, to responsible capitalism as a justification for its price point:

”When you buy a t-shirt from American Apparel, a smaller portion of the margins goes towards fuel, trans-ocean container ships, middlemen, boxes, pallets and entropy. Instead we’re able to spend that money on paying living wages to our workers, higher-quality materials for our garments, and investing in the future of our company.”

The rhetoric is gorgeous in its simplicity: environmental responsibility leads to responsible capitalism which justifies the product’s quality and, in turn, allows for the perpetuation of the model. The relationship is causal, and the implied result is a growing movement, a shift toward a better world, happier workers, happy customers, and so on.

Responsible Capitalism

This time, with a happy ending. Though apparel manufacturing will never re-capture a significant share of the US domestic or export market, in this case we find a happy merging of circumstances: in the midst of the offshore manufacturing crisis, a committed and savvy entrepreneur made a virtue of adversity. In the process, the resulting company contributed to make apparel manufacturing one of the top competitive industries in California (fourth, according to the LA Economic Development Corporation), that came to employ 19,900 individuals and participate not only in a movement toward responsible capitalism, but also contribute to the economic well-being of Los Angeles.

In collaboration with: Sebastian De Vivo, David Dorion

Los Angeles Regional Export Plan: How can Local Businesses Tap into Export Markets? Part I

by davelandryjr on September 19, 2013

As policymakers continue to scramble in order to help along economic recovery, exports have been targeted as a key element in fueling this recovery. This insight–which Jean-Baptiste Colbert transformed into its own artform in Louis XIV’s France–has lately been targeted by the Brookings as central to their ‘Next Economy,’ which they describe as “one that is driven by exports, powered by low-carbon energy, fueled by innovation, and rich with opportunity.” Like Colbert, they suggest an increase in domestically-manufactured goods and the opening and development of new foreign markets for these goods.

As part of the Brookings-Rockefeller Project on State and Metropolitan Innovation, the Brookings targeted Los Angeles (along with Portland, Minneapolis-Saint Paul, and Syracuse/Center State) as a partner in developing a Metro Export Initiative, here a model to achieve the federal National Export Initiative’s goal of doubling US exports within the next five years.

Los Angeles is an obvious choice: not only does it have strong a strong manufacturing sector, it is also the nation’s top metropolitan export region and biggest port center. It is, in addition, highly diverse, well-situated, and a natural draw for a talented workpool (see RiFLart).

The Brookings’ Market Assessment found the following:

  • LA’s strength as an exporter is clustered in 10 industry sectors, which account for 82.8% of the region’s exports

  • LA-based companies show limited awareness of export potential

  • Assistance to exporting companies is required for customs and compliance, distributors, intellectual property protection, financing, and language barriers

Based upon these findings, they identified three core strategies for the program:

  • Establish the LA Regional Export Council

  • Focus upon industry sectors with high export opportunities

  • Market LA to the world

Though the strategies themselves seem to have suffered from ‘approval by committee’ (the first creates an intermediary agency to manage local initiatives, and the third to manage potential export markets, both of which are important but should hardly stand as cornerstones of the project), the program not only identifies ‘export-ready’ small- and medium-sized enterprises as key targets in this initiative, but it identifies specific industries as well. These are crucial:

  1. Aerospace

  2. Computers and Electronics

  3. Energy and Green Technologies

  4. Medical and Dental Equipment/Instruments

  5. Chemicals, including Pharmaceuticals

  6. Machinery Manufacturing

  7. Apparel and Fashion

  8. Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

  9. Royalties from Intellectual Property (including Film and Television)

  10. Travel and Tourism

  11. Education
In collaboration with Sebastian De Vivo and Daniel Duffield

Responsible Capitalism?

by davelandryjr on September 18, 2013

When Marx first sought to conceptualize Capital as such, I always found it fascinating that so much of his focus rested upon labor as a central element: from raw material through labor to capital, this is the movement that he sought to decode, and, from there, de-mystify. It is understandable, certainly, that his focus should have fallen upon the individual cogs in what was already a formidable machine, but I always wondered whether he could have, for a moment, predated the early futurists and simply marveled at the scope of this machine. Capital, after all, somehow organizes every nook and cranny of our existence, and has done so, to my direct knowledge, from tribal social structures on (please do pardon the evolutionist tinge).

That this should be the case is not surprising; capital as value is ingrained in the human condition.

My project, these days, my interest, is to disentangle the various threads that comprise business, capital, labor, entrepreneurship, valuing, and humanism to gaze into the skeleton of the machine. I realize this is hardly feasible: it’s like thinking about thinking. Nonetheless, it’s worth a shot.