Protecting Your Human Capital Investment

Employees are often thought of as a company’s greatest asset. Not the multi-million dollar machines or the raw materials, but the people who make the product a reality. Doug Conant, CEO of Campbell’s Soupsaid, “To win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” So, how do you win in the workplace? How do you make financial cents out of good business sense? Mary Jane Umberger, President of HR Alliance, led a training recently on this very topic. Today’s blog will recap what we learned.

The training began by talking about how the pathway to success is often riddled with potholes. Some of the potholes that may get in the way of protecting your human capital investment include:
1. Potential employee selection problems.
2. Seeming employee disregard for company requirements.
3. Apparent employee indifference resulting in sub-standard job performance.
4. Costly employee turnover.
Luckily, there are things that can be done to “patch the potholes”. Mary Jane provided the following as opportunities to build a better road to success.

Take a look at your interview and selection process. How can this impact your bottom line directly? An unintentional misstep could lead to costly litigation. On average, a federal employment law claim will cost between $80,000 and $120,000 to defend in trial. Take a look at your interview and selection process. Make sure your procedures are above board and those carrying them out understand their legal limitations. One important area to focus on: your interview questions. There are some questions that are obvious to avoid like, “Do you have health problems?” Most people know you can’t ask that. However, there are some questions you might think are ok to ask, but aren’t, such as asking an applicant for a photo to attach to his/her application. We found this article from LinkedIn and this one from Business Insider to be helpful in delving deeper into this subject. Again, some of these may leave you thinking, “Duh!” (insert eye roll emoji), but others might surprise you.


Define behavioral policies and organizational expectations. Are your behavioral policies and organizational expectations clearly stated? Are your leaders trained as to why they exist? Sometimes employees have the best of intentions, but just aren’t clear of the policy. So, how can you clearly convey expectations?  Options include: 1. Job Descriptions. The job description is where an employee’s path begins with you. Be sure that you clearly state what is expected of employees to avoid confusion and frustration from the very start. 2. Performance Evaluations. Evaluations were created for this very purpose – to talk about whether expectations are being met or not. Use evaluations as an opportunity to give your employees clear suggestions for how they can improve and better meet the expectations of the job. 3. Recognition to reinforce positive behavior. Recognizing employees can be such a simple thing that produces such a large return on investment. We actually did a blog post about this very topic, which you can read here. 4. Consider your employee handbook. Are your excited, ready-to-get-to-work employees actually reading it for understanding? Consider hosting a training about the handbook. You could hit on those “pet peeves” that both management and employees might have. Those “pet peeves” could just be a misunderstanding on both sides.

Increase Employee Engagement. Hey! We did a blog about this one recently, too. Do your leaders utilize behaviors that foster employee engagement and recognize the corresponding cost benefits…liabilities? Here’s what Mary Jane shared with us on this topic:

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She also shared this excellent video which presents some very interesting facts about employee engagement.

Consider Your Employee Turnover. Is your organization spending hundreds of thousands (perhaps millions) of dollars in hidden (and not so hidden) costs on employee turnover? Hard costs include time spent processing separation, recruiting, interviewing, reference checking, orientation, as well as the costs to pay overtime, advertising fees, drug screening, and training. Other costs include lost productivity, increased workload, reduced engagement, and an effect on customer service. Mary Jane talked about the importance of on-boarding. Successful companies understand on-boarding has a more long-term success.

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And there you have it! We hope by reading this you’ve gained some insight into how you can better protect that oh so precious investment – your workforce.


For deeper reading:
Here are three books Mary Jane Umberger recommends on the topic of employee engagement:

  1. “Drive” by Daniel H. Pink
  2. “Nine Minutes on Monday” by James Robbins
  3. “All In” by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

We’d also like to add “Gung Ho” by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.


All information was pulled from the presentation created by Mary Jane Umberger.

17 Reasons We Are Thankful For Manufacturing in 2017

Manufacturing is a way of life in Southwest Virginia. It is an industry that touches each of us in some way, giving the citizens of our area many things to appreciate. This week, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we, at SVAM, celebrate our appreciation for the manufacturers in Southwest Virginia.

Here is our list of 17 reasons we are thankful for manufacturing in 2017: 

For economic reasons…

1. There are about 400 manufacturing facilities providing jobs for about 18,000 individuals in Southwest Virginia.

2. Manufacturers contribute over $2.17 trillion to the economy each year. Taken alone manufacturing would be the 9th largest economy in the world.¹

3. There are plenty of job opportunities for new workers. 80% of the manufacturing workforce are Baby Boomers nearing retirement. This means that manufacturers will be looking to fill up to 80% of their positions over the next few years.

