Lisa Ryan: Hey, it's Lisa Ryan. Welcome to the Manufacturers' Network Podcast. I'm excited to introduce our guest today, Robin Ritz. Robin is a creative visionary and owner of Record, a women-owned small business providing safety netting. Robin, welcome to the show.
Robin Ritz: Thank you, Lisa. Thank you so much for having me here.
Lisa Ryan: Please share your background and what led you to do what you're doing with Record.
Robin Ritz: I started in the office environment back in the 90s. My first job was cleaning offices. I used to role-play in an office when I was a child. I like signing checks and enjoy doing office things, so it's a natural fit. In the late 90s, I started working for a safety netting manufacturer. In 1995, Incord was started by my father and his partner, Bob Martin, and Mary Martin. I was able to come on and do some office management and get my get into the admin part of things on the side.
I was always interested in art and creativity. About 13 years ago, I became certified as a kaizen creativity coach. I found that balance between evoking creativity and honoring processes in the workplace and being in a manufacturing position. Combining that with the business and admin, I am a creative visionary today. I can incorporate all that love for honoring process but being creative and doing it in manufacturing.
Lisa Ryan: That's not something that you think a lot about his creativity in the work environment in manufacturing. You think of it as a much more gritty, get-the-job-done environment. That has helped you create a workplace that draws and keeps people. What are some of the things you are doing that differentiate you from what you hear about in manufacturing?
Robin Ritz: One of our guiding principles is that we're trying to be an exemplary employer. We focus on the employee experience. We focus on our corporate culture. We're focused on being the type of workplace somebody would want to work in so that manufacturing becomes secondary to that environment. First and foremost, working with people who are creative beings. Manufacturing gives us something to do at work.
But the environment we're trying to create is about empowering people to be creative, be forward-thinking, and show up as a whole person in the workplace.
Lisa Ryan: Well, returning to creativity, you're doing safety netting and custom solutions. What are some examples of your employees using their creativity and building those relationships with each other and the customers?
Robin Ritz: Every individual has their expression of their creativity so being able to empower employees, to say we want you to use your creative talents in the ways that come naturally to you. Some people might be naturally organized. Some people might be naturally outgoing. Other people are more in an observant role. Hence, by honoring the ways that creativity shows up for each individual, they can contribute in a way that is unique to them.
Therefore, making systems process improvements, based on a suggestion, because somebody already organized and sees a better way that it can be approached or bringing a tool that they have from experience outside the workplace. So they're able to say, hey, we could use this or apply this technique to this process because I've seen it work in other ways, so I think it's more about the openness for the input.
Then the creativity takes on a life of its own. It's not necessarily painting on a canvas or art supplies. Instead, it becomes creative, and you're creating the environment that you want to work in.
You're creating the changes that you want to see. You're creating your career path. You're building relationships with customers or vendors. So it embraces creativity in a way that says you can be creative in different ways, and, yes, we can apply that in a mean factoring or administrative role.
Lisa Ryan: And it sounds individualized. It also sounds like a lot of work. So how do you bring that to figure out your people's strengths when it comes to creativity and creating a safe environment for them to go for it like you're like you do.
Robin Ritz: So intentionally being mindful of the processes we have in place and trying to communicate to employees our values and our strategy so that they feel their input is at least in alignment with that. Look at things like your onboarding, your orientation, your initial performance review, and then your annual performance reviews. Those give us the formalized opportunities to discuss career goals, professional development, or ideas they might have to improve their workplace.
Some of the questions on that review are what you would do if you were the owner for a day. So it gives people the opportunity to present their ideas in a way that is a little bit whimsical, but we get some great feedback from that. So the formal, very practical way of approaching it is to ensure you create those conversations within your reviews within that formalized process. Then there are the opportunities for it to come up in between. But, still, you're at least not missing those opportunities within your performance reviews or professional development conversation so that you're at least creating the opportunity for them.
Lisa Ryan: So let's start with onboarding. When that brand new employee joins Incord, how does the day look? Do you start before they come on board building relationships with them? What are you doing for the first day of the first week to set the tone for their experience in Incord?
Robin Ritz: So I would say, particularly over the past two years, and now we're in 2022, so over the past two years, it's evolved because we had to get to a place where we could do it virtually we had to come up with an effective model, both in person and not in person. So we created employee portals where we can provide all of our policies, our Frequently Asked Questions, our health care benefits, and all of our portfolios, if you will, for employees. We created an internal website with all that information that's immediately and continuously available to employees to a manager supervisor because the first day is so inundated you're overloaded with all this information. You don't need it until you need it right.
