How engaging her staff saved her company time, money, hassle

So much talk of meditation, centering and the connection between childhood fears and workplace attitudes: I had to keep telling myself that I was in a factory in New Jersey and not sitting in the office of a very friendly shrink.

Susan Sweeney, president of GGB Bearing Technology in Thorofare, had just spent about 20 minutes describing how her company, with 1,200 employees worldwide and about 280 in Gloucester County, uses meditation, self-awareness, even book groups, along with other psychological tools to build empowerment in her workplace.

All well and good, but has it really made any difference?

Here’s the story she told to illustrate how empowering her staff saved her company time, money and hassle:

One of the things that I decided is I had to get a new building.  We’d outgrown it [the one down the street] and we were leasing it.  The team said to me, `We really don’t want to go more than 10 miles away.’  They were worried that I was going to go find some place in Delaware, because that’s where I live.  For some reason that was their thought.

That’s a reasonable fear. CEOs do that all the time.

It does happen. We spent months looking for another facility.  It wasn’t successful.  We kept looking at places, and for various reasons none of them worked.

So, the guy that was running our building [the facilities manager] walked across the street and talked to the owner of the building across the street.  He didn’t even ask me about it, which I didn’t have a problem with.  He came to me and he said, `We can buy that building.’  I said, ‘Well, it’s not for sale.’  He said, ‘I know, but they’ll sell it to us.’

We went and talked to him.  We knew the guy that owned it, because he was our neighbor.  He said, ‘Yeah, I need to move for these various reasons.  I’ll sell you my building.  Here’s my price.’  So, we literally bought the building.  We didn’t even tell the employees.  Then we had this big meeting and we said, ‘Look, we’ve got to tell you where we’re moving.’  They were all worried.

Susan, you messed with them!

I did a little bit, yeah. I’m like, ‘Look, guys, I’m sorry.  I hope this isn’t going to be a problem.

‘We’re going to move… across the street.’  They were so happy.  The building is twice the size. So, we had the room we needed.  It’s a much better layout and it’s safer.  But, we also bought the six acres adjacent to it so we can expand.

Tell me more about your facilities manager, the person that took the initiative to walk across the street and start the process.

He felt empowered to do so.  He felt like, ‘Here’s a problem.  I can help contribute to the solution.’  And, he did.  I mean it was great work.  He set up the basic deal and then we came in and we talked to the owner.  The better part of it was that the group that was in that facility, the employees, they figured out what they wanted the new layout to be.  They moved everything across the street.  We had a company that helped with the machinery and stuff like that.  We didn’t lose a single customer order.  We were on time as they were producing and manufacturing.  Sometimes they were rolling stuff across the street just to get it out.  Everybody participated.  They felt like they owned it.

Do you feel that’s a result of the meditation and the self analysis that you do as a company?

I do, yes.  We don’t live in a perfect world.  No one is going to be happy a hundred percent of the time.  I don’t pretend to be anyone’s best friend, or to provide happiness, but the employees feel engagement and they feel they own it.  They’re accountable and they’re part of the solution.