4. For every manufacturing job created, 2.5 more jobs are created in other sectors.

5. Manufacturing has the second largest marginal economic impact on the Southwest Virginia region’s economy.

6. Manufacturing employees make on average $10,000 more a year compared to workers at other establishments.

7. Manufacturers provide employees with highly desirable benefits like health insurance and retirement plans.

8. Manufacturers like to hire from within, which means there is plenty of room for advancement in the company.

9. Manufacturing supports a broad and diverse career spectrum. There are positions available for production workers, engineers, management, and almost anything else you can think of.¹


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA


For community support and environmental awareness…

10. Manufacturers give back to the community! For example: West River Conveyors and Machinery Company in Buchanan County, Virginia has widely supported youth activities and charities in its community for the past 36 years. They support the Department of Social Services Angel Tree Christmas Program, YMCA programs, Boys & Girls Club of Central Appalachia, Buchanan County Youth Incorporated, and Buchanan County Little League sports. Also, each year, they provide funding for any student at a Buchanan County high school unable to afford the class senior trip. Just over the past few years, they have contributed more than $150,000 to youth activities and programs in the community.

11. Manufacturers care about the environment! For example: Tempur Productions in Scott County, Virginia is a company that puts safety and the environment first and works tirelessly to reduce energy consumption and lower greenhouse gases for the community. Their EPA Energy Star Program is a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. The goal is to protect the environment through the adoption of energy efficient equipment and practices as well as reduce greenhouse gases. Through their focus on landfill elimination, this facility is a zero landfill company and have been since June 2015. Through their lighting upgrade project, they have a long-term plan to convert 100% of their lighting to high efficiency LED. Through HVAC upgrades, their entire plant is air conditioned. They have upgraded three of their chillers to high-efficiency design, with the fourth and final unit scheduled to be upgraded by 2018. The roof has recently been upgraded to a white finish to reduce the heat load in the summer months. All the HVAC controllers have been networked to form a ‘smart’ system which identifies additional opportunities for improvement.

For innovation and safety…

12. Manufacturers are constantly creating new and innovative technologies! For example: Electro-Mechanical Corporation in Bristol, Virginia showed innovation this year by implementing lean practices to eliminate waste and become more competitive. They produce pad-mounted switch gears. Customer demand for this product had grown beyond the company’s ability to produce within a one shift operation.  Something had to be done to eliminate waste in the system and increase capability of the line to meet the growing demand. One complicating factor, from a manufacturing standpoint, is that there are over 25 versions of these switch gear enclosures all produced in random sequence on the same assembly line, each having as many as 200 parts.  Another complication is that two geographically separated plants are involved in the production and assembly process. Lean principles were applied beginning in 2012 to eliminate wastes associated with the manufacture and assembly of pad-mounted switch gear. Since the implementation of these principles, sales for this product have increased from 30 to 70 units per week and are expected to continue increasing.

13. Manufacturers put employee safety at the top of their priority list! For example: Quadrant Engineering Plastic Products in Wythe County, Virginia says that safety is the foundation and core of the business for their manufacturing facility. Their local facility pursued OSHA VPP STAR Certification and were awarded Virginia Protection Program’s STAR status (OSHA’s highest designation) in April 2016. Safety is a focus for all levels of leadership throughout the company. Management demonstrates its commitment to Safety and Health procession by actively participating in monthly Safety Patrol audits, safety training, managements of change, and accident/near miss investigations. All employees have opportunities to get involved with different safety and health activities at the facility. New Hires are encouraged to become a member of the Employee Safety committee, PEO team, or help in safety training or the annual health fair.


Employees at Strongwell in Bristol, VA

For the way they impact their employees and consumers…


14. Manufacturers are spending time and resources studying what creates worker satisfaction across generations. 

15. Manufacturing facilities promote a sense of camaraderie and teamwork with their employees.

16. Manufacturing directly improves the quality of our everyday lives, from the cars we drive (Somic America in Wytheville) to the bed we sleep on at night (Tempur Productions in Duffield).

17. And last, but not least, we are thankful for manufacturing because manufacturers care about us. Manufacturers are making products to keep us safe, make our lives easier, and improve our everyday living.


Manufacturing facts from:

¹ http//

For more information about manufacturing visit:


This blog is published by The Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing