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Building a Manufacturing Culture of Accountability, Accuracy, and Respect with Allison Giddens
Episode 138th February 2021 • The Manufacturers' Network • Lisa Ryan
00:00:00 00:17:58

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Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network podcast. Our guest today is Allison Giddens. Allison is president and co-owner of Win-Tech, a precision machine shop based just outside Atlanta, Georgia. She has an undergraduate degree in psychology and criminal justice, graduate degrees in conflict management and manufacturing leadership, and certificates in cybersecurity risk management and finance. And she still doesn't know what she wants to be when she grows up. Welcome to the show. Allison.

Allison Giddens: Hey, thanks for having me.

Lisa Ryan: Now, share with us a little bit about your background about your journey, what led you to president and co-owner of Win-Tech.

Allison Giddens: So it was a stumble, to be honest with you. I left college and worked in sales and marketing for a large media conglomerate outside of Atlanta. I can let you guess who that is. 

As much as I was learning, it just wasn't for me. The corporate world just wasn't for me. I happened to be pet sitting for some neighbors, and I knew that he was a business owner. I said to him; I want to come work for you. And he said you don't even know what I do. I said I don't care. I know it's a small business, I think I want to get involved in that. So he said, You can come in for an interview.

I laughed and said, Well, I'm already working for you, shouldn't I get a job? (because I was young and stupid, and I thought, that's how things worked.) But I came in for an interview and got to know that group. He hired me on as an admin assistant of sorts. And I grew to learn a little bit about everything, and he threw me to the wolves on a couple of projects, which was good. I quickly realized that this whole manufacturing overlapped with a small business thing that was for me that was cool.

Lisa Ryan: Right. Awesome. So please share with us a little bit about your culture over at Win-Tech. What are some of the things you're doing right now that are working?

Allison Giddens: So a few years ago, we asked the employees what they felt the company's values were. This question was something that in the 30 years that Win-Tech had been around, we never purposely gone out of our way to figuring it out. 

It felt like culture was driving us rather than us driving the culture. We found that through some conversations and some Survey Monkey results, there were three words that the employees found that set Win-Tech apart and held the biggest value. And those were accuracy, respect, and accountability. Those three things speak to our group. It is manufacturing, and it's essential to be accurate. The respect level and accountability ultimately speak to the importance of integrity that employees find are important. Those types of things have worked well to highlight. That's led to better communication within the team. So, for example, the accountability aspect. You can talk all day about how it's essential to be accountable for something. Still, unless certain expectations are communicated, you can't hold somebody responsible for something. Some things that we found worked for us was that we initiated five-minute stand-up meetings every Tuesday afternoon.

Granted, when covid came around, it was a little more challenging to get 30 people together six feet apart, but we made it happen. By doing that, we were able to communicate the same thing to everybody at the same time. So everyone heard the same information, and that was helpful.

Lisa Ryan: So when it comes to those three words that your employees came up with, what was it about the culture that made them feel respected that made it feel like that was one of your values of being accountable?

Allison Giddens: I think that the respect, accountability, and accuracy ultimately came from the founder and owner of Win-Tech. Dennis Winslow was always very fair. I mean, he's a just guy, so he would be the first person to pick up the broom and go sweep. He's not going to ask anybody on any management level to not clean or not do something that maybe somebody else would look down on. That even playing field and that respect level speaks volumes. No one feels like they're better than somebody else.

Lisa Ryan: That says a lot because we know that all of those values come from upper leadership. And the nice part about it is taking that step back and asking your employees what they believed those words; because too often, companies will bring in some high priced consultant to create a vision and mission statement for you. Then you post it up on the wall, and employers are like, What company are you talking about? When you first posed the question to them to do that research, what was the reaction?

Allison Giddens: So the question was posed because a large customer invited us to be part of an ethics program. We didn't have a formal ethics program here at Win-Tech. One of those steps was having values and creating a value statement. We have a mission statement, but we don't have a value statement, or we didn't at the time. And so to come up with the values, we had to seek information from the employees because, as you said, it would have been very awkward to have some third party come in and say, oh yeah, give us your favorite words. What are the hot button, things of the day, and sit down with the company's owner? It was challenging at first because it was effortless. 

We could have just said, okay, Dennis water, what do you see Win-Tech as let's just put that to paper. Instead, we said, all right, Dennis, give us 50 adjectives that mean something to you - pieces of bits of values you feel are important. We sat down, and we came up with 50 and Dennis, a man of few words. And so that was tough to pull out, but it was a productive conversation. And once we got 50 adjectives. Then we went back to the employees, and we said, okay, here are 50 adjectives. But what are we missing? What do you think we're missing from Win-Tech's essential values? And from there, we were able to narrow them down. Initially, I thought, okay, this is going to be too much information. Employees are going to be inundated with words; their eyes are going to cross. They're not going to be interested in this. But it was funny right off the bat. Two of the three values stuck out overwhelmingly for people to choose, and then it wasn't until we narrowed things down one more time to get that third.

Lisa Ryan: So share a little bit about the foundation of the company. It sounds like Dennis knew a lot about them and like you are bringing that culture forward. So what was it like for Dennis when he was running the company? And now, what have not only you adapted and kept, and what have you added for your own personality. 

