Performance Management in Manufacturing: Hiring and Retaining Top Talent

Performance management in manufacturing: hiring and retaining top talent


The manufacturing industry is facing a talent crisis, with over 70% of industry leaders finding it a top challenge in managing the production workforce. The challenges include finding talent, retaining talent, tracking performance metrics, establishing and tracking long-term goals, measuring employee engagement, and embracing core values/workplace behaviors. The talent crisis is attributed to a technological skills gap, an aging workforce, competition with other front-line sectors, and outdated, negative perceptions about manufacturing work. This blog sheds light on the top people and talent obstacles manufacturing organizations encounter and provides effective performance management solutions that fit the industry’s unique needs. 

The manufacturing industry is well-known for being fast-paced, safety-focused, and crucial to economic vitality. In recent years, it has also unfortunately been known as an industry facing a talent crisis. Deloitte found in a 2023 survey that more than 70% of industry leaders said finding and keeping the right talent was a top challenge in managing the production workforce. 

When hiring and retaining top talent poses a problem, we turn to performance management for insight. Embracing performance management best practices in the manufacturing industry is more important now than ever. This blog sheds light on the top people and talent obstacles manufacturing organizations encounter, and provides effective performance management solutions that fit the industry’s unique needs.

Performance Management Challenges in Manufacturing

The manufacturing industry is largely comprised of front-line workers, or employees who are “deskless” and who directly participate in the making of a product. These workers are more likely to be constantly moving due to the active, fast-paced nature of manufacturing floors. Because manufacturing employees are being pulled in multiple directions and working hard to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the workday, it can be difficult to find time to complete performance reviews, meet one-on-one with their managers, or fill out a company-wide survey. 

The list below indicates a few major challenges HR teams and top leaders face in the manufacturing industry. 

  • Finding talent- The talent crisis in this sector is attributed to many factors including a technological skills gap, an aging workforce, competition with other front-line sectors, and outdated, negative perceptions about manufacturing work. Younger workers are uninformed or misinformed about modern manufacturing jobs, and therefore are showing lower interest in the industry than generations past. 
  • Retaining talent- Front-line workers are being enticed by more flexibility and better compensation and benefits packages in other front-line industries, like healthcare and technology. These sectors are perceived to have generally better work-life balance and working conditions, although perception is not always reality. 
  • Tracking performance metrics well- Utilization of outdated or manual performance tracking processes leads to ill-informed performance data. Logistically, it can be difficult to properly monitor productivity and specific KPIs when workers are running from one problem to the next all day long. 
  • Establishing and tracking long-term goals- Repetitive, routine tasks largely define manufacturing success. However, the focus on daily success can overshadow the need to strategically plan for the future. Coupled with a labor shortage and limited margin for extra time, goal-setting often takes a backseat. 
  • Measuring employee engagement- While metrics such as absenteeism and turnover rate help illuminate a company’s engagement level, they do not tell the whole story. Hearing directly from employees is vital, but poses a challenge in an environment where workers are pressed for time, geographically spread apart, and do not have access to technology that can document their perceptions and insights.
  • Embracing core values/workplace behaviors- Monitoring and rewarding workplace behaviors that are aligned with company core values is challenging when team members work in different locations and are focused on completing multiple tasks within a limited timeframe. Core values are commonly displayed on factory floor banners but rarely used as a tool for recognition or promotion.

Performance Management Best Practices in Manufacturing

Manufacturing organizations that embrace performance management best practices (like those listed below) as a business strategy create high-performing cultures that attract top talent beyond the salaries and benefits offered. Businesses that view performance management as a top priority show team members that their talent is needed, desired, and worthy of growth and development. 

1. Incorporate One-On-Ones/Check-Ins

Finding top talent begins with keeping the current talent satisfied and engaged. Team members who have a healthy, trusting relationship with their direct managers and know their presence is valued become internal ambassadors and are more likely to tell friends and family outside of the organization that it is a great place to work. This level of internal promotion starts with frequent, scheduled one-on-one time with each employee. 

Performance check-ins, or one-on-ones, are a great way to streamline communication and feedback between managers and team members. A preferred check-in process is one where employees fill out a check-in form prior to meeting with their manager so the manager has time to review it before meeting together. One-on-one meetings should be brief, focused on the employee’s needs and performance, frequent, and documented. 

For manufacturing employees, it is most important to remember that the perfect check-in process is less vital than a check-in process that works for you. Workdays are in constant motion, so one-on-ones will need to be intentional and creative. The bullets below highlight what check-in meetings should include and how they should occur.

  • No more than 15-20 minutes
  • Minimum of once a month
  • Documented, with no more than 3 standard questions for the employee to answer ahead of time
  • Consider incorporating performance objectives, core values, and goals
  • Utilize a simple, easy-to-use digital check-in tool
  • Managers document brief notes and provide a quick summary of the meeting
  • Customize check-in meetings to fit the environment. Make them work for you. 

The WorkDove Check-In tool includes employee sentiment tracking that highlights trends over time and can be used as an indicator of turnover risk and general engagement. It is also equipped with reporting tools, automatic reminders, and the ability to update goal progress. The employee’s voice is heard and managers are given a resource for coaching and guiding performance with minimal effort.

2. Gauge Employee Engagement

Creating time and resources to capture the manufacturing employees’ feelings about their work and organization is a daunting task given how quickly everyone is moving. While surveys are a common way to gather this information they may not be realistic all the time. Much like all other performance management practices in manufacturing companies, HR leaders may need to get creative. 

The following list highlights a few options for gauging employee engagement in the manufacturing world.

