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Best Practices: Employee Engagement Makes for Workplace Safety and High Performance

By FloridaMakes Network posted 08-06-2020 12:00 AM


Florida Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Awards 2020 Finalist

Whether it’s nylon products used for air, gas, or fuel filtrations systems or home and clothing products people rely upon and interact with daily, CEREX Advanced Fabrics is always working on innovative ways to make their products even better than the year before. But for this small, family-oriented company, what drives their success is a combination of product excellence and the skill, talent, and commitment of their most valuable asset: their employees.

“I’ve never worked anywhere within the manufacturing sector where the employees were more engaged and dedicated to quality than at CEREX,” says James Hodge, CEREX Plant Manager. “High performance is key and we’ve found that growing our talent and integrating cross-disciplinary communication has resulted in exceeding our production goals, creating better workplace safety, and creating leaders.”

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Materials Being Produced

Excellent Products That Meet Demanding Markets

For over 45 years, CEREX has provided diverse markets in the U.S. and around the globe with exceptional products and value. As the world leader in manufacturing and marketing high quality spunbond nonwoven fabrics made with nylon 6,6 polymer, CEREX supplies a variety of demanding markets including high-quality filtration, automotive safety, specialty medical, apparel, home, composites, belts amongst many others. Their new markets are always expanding.

“Usually people have no idea who we are,” says Hodge. “And then I’ll name several items that they likely use everyday that were made with our materials. They’re always fascinated that our products are so connected to their lives.”

Those everyday products, just to name a few, include things like fuel filters, materials found on rug backings and mattress pads, and medical applications like athletic-type tapes.

While the demand and the diversity of these markets is dizzying, CEREX is accustomed to listening to the challenges of the markets, and then going back and engineering a solution.

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Best Practices: Observe, Listen, Act

What CEREX points to, however, as important “best practices” is a corporate culture that encourages examination, engagement, dialogue, and decision.

“We’ve created an environment where employees can share ideas and lessons learned,” says Hodge. “People are more open to talking about how they’d make something better or do something different when they feel valued. This lets us put more issues on the table and come up with a plan to address them. We focus a lot of our efforts on critique in a way that is not reactionary, but rather pulls everyone together.”

One area where this is most evident is in the company’s excellent workforce safety and health efforts via CEREX’s Safety Observation Program.

“I know we say it a lot, but engaging our employees in this area is just another way creating an environment of open communication really makes a difference.”

CEREX achieved this by prioritizing the creation of an engaged safety committee. “We once had a disconnect between departments. CEREX instituted a behavior-based observation program,” says Hodge. “We incentivized the program by rewarding our employees to report health and safety issues. It’s been hugely successful with roughly 90% of our employees participating. We also revamped our safety committee,” adds Hodge. “When employees saw management not just participating as members of the safety committee, but expanding it to include more employees, everyone got engaged.”

CEREX also brought in a third-party safety consultant to further examine their policies and practices. Hodge notes that while this process can be humbling, it ultimately strengthens leadership and employees. The end result? A more successful company.

This shift in culture resulted in more productivity. Hodge adds, “From a technical standpoint, we often assess our leadership, our employees, and our decisions and in the process we’ve created a culture where an exchange of ideas can happen and that leads to employees wanting to contribute more.”

CEREX’s leadership also re-evaluated how talent was identified, integrated, and nurtured. They aimed to create a sense of community coupled with training and the establishment of career paths that are transparent and attainable.

“Our focus on employee engagement has made us stronger leaders and gives us a better opportunity to evaluate up-and-coming talent,” says Hodge.

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Striving for Excellence: Stepping Into the Sterling MBE Process

As one of this year’s 10 Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Awards finalists, the awards process was a chance for CEREX to gain feedback and expertise from the examiners' team.

“We are excited to see CEREX engage in the evaluation process and emerge as a finalist,” says Kevin Carr, CEO of FloridaMakes. “They are an important producer in the manufacturing sector as well as a leading advocate in Florida’s manufacturing sector.”

Hodge says it was the first time CEREX has been a participant in the SMBE awards and was at first apprehensive but then embraced all of the long-term potential gains that the evaluation process would reveal.

“The process of going through the nomination and evaluation process is helpful and can be eye-opening,” says Hodge. “It gave us the chance to have business advisors come onsite and observe what we do and provide great feedback. It’s a very balanced process.”

Hodge encourages manufacturers to consider going through the rigorous Sterling Manufacturing Business Excellence Awards process.

“As a top-performing manufacturer, CEREX is wired to always want to be the best,” says Hodge, “Stepping into a process like this is humbling and it gives us the chance to either re-affirm what we know is working and tweak what will take us to the next level.”


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