We are thrilled to have Stewart Cramer, CEO of Vertex Precision Manufacturing share with us his insights on leadership, and crafting sustainable growth and innovation. Underpinning Stewart’s integrated leadership approach is an investment in, and expression of, a personal value system fueled by passion for bringing people and community together, innovation, the welfare of others, and integrity. We hope the blog resonates with you, and as always, we’d love to hear your thoughts.
Continuous Improvement Requires Continuous Inspiration
By Stewart Cramer
Our company works within the aerospace and defense manufacturing industry. We build components for aircraft and spacecraft to our customers’ exacting standards. We have a corporate focus on continuous improvement. For this reason, change is a fundamental part of our culture on a daily basis. This can be unsettling if it is not implemented in the context of an over-arching vision for the future state of the company. Another challenging aspect of our business model is that we grow, in part, by acquiring other companies, and integrating these into our culture of “growth through improvement”.
Having a clear vision for our company and communicating it effectively is fundamental to my ability to guide our company in the direction we have chosen. I talk about my vision for our organization constantly. This happens across many levels. In our organization, communication with our management team, communication with our employees, communication with our shareholders, communication with our customers and suppliers, and communication with our community are all elements of my communication strategy. Critical to our success is to maintain fundamental consistency across these levels; it is essential that our message never change.
Keeping our employees fully engaged in our process of continuous improvement is very important to us. I believe that leadership can be at its best when it is facilitative. Driving change into an organization from the top down by fiat is not effective. I think a better approach is to enable and support it from the top of the organization down, but drive and encourage it from the floor up. This can be accomplished by creating an understanding of the problems we are trying to solve, training our employees in the tools and processes they need to apply to accomplish those goals, and paying close attention to the results.
A very effective way to reinforce this is to talk with individual employees regularly on an informal basis, and ask questions about how things are going, and what they think could be improved. This direct dialogue with our people is the favorite part of my job. I also make it a point to discuss elements of our strategy, and to connect the dots between my vision for the organization and the work that they do every day. When employees share ideas and suggestions, it is very important that management responds quickly where appropriate. This presents a great opportunity to reinforce our culture of continuous improvement. Getting to know each of employees personally also helps me to stay aware of employee morale, which is critical in an organization that is trying to grow as rapidly as we are.
The role of CEO is an important role in an organization in the same way an orchestra needs a conductor. It is arguable whether the conductor is more important than the first violinist, trombonist, or cellist. What is true is that every player in a professional orchestra aspires to virtuosity, and all are essential to creating great music. I see our company similarly. The effort of every employee is important, and the key is that we all work together.
When building a sustainable organization around the principals of continuous improvement, one of the things I must do is reinforce our culture. How we do something is at least as important as what we do. A managed process of change is essential; this provides an anchor for our staff. One of the differentiators between whether we inspire or overwhelm is maintaining consistency in process and culture. In essence, by providing a framework for understanding, managing and measuring change, and the safety-net of a supportive culture, nothing really changes, even as we change how we do everything.