  • eNPS Survey– The Employee Net Promoter Score is not a typical survey in that it poses one simple question: “How likely are you to recommend to others that our organization is a great place to work?” The responder is asked to select a number from 0 to 10, with 0 being the least likely and 10 being the most likely. Responses are segmented as such:
    • 0-6- Detractors (not engaged or disengaged)
    • 7-8- Neutrals (not engaged or disengaged)
    • 9-10- Promoters (engaged)
  • Include sentiment analysis in check-ins– As stated above, the WorkDove check-in tool incorporates a sentiment pulse tracker that asks employees, “How are you feeling lately?” and they can select a picture response ranging from Not Okay to Great. Consistent pulse checks on how employees are feeling lead to healthy engagement conversations.

one-on-one performance check-in

  • Measure workplace satisfaction- Paired best with the performance review, directly asking employees how satisfied they are with the workplace and what could be done to improve that satisfaction encourages employees to be honest and open. WorkDove offers an option for measuring satisfaction in the review and produces a report that allows leaders to analyze responses alongside performance and workplace behavior ratings for a comprehensive picture of engagement. 

workplace satisfaction report screenshot3. Develop and Track Goals

Setting long-term goals is critical to manufacturing businesses attaining the ultimate vision. Ideally, goals are aligned with the organizational mission and purpose and are created at the individual, department, and company levels. When goals are defined and tracked at all levels it increases accountability and encourages team unity, especially for groups that are dispersed across different locations. A suggested best practice is for managers and employees to sit down and develop goals together, giving employees a voice in the process and encouraging them to take ownership of their commitments. When employees see that their contributions affect bigger department or company-wide goals, especially through the use of visual goals software, their engagement increases knowing that their performance has a tangible impact. 

As mentioned above, consider including goal updates during performance check-ins. Managers can keep a keen eye on goal progression and offer coaching in the moment before it becomes a performance issue. Employees are also reminded during each one-on-one that their efforts go beyond just completing tasks but rather create real change for their team. 

The list below details the components that individual goals should contain:

  • Goal title
  • Person responsible + any contributors
  • Due date
  • The department or company-level goal its aligned to
  • How the goal is measured (dollars, percentage, units., etc.)
  • Additional information


4. Lean on Performance Reviews

Finding time for manufacturing employees to sit down and complete a formal performance review once or twice a year can feel impossible. However, when used alongside frequent check-ins, performance reviews become a simple documented summary of ongoing conversations. Performance reviews allow HR leaders in manufacturing organizations to track the right metrics, workplace behaviors, and goals for each individual. It ensures that those meeting and exceeding expectations are being rewarded appropriately and those who are not meeting expectations are receiving the coaching and direction they need. 

For an industry with a retiring workforce that is struggling to replace talent, documented performance reviews highlight those employees who are primed for promotion. Review results tracked over time offer historical data that showcases the growth and development of individual employees, managers, teams, and departments. These data points help to identify stellar performance and create opportunities for career advancement. WorkDove’s Performance-Values Matrix measures performance and workplace behaviors separately and plots the points on a matrix, making it easy to visualize employee performance and value fit.

Performance-Values matrix5. Define, Measure, and Embed Core Values

In an industry where competition is tight, aspects beyond salary and benefits help to attract and retain top talent. Fully embracing core values helps manufacturing organizations stand out in the marketplace and also ensures the right people are hired and remain employed. 

Core values are more than 5-7 words or phrases that read well in job listings and marketing material. They are subsequent behaviors that should be exhibited by all team members and aim to make the company’s mission real and visible. Core values must be well-defined and tracked alongside performance. When performance and workplace behaviors are measured equally but separately, it sends a message to employees that exhibiting positive behaviors is just as important as meeting performance expectations. Tracking core values also helps to eliminate potential bias in performance evaluations by more comprehensively measuring employee efforts. 

Lastly, core value displays of behavior should be the basis for recognizing team members. Observable actions that peers can see portrayed by their teammates and leaders are fuel for recognition programs. When positive behaviors are rewarded publicly, it encourages more positive behavior and provides a real-life example of what core values look like practically.

Performance Management Software for Manufacturing

Organizations in the manufacturing industry are highly recommended to partner with a software solution that fits their fast-paced, unique needs. The right platform will be a natural fit into the company’s culture and face today’s manufacturing challenges head-on with room to grow as the business grows. 

HR leaders in the industry should consider the following when choosing a performance management vendor.

  • Easy-to-use- Even the most technology-challenged team member should be able to easily navigate the platform with the help of customized training and simple implementation.
  • Segmented onboarding- Getting all employees in one place to learn a new software system is nearly impossible. The right partner will offer onboarding and implementation that is scheduled and executed with shift worker needs in mind.  
  • Ongoing training and support- Platform administrators should have the ability to contact a familiar name/face for ongoing support, training new employees in the platform, and refresher training when necessary. 
  • Accessible resources- Software users at every level must have access to articles, training videos, and customer support to answer questions and solve issues when necessary.
  • Mobile access- As front-line workers often do not have direct access to a computer for all or most of the workday, it is critical that a performance management platform has some options for mobile access.

Why WorkDove is a Perfect Fit for Manufacturing Organizations

The right platform must include all of the above and be able to adapt and customize to the unique environment found in the manufacturing industry. Through years of experience and symbiotic partnerships with manufacturing clients, WorkDove offers tools and solutions that fit naturally into the daily workflow of the manufacturing employee. Save time and money with one integrated, affordable platform that streamlines check-ins, performance reviews, leadership succession, goals, and recognition. If you are interested in a solution that moves as quickly as your business does, contact WorkDove today!