The advent of robotics, computers, and 3D printing means that many factory floors are almost entirely unrecognizable when compared to 20 years ago. But one thing has not changed: the human element remains as vital as ever.

“At the same time, you can have highly trained and qualified people, but if they don’t have the right tools your product is going to suffer.”

Mave Dhariwal, Director of the NAIT Shell Manufacturing Centre, helps companies enhance their productivity by focusing on three principles: leadership development, staff development, and technology adoption. He believes that these three pillars are absolutely essential for an organization to succeed and none of them can be neglected. “In order to increase productivity, we need technology. But, in order to do the work right, we need properly trained staff,” says Dhariwal. “At the same time, you can have highly trained and qualified people, but if they don’t have the right tools your product is going to suffer.”

Of course, solid leadership is important to every organization at all times, but that importance becomes amplified at times of organizational change. And, one of the most significant changes a manufacturer can undergo is the introduction of new technologies to the factory floor. Strong leadership at times like these can assuage workers concerns while also ensuring that the direction of the business remains on track. “If you have lousy leadership it doesn’t matter how much technology or money you throw at a problem and it doesn’t matter how well you train the front-line staff,” says Dhariwal. “If you have ineffective leadership, you are dead in the water.”

People: The universal constant

When these principles are applied correctly in a way that promotes people-centric interdependence, benefits begin to accrue almost immediately for companies of all types. Ray Pisani, President and CEO of Alberta Blue Cross has found training to be invaluable to his managers. “We fundamentally believe that our people are our organization’s greatest asset and we want to invest in them,” says Pisani. “And, continuing education is a big part of that.”

“It doesn’t matter how automated you become, your people always remain central.”

Similarly, Northern-Weldarc Ltd. — though their business model couldn’t be more different from that of Alberta Blue Cross — have found Mave’s principles and teachings transformative. “We need to update our thinking from the 70s and 80s to meet the needs of today,” says President and CEO Gayle Holtz.

Updating that thinking means remembering to keep people at the heart of the business even as you adopt new technologies. “People are responsible for 100% of the success of any business,” says Holtz. “It doesn’t matter how automated you become, your people always remain central.”

It all comes back to the three pillars. Advanced manufacturing technology is of no value when the human element of the business is neglected. But, when the leadership is strong and the staff well-trained, then automation and the integration of other advanced technologies becomes seamless, painless, and hugely beneficial.