During a time shrouded in negativity, Kevin Mauger joins the UnPACKed with PMMI podcast to share how the culture he has created as president of NCC is carrying the company through this once-in-a-lifetime situation. Rather than focusing on the obvious issues the world is facing, he shines a light on the collective will of our industry to come together and push through.
Episode #30 - Culture Eases NCC’s COVID-19 Response
Sean: We interrupt our regular schedule unPACKed PMMI Podcast to bring you some hope. Today we talk with Kevin Mauger, president of NCC automated systems. A lot of companies call their coworkers family, but Kevin has always put his money where his mouth is when it comes to NCC. In 2017 he essentially made his employees his partners via an employee stock ownership plan. Right from the beginning of this pandemic Kevin and NCC have taken the approach that this crisis can be galvanizing, for when it lifts we will all be stronger for it. So with that, welcome to the podcast Kevin!
Kevin: Why thank you, Sean.
How did your relationship with your employees help you when you realized COVID-19 was going to be a business changing event?
Sean: You’ve always had a unique relationship with your employees as president of NCC, and you’ve kind of taken more of a “we’re all in this together” approach, versus a strict “I’m the boss, and this is how we are going to do it” [approach]. This is just having known you for, you know, probably more than 10 years now. With that in mind, how did that type of relationship that you’ve kind of always had and built up with your employees, how did that help you when it became apparent that the Coronavirus was going to be, you know, a life and a business changing event?
Kevin: That’s a great question, I think it starts with trust. I think that our employees know that they can trust me to make a decision that is in everyone’s best interest. It kind of starts with purpose, right? I have publicly proclaimed my purpose in my career is to help out those around me starting with the employees and customers and vendors I am associated with, you know, it's the best forum I have to make a difference in this world. So, you know I guess it comes down to employees believing in what you’re saying and what you’re doing so that in times of crisis, which yeah I guess that’s where we are today...In times of crisis they are trusting that you are making the right decisions.
Kevin: And I don’t know that I am in every case, but I am being as transparent as possible and kind of walking them through everything...laying things out and saying here is what we are doing and why we are doing it and here is what we are hoping comes out of it.
Considering communication Is so important, what were the steps that you took to formulate and execute a plan?
Sean: So, communication has obviously always been a big thing. It’s the thing that comes up the most [with] everyone we have talked to, especially during this pandemic. Every one of these pods that we’ve done they’ve all said, you know, that communication was the biggest thing that the employees like to hear, and the biggest thing on their end, just to keep everyone informed. So, obviously you’ve established that. So what were some of the first things you did to kind of formulate and execute a plan? I am sure you probably had some level of plan for, you know, I don’t know a tornado or something like that. But I don’t know if you had obviously something to this extent.
Kevin: No, we saw this coming.
Sean: Did you?
Kevin: No, I am kidding, obviously. It’s funny, communication always ends up being the source of either the success or failure of anything. Right? It’s never enough, no matter what, it’s never perfect, but when there is good communication you can be successful because you can get people on the same page. If you’re all headed in the same direction, rowing in the same direction, all aligned, you have a lot better chance at accomplishing anything. Just look at any sport and see how that works and look when it doesn't exist how bad it is in really any situation. So, one of the things, one of the first things that we did was we said, all right well, hey, we normally make decisions based on these values, the values we have in the company... and they're clear they’re published, there are signs, you know, we talk about him every day. We live by those values. We hire, fire, and reward based on those values. But they’re, and I’m not saying they’re not applicable, because they certainly are, but there are certain things that this pandemic has brought upon us that basically changes the way we make decisions, so physically we had to layer on top of our values what are our guiding principles for decision making. Because profit is this like the last consideration, which a lot of times that’s one of the first considerations when you're making business decisions. So, we published, and I guess it probably wasn't one of the first things we did, one of the first things we did was just make decisions based on instinct, to be perfectly honest with you. But then maybe a week or so into it we said, hey, let’s think about this, let’s be strategic, let’s communicate what is driving our decisions and we came up with three guiding principles that had been actually driving our decisions and would serve as a good framework for moving forward. They're different than normal business principles. So well-being first, safety for all the people, take minimal risk for the business, supporting the greater good. We will choose to compromise efficiency in order to improve health and safety. A second was to be empathetic and that basically means understand everybody’s situation. And that could be a vendor delivery driver... you know we were getting mad when people were getting late on deliveries. And so hey, you know, everybody's got a story, let’s add empathy into our business. We are a bunch of engineers, like everybody else in this industry so that’s not probably one of our most forthcoming traits. The third one was come out on top. How can we take this opportunity to come out of it stronger? And that can be anything from strengthening the team... it’s actually a great time to hire. We have bought some additional equipment because there's been some pretty good discounting. People have been anxious to move equipment. So we have done all those things and tried to put it in the best framework possible.
