Manufacturing Tomorrow: How to Grow Innovative Talent Within Your Company

Key Takeaways:

  • Companies who want to inspire innovation connect their employees’ passions to internal idea generation.

  • Stanley Black & Decker capitalizes on a diverse workforce to advance their innovation practices.

    To continue our celebration of Manufacturing Month, I present the second of a two-part series of excerpts from a “Manufacturing Tomorrow” podcast interview with Bob Welsh, vice president of Breakthrough Innovation and now a technology connector for Stanley Black & Decker (SBD).

    To maintain a stronghold on the Fortune 500 company’s industrial tool and hardware market, Welsh works on internal and external team building and tech transfer. His team manages the company’s first employee makerspace.

    KK: How does the Towson Makerspace influence SBD’s workforce development practices in general?

    BW: As a company you need to focus on people as individuals. Some of the best leaders are ones that can help guide people to where they can be the most productive within the company. They see a blossoming talent and they can feed that, fuel that and then put them on teams or help direct them in teams. When you're empowering your employees, you hired them for an excellence that's germane to the skill set needed. But you know what? We also know they probably have some cool passions.[1]

    There's a good chance that they may be able to help design or contribute to a product that we've never made before that might be a big hit.

    KK: And how does that democratization of innovation fit into the goals of the company?

    BW: We love that term. If you are in a function of engineering or industrial design, you naturally have access to the tools and equipment that allow you to play around and prototype things. But most of the other functions outside of that — accounting, finance, marketing — you just can't do that. In fact, you're not allowed to go in the labs if you're not certified. A makerspace truly democratizes that and allows people to come there knowing nothing.

    We train them and they can make stuff there. They can make a cutting board or a wine rack and use six or seven tools to do it. You learn how to use the tools, you get certified on those tools and then you've got something you can take home and share with people. That's fantastic.

    KK: Then you also have an innovation portal where you're doing some crowdsourcing of ideas. How does that work?

    BW: That's worked out really well. We have several innovation portals. One is open to anybody on the planet, employee or not, to submit ideas on products. We also have an internal employee-only innovation portal. We've found we get a better benefit by posting prescriptive challenges through that.

    One of the leaders within one of the businesses may have an issue. For example, I'm working on a pet-cleaning product. How could you make cleaning up pet hair easier, better, quicker? Anyone at the company who thinks they had a solution could contribute that idea. And those ideas are all gathered, distilled down and then evaluated by the experts within the business units that know materials, manufacturing sciences and then marketing and commercialization. And we've had to date over $8 million in products sold retail as a direct result of ideas that were contributed from our internal innovation portal that we call the “drawing board.”

    KK:  Innovation, of course, requires a diverse workforce. Stanley Black & Decker landed on the list of top 100 companies for millennial women. What are the keys to create, retain or even recruit a diverse workforce, including women?

    BW: I think a lot of people might be surprised that SBD landed on that list. As a father of a daughter myself, it's great to see that sort of activity, and we've done a phenomenal job of focusing on the full suite of diversity. It's great to see women, especially in a legacy power tool company, advance and make sure their voices are heard and make a difference. I said earlier that with every set of hands you get a free brain. A brain is a brain; it's as simple as that.

    Gender-wise, diversity-wise, ethnicity wise, it's pretty amazing what you can get when you have people that are not like-minded working together.[2] And having women in leadership roles is a great thing. And I'll give you another example: Our makerspace is run by a woman who is a phenomenal welder. And not just a leader but somebody who has graded instructional teachings. Employees love her. And logic would say if you're opening a makerspace, you're picturing your old high school football coach, shop teacher guy, right? Some gruff, old individual that yells at you for doing things the wrong way. And just by the sheer fact of having her be the person that runs the space, leads the space, holds people accountable for safety, with the impact she's had, people are much more likely to come into this space now. They don't feel intimidated that they are going to be looked down upon if they don't know how to use a certain piece of equipment or if they're not using it properly.

    A special thanks to the Center for Innovation Strategies at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business for arranging this interview.

    [1] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0892020609354946?journalCode=miea

    [2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/rsmdiscovery/2018/08/22/why-workplace-diversity-is-so-important-and-why-its-so-hard-to-achieve/#23e7abd03096

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Here at Lead Read Today, we endeavor to take an objective (rational, scientific) approach to analyzing leaders and leadership. All opinion pieces will be reviewed for appropriateness, and the opinions shared are solely of the author and not representative of The Ohio State University or any of its affiliates.