We do the typical go-around and try introducing you to as many people as possible. But, still, we know that is super overwhelming as well, so breaking it into little segments with different departments and making sure that there's like a buddy system for that new employee are some of the ways that we try to make it as comfortable as possible. But, honestly, we're constantly revisiting that just because there's always that opportunity to make that impression. It means so much that employees' first day first.
Lisa Ryan: So talk about the buddy system. How do you choose the person to buddy them up with, and what does that buddy do.
Robin Ritz: So what I have seen is that it's pretty informal that because we have a community of employees that have a long history working here are average ten years probably over 15 years, so what I've seen most typically is that the supervisor will provide a formalized training, but the community itself within the workforce can recognize who's the best fit to start to help this person make them feel comfortable bringing them into the community that we have, so it really what I've seen is that it happens organically because you're allowing it to develop naturally tremendous, so it's not as formal as we're going to assign this person to this person it's more like the flock knows how to take care of the new little chicks. And there are mama hands that will do it naturally. And you'll find that there are ways that personalities start to reveal themselves, and you'll see it just happening organically. I think part of it is that Law of reciprocity, where somebody who's been working here long enough remembers what it was like when they were coming in, and they are going to be that change that they wanted to see or they're going to make sure that that person's feeling comfortable. Much of that comes back to when you said it seems like a lot of work.
It's not a lot of work when you're empowering at the lowest levels when you're empowering across the board, so the managers aren't responsible for it. Employees are responsible for it, and coworkers are responsible for it, so it doesn't have to be heavily managed. It's not micromanaging. It's organic relationship building. It's not work; it's very fluid, and I think that's the other piece where it's like when you're not trying too hard, it comes together in a very natural way that is a forest, and so it, it has more integrity, it has more authenticity, and it has more lasting power.
Lisa Ryan: I think the most interesting thing you said in that whole mix was that your average tenure is 15 years and more, and yet they are so welcoming to the new people. Instead of having that attitude of these new people, they're not going to be here for very long anyway, why should I make friends with them? Why should I take them under the wings where it sounds like, with Incord, you've created the type of workplace where those tenured employees have a stake in building the relationships with the new people so that it does keep them on board and so those people to can grow into those same tenured employees.
Robin Ritz: There's like almost like a parental pride, when you are helping somebody becomes successful you are helping somebody acclimate you're helping somebody feel comfortable in part of something bigger than them, and there's a pride in the workplace, when your job, and you can show somebody else how to do it, I think there is a lot of energetic exchange there where it's not ownership or afraid of sharing it because somebody is going to replace you or somebody is going to outshine you it's more like hey I've done so well here, I want to share that experience with you so, and I think that again it's almost an individual thing where we're fortunate enough that we're attracting heart-centered individuals that they care about their work Community they care about the success of their coworkers and by helping somebody else be successful, they know they're going to be successful, so it is collaboration on its best.
Lisa Ryan: Talk about the collaboration and communication and the feedback loops you have there because it sounds open. Talk about that. How does the feedback work a
Robin Ritz: So, again, it's incredibly intentional we're constantly checking in and making sure do employees feel like senior managers know what's going on do employees know what supervisors know what's going on, so we'll do it through like survey services where it's a text or an email so that people can answer a quick question it's formal and informal so within the review process within timed at certain times throughout your career you're checking in with that, so it's some formal some informal.
But the biggest thing is that it's consistent with the communications. So you've got a newsletter that's coming out that's consistently going out, you've got the surveys that are always asking for that feedback, and then the highs and part of it is that the feedback loop has to be saying yes or no we're going to implement that because of this relationship or strategy or this misalignment with our strategy or we're going to push it out, because of the timeline. But that feedback loop is critical for employees to know your suggestion has been heard, and here's the response. Yes, no, or indifferent, here's why we're doing what we're doing, and that then creates a feedback loop of Okay, well, I feel comfortable presenting another idea because, yes, it was hard, it was acknowledged. Even if it was a no, I know why it was no. And that's the most critical piece: people will stop giving suggestions when they think they're not being heard or implemented, so even if it's not being implemented, if it's being acknowledged and explained, you'll get more suggestions.
Lisa Ryan: The other thing you mentioned is that you attract a lot of heart-centered individuals to join your organization. In a market where it's an employee market and Labor is hard to find, what are some of the ways that you are attracting people how? Where are you finding them?
Robin Ritz: One of the things that we participate with every year in Connecticut is Hartford's current top workplace. We're 11 years. I believe 11 years in a row that it's an employee vote that was voted as a top workplace in Connecticut, so that is something that keeps us in an attractive position for employees looking for employers in Connecticut. So we have some bragging rights to say our employees voted for us.
