I recently saw an independent study that said there were 4,900 woodworking manufacturers in the United States. 4,900! Talk about competition. The study continued to say that about 85% of the business is done by only 5% of the industry! How crazy is that? This screams that there is a major lack of leadership in this industry and the word “floundering” suddenly comes to mind.
Think of this industry as your organization. You have 4,900 employees and only about 250 of them are producing any results. Yikes! As a member of the woodworking industry, I have a problem with this. I see a lack of leadership in our industry that has allowed us to be at the bottom rung of innovation among most industries, and that needs to change. I’ve pointed out four factors I see as reasons the industry is behind and how you can avoid this in your industry, and your organization.
Low Barrier to Entry
A low barrier to entry has enabled anyone with a garage to get into the woodworking industry. The garage start-ups typically stay that way for years and years so they rarely follow industry trends, regulations, or get involved in any sort of innovation. Keep the standards in your organization high, don’t just let anyone in. Doing so will reinforce a culture of excellence and will also keep the bad seeds out. People will be begging to be let in!
The tech industry has the iPad, the auto industry has hybrid cars, and the retail industry has it all. Who can name the latest innovative breakthrough in wood? I’m not even sure I can! Barriers to entry are low because there is little innovation, because barriers to entry are low… (That’s no typo). Make sure that you have innovative culture within your organization. Challenge your people to innovate in everything they do from product design, to accounting. Push for better ways to do everything, all the time. This mindset can be solidified with a powerful mission or value statement. At Advanced Cabinet Systems we did a play on words with the UK propaganda statement from WW2, Keep Calm and Carry On. Our posters say “Keep Calm and Change the Game”. We introduced this with a long story about how in order to move ahead we needed to “change the game”. These posters are everywhere in our offices and factory. A common decision making question in our organization is “Will this change the game?”
Failure to Engage
The wood industry has not done well at engaging outsiders. If you aren’t in the industry it’s very likely that you’ve never heard of Advanced Cabinet Systems or any of our competitors. It is very hard to get buy in when you haven’t engaged the people you’re trying to reach. It’ll never happen. You must keep an engaging atmosphere that people want to be a part of. It’s hard to engage people these days but there are some absolutely spectacular HR people out there who would be happy to help. I believe that an HR person is as important, if not more important, than your CFO. Keeping your people happy and engaged is something that needs to be cherished and watched as closely as the numbers.
“I’ll do it myself” Mentality
Because so many woodworkers start out in their garage doing everything themselves, it’s hard to let things go. If you want to lead an organization, or an industry, you must empower others to reach beyond their expected potential. You can’t do it all yourself, and you shouldn’t. It seems so common nowadays to say something like “I just hire good people and get out of their way.” Well yes, that’s what you should do, but that’s just the beginning. It’s more than just getting of their way, it’s empowering them. A culture of empowered people is unstoppable. A leader must not create followers, but more leaders and that can be done by letting others have ownership and take more responsibility. Empowering people is challenging, you must be willing to let someone fail but know that it will be a major learning experience for that person. As Mitt Romney famously quoted “Corporations are people” well…yes. Corporations are made up of people, and without those people you don’t have much.
So, corporate titans and industry influencers, let’s empower our people and challenge them to keep pushing our industries and organizations forward. Don’t try to do it all on your own, you need to harness the drive of the people you surround yourself with. And you know what? People want to be challenged and want to make a difference and if they don’t, send them to your competition.
We need to build great companies that provide superior products that can ratchet up our species to make this a better world. That’s our job. Let’s work together, utilize the synergies between our companies and drive our industries forward.
Philip Bowers, 26, is Vice President of Business Development for Advanced Cabinet Systems, an architectural casework and retail store fixture manufacturer based in Marion, Indiana. Phil is also the founder of Outback Storage, a Marion, Indiana based personal self storage business. Find him on Twitter @ryaPhillinme, or check out some of his other blogs at www.woodworkingnetwork.com.