Allison Giddens: Dennis had a true ethic. He again would never ask somebody to do something he wasn't willing to do himself. He had the bar set very high. You knew where you stood with him. There was never a question about whether or not what he expected that remains now that Dennis has retired and thankfully stays in touch with everybody and comes back now and then. We're going to have lunch with him on Thursday. 

Not too much has changed. A few things that have been enhanced are some leans towards technology that Dennis wasn't too familiar or excited about and, admittedly, so. His favorite joke was, what do you get when you cross a fill in the blank with a computer, and then the punch line to the joke was a computer. He was not thrilled with how things were going in technology, just because his take was we want to make parts. I'm excited to see some of the technology us embrace some of that a little more but knowing that we always need to stay true hold to the original values. And that's what's important.

Lisa Ryan: That's terrific. What are some of the things that are keeping you up at night?

Allison Giddens: Some of the things that keep me up at night include supply chain risk management. So much is happening for our suppliers, vendors, and customers; those moving pieces from the pandemic fallout with supplies and shortages to work for shortages because of sick people. There are cybersecurity concerns related to those supply chain concerns. So it's all the things on the peripheral that I feel that as a type-A personality cannot control, necessarily. So it's those things that even if I can't directly control it, I can at least be aware of it. One of Dennis's favorite sayings was if you know that there's a snake in the weeds. It won't bite you. 

Lisa Ryan: When it came to running production and running your business through covid, were you able to do any remote work, or did you have to reschedule production based on who showed up?

Allison Giddens: It's been challenging. We did a great job from the get-go. When the pandemic hit, we had a person in charge of making sure that all the common area surfaces were clean at all times. On the hour, he was walking around with cleaning supplies, making sure doorknobs and light fixtures and counter spaces and such. We're all clean, and with 30 people or so out in the shop, have a 20,000 square foot shop at any point in time, we invented social distancing. That part wasn't challenging. But yes, when certain people were a little bit nervous, you know, maybe woke up with a sore throat. Everybody was well aware that they were to stay home if they did not feel 100%. We did have to move some things around because we are a manufacturer, we were not able to do any remote work. A couple of our admin folks perhaps could have, but we found it best that everything would be okay if everyone stayed in their respective spots.

To this day, we're still dealing with the occasional unexpected somebody out. Well, we have, you know, we have them scheduled to do XYZ, so it's, it's a matter of just being nimble, being flexible, and again having a backup plan. So it's not it does not necessarily have to be able to control everything. But it's having the game plan in place so that if it did happen. You can pull the trigger.

Lisa Ryan: When it comes to creating this network, we want to with the Manufacturers' network; here's a two-part question. What would be some of the things you would like to learn from other manufacturers? By the same token, if somebody wanted to connect with you. What would be your areas of expertise that you'd be willing to share with your colleagues?

Allison Giddens: Sure, that's a good question. Good two-parter. So I would be interested to hear from others about training resources that they have for shop floor machinists, operators, and programmers. What's worked for them? I might also be curious to know their best practices in hiring - what they have a good experience, whether it be, whether it be software or websites or just questions to be asked during an interview. Those are always things that we're learning from resources I can share. I've got a great network of CMC affiliates, and that is the cybersecurity maturity model certification that many manufacturers in the defense industry. Within the next couple of years, they'll all have to be certified. So I've been living and breathing that. I'm more than happy to share any resources I've gained over those past couple of years. 

I've also got an amazing virtual internship that I developed for local high school students. And trying to encourage them to check out manufacturing and see what it's all about. So I'm more than happy to share that curriculum of sorts, especially if there's another manufacturer out there. Who wants to do something similar and offer it to their local high school because that's the next generation. And those. The next people. We need to hire.

Lisa Ryan: Wow, that is a terrific resource. Can you give us just a taste of what that internship looks like?

Allison Giddens: Sure. So, it lasts about 15 days. But of those days, we broke it up, so this was born out of covid. Initially, it was intended to bring on a couple of high school students on our shop floor; they were going to take part in a project. Then the world got turned upside down, and I was going to have to cancel on those students. Instead of canceling, I created this 15-day internship.

Instead of focusing on a Win-Tech project, we brought on 12 students. I had a fantastic group of professionals dial in and gave the students insight into their professions within the industry. So we took manufacturing, and we looked at everything.

We looked at the supply chain. We looked at accounting. We looked at marketing. We looked at the shop floor and metallurgy. So we, you name it, we looked at it. We had a subject matter expert speak to the students for about 30 or 40 minutes. At the very end of the program, the students gave us a presentation on something having to do with manufacturing solving a problem in the world. And it was great because not only did they get a wide breadth of manufacturing expertise thrown at them, but they created their own network. They had all these subject matter experts; these professionals dial-in just to talk to these students and stay in touch. It was a great opportunity for not only the students but the professionals involved devoted a lot of time and energy to it, and I'm grateful for that. So happy to share any additional information that we did with that program. It was a blast.

Lisa Ryan: But is a terrific way to start to change the conversation and get these kids while they're still in high school and introduce them to manufacturing as a field; so good for you. That's terrific. So if people do would like to get a hold of you. What's the best way for them to do that.

Allison Giddens: Best way to do that is either through LinkedIn or through my email address:

Lisa Ryan: Alison has been an absolute pleasure having you on the show today. I'm Lisa Ryan, and this is the manufacturer's Network. Thanks for coming and we'll see you next time.




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