What steps were taken by leadership to ensure the safety of your employees?
Sean: That's amazing because you're not putting... it's not often that you hear business people not putting the bottom line first. But with that, how did you do it from, I guess, a technical standpoint? Real quick, like things...you know, the usual separating, social distancing. Were there specific things that you put in place or your leadership team put in place to ensure safety, since obviously empathy is high on your list? Did you do things for your employees in particular to kind of emphasize that?
Kevin: Yeah we've done all the things, right, all the things everybody else is doing in terms of you know, travel only in the most extreme circumstances for our most essential customers. Self-quarantining after events like that. We’ve split our shifts on the manufacturing floor. So we have less people on the floor at a time. Those guys are working 5:00 to 1:30 or 2:00 to 10:30.
Sean: 2:00 in the morning?
Kevin: No 2:00 PM. Yeah so, brutal shifts for both of them. We completely blew up their routines. And they did it without complaint. So, we have done all those things. We’re wearing masks. We are cleaning, we are sanitizing. The office scattered. I mean it was like, this came up and within a half day, everybody was gone. It was like, hey if you can work from home, go do it.
Everyone was just kind of freaked out, and was like okay let's go. I mean it was really weird. Everybody was just leaving the building with a monitor under one hand, and a keyboard under the other hand. The mouse was falling over. I mean it was just, it was just really strange, really strange.
Has the shift to a somewhat remote work environment been working?
Sean: Has that worked? With everybody that brought their stuff home and working from there? Is that [working] for the most part?
Kevin: Yeah it really has. I mean we had a few technical issues in the beginning. Like anything else there is a curve, right. So some people love it, they are never coming back. Some people hate it, they can't wait to come back and everybody else in the middle is, you know, tolerating it or dealing with it. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's terrible. I think the bottom line is, though, that it's what we need to do people are doing it without complaint. I mean, we were having a senior leadership team meeting and Nicole Tamburino, she's our operations manager, she's got her daughter Izzy...I don’t know how old she is... maybe 5.. and Izzy is in her lap playing with her hair while Nicole is discussing the organizational structure and what it should be. It’s hilarious and you know we're all on these cameras and see her and you know we all said hi and she waves back. You know, it’s crazy, where before if something like that would happen, people would say, “get out of the room, I am on a conference call!” And now, today, it's like, you know, the kids are climbing all over and that’s just what it is. Right?
Sean: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, I just don't know that everybody's approaching it the same way. That's why it's refreshing to hear you as someone in charge that is approaching it that way, because I'm sure there's some people that are, you know, still very uptight and not willing to kind of roll with the punches.
Kevin: I guess that’s possible. Yeah, I’m sure there's all types and you know I would say we're probably the rule not the exception, but I think of her just rolling with the punches, and doing what they're doing.
Have you been taking the temperatures of all your employees?
Sean: Do you guys have to do or are you doing anything with like taking people's temperatures, things like that when they come in or how's that working?
Kevin: We’re not. Basically our manufacturing floor is working. They're the ones coming into the office and we're not doing that; a lot of companies are. You know I don't know, I feel like our team...so before the government mandate came out that said if somebody has to quarantine, they're still going to get paid kind of above and beyond the unemployment stuff. I forget which of the acts that is... It’s not paycheck protection. But in any case, that was one of the first things that came out. We actually did that prior to that. We said, hey listen if you feel sick, go home. We’re going to pay you, we’re going to pay you up to...what did we call that?...emergency fund or something? And we said listen, if you're feeling [sick] at all just go home. We don't want you to get sick, we don't want you to get us sick. We want to be on the safe side of this, who knows where this is going to go. So, we did that, you know, I just have this trust that...maybe I’m ignorant... I don't know, I just have this trust that people who aren't feeling good, they're not going to come in.
Sean: Well I guess, it speaks to your relationship with your employees that you, I assume you know them well enough that they're not going to... if they have the option to stay home they're going to stay home, especially because they're still going to make their money. You’re not worried about them not coming to work and just freeloading off of you. So there’s obviously there's a trust both ways there.
Kevin: 100%, yeah.
Though most companies would rather not discuss it, how are you dealing with the topic of hazard pay?
