Analysis and Commentary

Three manufacturing challenges, retain, adapt, trust – by Juliana Queiroz

Analysis and Commentary

It is been a hell of a year in manufacturing as elsewhere. Here Juliana Queiroz discusses her three top cultural challenges for building stronger manufacturers – to retain, adapt, and trust.

Covid-19 changed forever the way we have been working but one thing is still true for manufacturing firms: we need to put our people in the centre of our business. To do so, the following three challenges will be the most common manufacturing challenges to our industry in 2021:


Covid-19 will impact the way manufacturers engage their workforce. Shortage in skilled professions will increase and manufacturers are looking for a more stable situation with their current employees.

Having a strong organisational culture is key, but how to do it?

As leaders, we expect our employees to have the same motivation as we have regarding business success, but we often fail to connect them to the business purpose and strategy.

To do this, we need to get our employees aligned with the vision, mission and values of our organisation.

One of the ways to do so is to have a strong culture putting the employees in the centre of the organisation so they can understand the meaning of their work and how important it is.

When we provide people with a reason to come to work that they care about, they will give us their maximum effort and passion, not because they have to, but because they want to.

Defining the vision, mission and values of an organisation is far from the usual copy/paste most companies do every year or two.

You are unique and so is the organisation you lead. With a strong organisational culture, some will opt out, which may seem unfortunate, but it’s actually a good thing. If people don’t fit in, their staying would have a negative impact on the organisation and affect the potential of others.


Change happens every day. We need to be ready to adapt to any situation. Were you expecting to be locked down while the world was dying of a new virus? No, nobody was.

To flourish in the new normal which is increasingly uncertain, complex and ambiguous, we need to be able to adapt quickly to new conditions, whatever they are. This is what agility can do for us.

Agility is not a methodology but a people-centric mindset. It is one where individuals performing tasks take ownership of them. Teams autonomously decide priorities and allocate resources. They stay close to the customers and adapt quickly to changing conditions.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Yet Agile is not working everywhere. Its success depends on factors based on organisational culture, for instance the way the company perceives autonomy.

In order to be able to adapt quickly we need to give employees a reason to come to work, but we also need to give them control and authority over their tasks, so they can make the best decisions when the necessity to be agile is requested.

However, giving control implies trust. How many of your employees do you really trust? Giving control and authority to engaged and committed employees so they can adapt to any situation is one of the manufacturing challenges for 2021.


Our world is evolving from a production era to a purpose era. For this we need to develop trustful relationships.

As leaders, we are often afraid to delegate or stop micromanaging because most of the time we don’t trust our employees to get the results we are looking for. When we eventually trust them, they may be too afraid to take ownership. This culture of giving permission or fear of making mistakes can stifle the innovation and creativity we need to thrive in the new normal.

Defining clear goals is the key to give autonomy and freedom. Employees could then approach problems in ways that take the most out of employee expertise and creative-thinking skills.

The key to change is giving everyone a safe environment where everybody feels comfortable and welcome to be who they really are, where they can speak freely without fear of failure, where they can learn and contribute with their best.

This means that they feel safe to take risks and to be vulnerable in front of others. It means they feel safe to give and get feedback and to have difficult conversations without penalty, because they know others will respect and tolerate mistakes and that humiliation is not part of the game.

Giving employees a safe environment and clear goals so they can have autonomy to perform increasing trust is one of the manufacturing challenges for 2021.

In conclusion, getting ahead of these 3 manufacturing challenges for 2021; Retain, Adapt and Trust, will move our industry from surviving the 2020 pandemic to a thriving and amazing work environment in 2021.

Juliana Queiroz is an engineer and founder of What Engineers Want, a consulting company that helps manufacturers and engineering firms get the most productivity out of their engineers using culture development and collective intelligence.

Picture: Juliana Queiroz

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