Rising to the top – New North honors top workplaces

Posted on Dec 5, 2011 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

IN 2001, TANK TECHNOLOGY Inc. was far from an ideal workplace. The designer and manufacturer of porcelain-enameled components, pressure vessel water storage tanks and heaters had a 38 percent turnover rate and was named to OSHA’s “hit list” due to poor workplace safety and a weak safety culture.

What a difference 10 years make. Tank Technology Inc. of Princeton in Green Lake County is one of three winners of the 2011 New North Workplace Excellence Awards. Along with Tank Technology, Skyline Technologies Inc. of Green Bay and Appleton and Mid-States Aluminum Corp. of Fond du Lac were recognized during the 2011 New North Summit in Green Bay as winners of this year’s honor.

The turning point for Tank Technology was when the company went through the ESOP process in

late 2001and became 100 percent employee owned.

“All employees have a high stake in the outcome of what we do. Everyone is involved in the process of improvement and everyone sees the benefits of those efforts,” says Colleen Lunow, human resources manager for Tank Technology.

The company had an OSHA consultant come through and help identify key concerns and a robust safety committee was formed.

Luke Seggelink, general manager for Tank Technology, says the company’s process improvement program, which includes about four or five projects every year, really gets employees involved in deciding what machines to improve and how it will be done. “It’s been a successful way to get employees involved. They really take ownership of the project and the process,” he says.

Throughout all of the changes, the company has worked hard to keep employees informed, Lunow says. “We make it a practice to go out on the floor and talk with employees. That’s their comfort zone rather than always making them come into the office,” she says.

Skyline Technologies, an IT consulting and developer firm, set itself apart in the past year with a smooth leadership transition and continually touching base with employees about how things are going. “A lot of companies say they have focus groups, but Skyline does it every six weeks. There’s a constant dialogue going on between the employees and management,” says Al Hartman, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh anda contest judge.

Michele Yahr, marketing manager at Skyline, says company management has worked hard to build an environment that’s employee-friendly. “We have a very low employee turnover rate and there’s a great work-life balance. The leaders stand behind their employees,” she says.

Employees are very engaged at the company, Yahr says, adding that a recent survey had 100 percent participation. “I think that shows our employees believe in our company and know when they have a concern or an idea, it will be responded to,” she says.

Like many companies, Mid-States Aluminum Corp. has a lean manufacturing system in place. But the key difference is that the manufacturer uses its Six Sigma program as a way to help its associates develop key skills, says Sue Roettger, HR director at Mid-States Aluminum.

“Our Six Sigma program is just a piece of each associate’s development plan. We really work to get employees involved with helping to make things better and as they are involved in these programs, they are developing skills that build up their confidence that helps them in other parts of their jobs,” she says. “You really need to have people engaged in the improvement process to make any real improvement.”