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A New Take on Employee Engagement

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This weekend, in the afterglow of Valentine’s Day, at least 24 couples will walk down the aisle, tie the knot, and be married, at the same time and place, in the Mexican city of Tijuana. What makes these weddings remarkable is that they’ll not be taking place in a church, a judge’s chambers, or on a nearby Pacific beach, but instead at the Plantronics headset factory where at least one member of each couple works.

Mass weddings in a headset factory? There’s got to be more to that story. And there is.

One of the more fascinating adventures I’ve had lately was a visit earlier this month to Plamex, the Mexican division of Plantronics, which operates a large manufacturing facility and R&D center just south of the US-Mexico border. As part of the research for our new book, Contented Cows STILL Give Better Milk, (oh, did we mention we were writing a new book?), Alejandro Bustamante, president of Plamex, graciously invited me to visit the company, which earned the Number One spot on The Great Place to Work Institute’s ranking of Best Places to Work in Mexico. Folks, in terms of great workplaces, Plamex is the Google of Mexico.

Although I spent the entire day at the plant, it didn’t take me long to see why the company came in at number one – or to see the benefits it reaps by adopting a strategy that focuses on its associates. Over the last few years, the company’s output, quality, profitability, and workplace brand have all soared.

“The job of a leader,” Alejandro told me, “is to create the atmosphere to get the results we want.” When I asked him to explain how Plamex had achieved such distinction as an outstanding workplace, he had a ready answer.

“There are three things we want for every one of our 2,286 associates here. [That’s right, he knows the number, off the top of his head.] First, we want to give everyone the respect they deserve. Second, we want to help them develop. And third – and this is probably the most important – we want to improve the quality of their lives, and the lives of their families. When you do those things, you get their very best. And that’s what we need – their very best.”

One of the most remarkable parts of the Plamex culture, and one that illustrates the importance of family at Plamex, is their unconventional practice of hosting employee group weddings onsite. We’ve all heard of onsite childcare, gyms, and even dry cleaning. But weddings? Here’s the backstory.

Until recently, Mexican couples desiring a marriage license were required to produce their original birth certificates, which could only be obtained by making a pilgrimage to the town of their birth. As 80% of Plamex’s workforce is from the interior of Mexico, and not from Tijuana, this presented a logistical nightmare for most. As a result, many couples who wanted to marry, simply couldn’t. To help with the problem, Plamex began granting associates time off to retrieve their documentation, and a number of employees made use of the privilege. The company didn’t have to do this, but they did, because, as Alejandro told me, “When you do something that helps your associates, they remember that, and it has a positive impact on their work.”

With so many “engaged employees” (double meaning intentional), Alejandro decided it might be nice to actually host a mass wedding, uniting the couples right there in the plant. He negotiated a special discounted license fee with local authorities, and even convinced a judge to mass produce the nuptials for the price of a single wedding (It is a factory, after all). Plamex associates provided the food, music, and decorations, and Alejandro opened the factory’s capacious dining hall for the festivities.

After the first group wedding a number of years ago, which was an unqualified success, two teenagers, a brother and sister, came up to him and said, “Mr. Bustamante, thank you so much for doing this. We are so proud that our parents are now able to be married.”

“That’s all it took,” Alejandro told me, “and I knew we were doing a good thing.”

Plamex lobbied the Mexican government to change the law, and now, getting a marriage license no longer requires a trek home. Still, the weddings were such a hit that the practice continues. Every year around Valentine’s Day, the company hosts a mass wedding of some 20 to 30 couples, at least one member of which is a Plamex associate. Total cost to Plamex for each event: about $300. This practice, along with so many others that make up the way of life at Plamex, helps fulfill the organization’s goal of optimizing business outcomes by first demonstrating in tangible ways that they truly care about workers.

Here’s our challenge to you – and it doesn’t necessarily involve hosting onsite weddings. Ask yourself – What am I doing, (not just thinking), as a leader, to show that I care about the people I lead? It needn’t be expensive, nor time-consuming. But it should be genuine. If you come up with something that you think would be helpful to share with others, please let us know, and we will – anonymously, or with attribution – your choice.

If you can’t think of anything, may we make a suggestion? Find out one thing – just one – that gets in the way of your people being as productive, fulfilled, and successful as they could be, and help them make the problem go away. At Plamex, it was a cumbersome law that kept loving couples from getting married. In your case, it’s probably something else. Maybe it’s a policy, a practice, an obsolete piece of equipment, or just a worn-out way of thinking about the role of people in the workplace. Whatever it is – ditch it, dump it, replace it. Then step back, and watch what it does to their engagement – as in employee engagement, that is.

Contented Cows

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