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New approach to leadership can help automotive suppliers navigate challenges, boost employee satisfaction

By Benoit Barré

ARaymond Network Business Excellence Coordinator

It’s clear to anyone who has lived through the past few years that the pace of change has sped up tremendously for all forms of business.

The shock and aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the war in Ukraine and global semiconductor shortages, have created significant uncertainty in automotive supply chains, creating as unstable an environment as the industry has seen in many years.

So how can automakers and suppliers survive, even thrive, in this difficult environment? One answer is to look internally and examine how operations can be improved. While technical advancements can improve best practices and outcomes, success mostly depends on the people who work for you. The level of respect for and collaboration with employees can have a direct correlation to how well work is done and a company’s overall success.  

Are you trusting employees to do their jobs? Do employees have input into how things are done and is there flexibility and collaboration? This concept, known as Servant Leadership, is an important part of the path toward both business success and employee satisfaction and is an approach businesses should consider as they re-evaluate management styles in this post-pandemic world.

At ARaymond, we believe employees deserve to be heard, and we’ve followed this Servant Leadership philosophy for more than a decade. Micromanaging is discouraged, and team members are encouraged to be autonomous and free-thinking, to develop their talents, and to grow inside the organization. Managers or employees, we work together with a sense of collaboration and trust at all times.

We witness each day how this approach leads to improved employee retention and satisfaction vs. traditional leadership models. Turnover rates are also much lower when employees feel valued. This led us to define how our business and the customer could both be positively impacted by these improvements. In 2013, we introduced a new quality management system called ATOMS, whose goal is to continually optimize operations, to ensure greater customer satisfaction, and improve employee satisfaction.

Positive outcomes, lessons learned

Over the past decade of following the Servant Leadership mindset, our team has learned valuable lessons. The best leaders are always listening and helping colleagues to grow and develop their talents. Our managers talk to employees, not at them.

In our operations in Italy, we deployed ATOMS in 2016 in relation to a production unit for ARaymond’s quick connectors for the automotive market. 

“As a servant leader, my goal is to take care of my team by growing their skill set with their level of autonomy, thus giving them the means to find a more meaningful purpose in their job,” said Alberto Marengo, Plastic Production Manager at ARaymond Italy.

The changes included a “flat” hierarchy, with just one production manager and all other shop floor staff at the same “level.” We developed all employees’ skill sets so they could work interchangeably and operate all press machines, processes, and requests. The shop floor staff were put in direct contact with customers, removing intermediaries to enhance their autonomy.

The results were dramatic. The team in Italy now had 19 people who could change press machines, vs. six people prior. As a direct result, they’ve grown from 12 press changes to 26 changes in one day with the same workforce. The product hasn’t changed, but turnaround times have.

This newfound agility boosted production from 50 percent capacity to 137 percent capacity. Having a fully trained staff without levels of bureaucracy means work gets done faster and better, and employees are more positive toward their job due to increased autonomy.

We’ve also applied this philosophy to our automotive clips unit in Italy, where we have 53 machines for 52 people shared over three shifts. We’re seeing improvements in our efficiency, agility, and employee satisfaction, and customers reap the benefits as turnaround times, and resolution of issues are much quicker now. 

Amid the supply chain issues that the automotive industry continues to battle, the more efficiently a team can work, the more likely a supplier is to preserve and grow client relationships, even amid the storm.

A ‘win-win organization’

In France, ARaymond’s home base, our transition to a Servant Leadership model has also taken full hold. An increase in attentive listening and constructive dialogue was fundamental in allowing all employees to share the challenges they were facing and their needs for the future. 

“The key to succeeding in this new win-win organization was being able to trust,” says Patrick Borderie, former Director of Operations at ARaymond Fluid Connections France. “This experience allowed me to understand my role was not only to pass on my experience but to create a clear and safe structure for my team in which each person could work as best they saw fit, learning as they needed to through their own experiences.”  

Developing everybody’s skill set to be as mobile and widely operational as possible was the approach in France, and all team members were given meaningful roles.

By trusting employees and giving them room to contribute, learn and grow, servant leaders earn the respect of their employees. This leads to better business outcomes and team members growing into leadership positions organically. Happier employees are less likely to leave and are more likely to recommend others to apply.

In recent years, we have also enhanced by 50 percent our ability to address any issues related to the quality of ARaymond products. This is a direct result of our organization’s increased agility and ability to resolve customer issues. Turnaround times for issue resolution also decreased by more than 50 percent, and global overall customer satisfaction has grown from 92% to 96%.

The positive results that can be seen in our growth on all levels are no coincidence. The shared vision between employees and leadership leads to better trust and collaboration between all levels of the staff, and employees are more likely to be empowered and voice their opinions if they know they’ll be heard.

Even before we adopted the Servant Leadership model, ARaymond had this type of philosophy in our DNA since our founding as a family-run business over 150 years ago.

At ARaymond, we believe that Servant Leadership is the roadmap for sustainability, and it will leave a better world and working environment behind for our children and future generations.

Now more than ever, this type of leadership will be necessary as companies in the automotive supply chain seek strategies that will help them navigate the rough waters ahead.

About Benoit Barré:

Benoit Barré is ARaymond Network’s Business Excellence Coordinator. With more than 7,500 employees in 25 countries around the world, the ARaymond Network designs, manufactures, and markets assembly and fastening systems. Founded in 1865, this family business based in Grenoble, France, is today one of the global leaders in fastening and assembly solutions for the automotive, energy, agriculture, and healthcare markets. ARaymond is based on the conviction that the well-being and empowerment of its collaborators are essential to its continued success.

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