Sean: How about the people that are coming in, things like hazard pay, I mean for some people that's like the third rail... like you bring that up and they don't want to, you know, discuss it. I'm going to bring it up. Companies don't want to talk about it, don't want to even have that even enter the conversation. So what are you guys... has that come up? How are you guys handling it?
Kevin: Yeah that has come up. And you know, everyone’s concerned about that. I think as a business leader, the first thing you think about is that okay, it’s a can of worms. How far do you go? Where do you draw all the lines? Right? So, we thought about it and very quickly we said this is going to be too complicated because who gets it? How far and how long, what happens if they work 4 days that week instead of 5? It should be by hour. Or should it be by the week? And how do we track that? That was our first reaction; was this is too complicated. And then we thought about it a little more and as a leadership team we sat together and said, you know, we really want to do this. There are people in this business that are going above and beyond and taking additional risk. If you leave your house to go to work and you're working around people who, you know, all have families, you’re exponentially increasing your risk factor. If you travel to a job site you’re exponentially increasing your risk factor. We instituted what we call Warrior Pay. Being a warrior is one of our values. It's about overcoming obstacles and fighting through the fight, because we have lots of challenges, like everybody else. So, we institute warrior pay, where X amount of dollars, and it's $200 a week per employee and basically the people that are either traveling or coming to work everyday. So it's going to end up costing the company somewhere in the 30 to $50,000 range. And you know, that's not small money that's not huge money. But, at the same time it's a way to show appreciation and respect for the increased level of risk that those who are undertaking are accepting.
Is NCC still doing well from a business standpoint?
Sean: I mean, yeah, that’s amazing. I mean you can’t really put a price on, I guess, they say peace of mind or something like that. But you know it is a large sum of money, but then at the end of the day is it really that big of a hit? From what I understand you guys are doing really well from a business standpoint, correct?
Kevin: Well, we are. You know, I always say that with hesitation because you never know what's coming.
Sean: Yeah, I don’t want to...we’re not jinxing it!
Kevin: Yeah thanks for jinxing it. Yeah, you know we had a pretty good backlog going into this. The engineering department would say that's an understatement, because they’re standing on their heads trying to get everything done. That of course leads to a pretty good manufacturing backlog. And we still have plenty of opportunities with our essential customers that still need stuff. So, we're still working, still working hard. Bookings are not amazing but they are certainly suitable. So I think when it comes down to it, it really is why does NCC exist and what are we trying to do, and what are we trying to achieve. And you know making the place a better world through the mechanisms that we that we have... and the way so we can affect it is definitely one of the most important things, so if we can ease some of the burden or at least make the burden taste a little bit sweeter on those that are accepting a lion's share of the burden, then that's kind of a no-brainer when you think about it.
How do you manage to continue to instill a positive culture during a "negative" situation like this?
Sean: Yeah, I mean you tend to to look on the bright side of things more than most, which is a great... obviously a fantastic trait to have. And you gave us time today and we've already taken a good piece of your time, so I guess I just kind of want to wrap up by asking...you’ve you kind of hit on a lot of it, but I guess overall, like how’ve you turned... this is a negative situation everybody sees the negative situation, we’re all living through this negative situation... but how have you turned it into... a positive I guess that sounds wrong, but the positive that is going to come out of it for NCC and for you and your employees. How have you got your employees to feel this way? Can you speak to...do you kind of understand what I'm asking?
Kevin: I think it's you know it's a matter of the mindset. Right? We can all look at every situation however we want, right, and you can... there's always in everyone’s life...there’s always a bunch of crap and there's a bunch of good things, and you know you can choose to focus on what you want to focus on. So, there's a lot of issues that we have today...logistics and just doing business completely a different way. It’s hard to work with everybody remote. I’d say the overwhelming most positive thing is that, you know, when you go through challenges with each other, and you kind of fight through things together as a team, and not fight with each other, but fight against the situation, with each other. It just really strengthens everything.
Sean: Yeah, it’s perspective. I mean it's keeping the right perspective on the overall situation and everything in general, and how we’re all going to get through it and at the end of the day you can , you know, remember it as this awful thing or you can remember it as this thing that kind of galvanized you, which it sound like it did. This was awesome. It made me feel better about my day. I really appreciate you taking the time because you know it's obviously a crazy time and you’re probably doing a lot of things outside of the norm. So, thank you for finding time to do this with us.
Kevin: Of course. Always good to talk to you, Sean. For sure.