With your words, I am a huge fan of impact ability, so we're constantly claiming that we attract high-caliber, very talented individuals. Again it's intentional that we want alignment with highly motivated, highly intelligent, highly engaged individuals, and so it's like attraction. But it has to be something you are intentional and mindful about so that it is when you're presented with it right. I think that's something that we want to be an exemplary workplace because we're putting the workers and the work before the workplace. It's something that we keep revisiting as our values and that It continues to get itself right.
Lisa Ryan: yeah, what are some fun things that you? Celebrations are a big part of your company culture. So what are some of the things you celebrate, and how do you do that.
Robin Ritz: Okay yeah, so thank you. One of our values is any time for celebration. We are a family business; we have a lot of family members that are working amongst employees that are working. So I would say almost every Friday, we have a birthday party, a baby shower, or some personal celebration we're making time for. We have an events committee. They're planning their events around the survey responses from our employees, so rather than creating an event that we think might be enjoyable, we've asked the employees, well, what are the important holidays for you to celebrate and how do you want to celebrate them and are we doing them collectively an entire
group of employees are you doing them by departments, or by facilities and things like that so. So every year, all your major holidays, I would say that we try to take time out and celebrate. But we will also do things like bring in an ice cream truck and do ice cream socials, or our events committee lines up things like Zumba classes and hula hooping, and we like playing with parachutes, and so I mean it we try to have fun in ways that are engaging for everybody. And it's always based on employee feedback, so it's mostly like, Can we eat.
Lisa Ryan: How many employees do you have there, and are they all on-site, or do you also have a virtual team.
Robin Ritz: So we're over 130 employees, and we have multiple facilities within Colchester, Connecticut, and Oakdale Connecticut, that we're operating out of so all of our production is on-site. We did have a virtual work capacity in the past couple of years just out of necessity, but otherwise we've brought everybody back. Everybody works from the office, except for our outside sales team, so we have an outside sales team under sales managers and they're all home base nail homes.
Lisa Ryan: And as far as like the hours because, and I wanted to get the number, because hundred 30 employees is not 15 or 20 where you can really super ultra-personalized, but it sounds like with everything that you're doing you're getting to know your employees you're listening to them so even with a larger team all of that is possible. What about hours and scheduling you brought everybody back, who are remote, is there any flexibility there or how do you work with people to give them some of their time back.
Robin Ritz: Thank you for asking, so we did we shifted, we have to do two shifts are in 2020 just to keep our numbers small enough so when we did bring everybody back in production, we gave the production crew, the availability of saying what hours , do you want to work, and we also have a second shift so we've got I believe it's 737 30 to 333 30 that's our first shift and then we've got a second shift that comes in for production.
And for our admin staff because we're a sales driven organization, we want to make sure that we're available when our customers need us to be available, we had been an eight to five business but we put it out to our entire sales team and came back that were eight 830 to five. So, and it was really about responsiveness to make sure that we're available for our customers and When are they most needed. As far as the employees working from home have there is a lot of VPN or a virtual tool in place, so if somebody can still work from home if they need to.: But we also added two new I guess some people come FLEX days or personal days, so we increase the personal days. I think, as of two days from now, so there'll be using the realism, but that gives people more time for the appointments that they need to schedule, or some of the offsite type of activities that it just didn't feel like they had enough time to do, and so we built a little bit more flexibility for employees to be able to schedule around those work hours.
But we have we are manufacturing there's a huge value to people being in person, so really, really, really, really embrace that as much as we can.
Lisa Ryan: And as we're getting to the end of our time together one other quote that from a previous conversation that you said was there, your commitment to a sensory rich environment Making a workplace that's more than just the work, so what are some of the things that you do that maybe we didn't talk about so far that would help that to happen.
Robin Ritz: So sensory-rich, it is really because you are in that manufacturing environment. One of the things that's important to us is that we do have natural lighting, there are really good sound systems in all of our factories, so that there's music that's going on there is bright and colorful artwork on all the walls, so that there is something nice to look up at. There is an empowerment within the employees' workstations to the degree that it's available where they can personalize it and they can have things that are meaningful to them, and they want to look up and see so it's everything from. it's everything sensory, so we've got Tara diffusers going that are making it smell good you've got natural lighting coming in you've got music you've got artwork we've got plants we've got things to create creature comforts around the environment that just give it a richer, more texture yeah. One itself, like everything that you're.
Lisa Ryan: doing there is really leading to that consistency of being on the best places to work list, because it really does come down to culture and even with everything that you're doing it sounds like your business is super strong and you're getting a lot done.
Robin Ritz: yeah we do we get a lot of work done, we work hard, we play hard or but we're Doers and I think that's it you got to be doing the work anyway. We do see work...