By Lara Copeland, contributing writer
The American Mold Builder

Tim Krieger, president of Krieger Craftsmen, Inc., Grand Rapids, Michigan, has always been an avid reader of books and articles on the topic of leadership, but an energetic conference keynote speaker provided the final push needed to set Krieger on the path to a complete change of workplace culture.

Outside influences drive big changes

Krieger Craftsmen specializes in the manufacture and service of high-precision plastic injection molds for the automotive industry, including automotive tail lights and interior trim. The company balances that work with projects in the medical, home appliance and consumer products markets. While the facility has always employed highly skilled mold builders and prioritized customer satisfaction, Krieger had the sense that something was missing from the environment in which he and his employees spent the majority of their days. Two key players had a profound impact on Krieger and the manner in which he manages his company, ultimately helping him to foster a more successful culture and team.

The first major influence in Krieger’s business development has been Doug Nienhuis, his CPA. “He’s mentored me since my garage days,” Krieger said. “We’ve talked about the different hats I wear as a business owner, and he’s made me aware of the way I speak to people – the differences between ordering and leading.”

Over the years, Nienhuis has recommended numerous books and tapes that have helped form Krieger’s idea of leadership. One such story, Dr. Henry Cloud’s “The Wake,” is an allegory about the results associated with leadership styles. “It’s important to consider the wake you leave behind,” said Krieger. “Are your people bobbing up and down with wounds, or are they kicked back on an inner tube with a cocktail in hand?” Upon reading this story, Krieger reflected on his wake. Not only did he want tasks to get finished and see growth in profits, but he also wanted his employees to trust him, grow and feel encouraged.

The seed was planted, but the culture shift thought process really took off when Krieger attended the 2013 AMBA Annual Conference seminar. Keynote speaker Jack Daly was the second inspiration for the man who was looking to cultivate a culture based on honesty, integrity and teamwork.

Daly is a high-energy speaker who relates the importance of a proactive corporate culture and its bottom-line effects on performance. Krieger said, “Daly was intense, brutal, raw, factual and truthful. We heard about creating a fun and cohesive environment where people liked what they do, and Daly said if we could get this right with our employees, they’ll get it right with our customers.”

When the conference ended, Krieger drove home and thought about how to apply everything he’d heard. He knew the landscape of his company – physical and emotional – would need to change.

Changes in the landscape

Three years ago, Krieger Craftsmen was operating from two separate buildings – one for machinists and one for mold builders. The company had already recognized the need for more space and was in the process of combining the facilities, having purchased a 32,000 square foot space in October 2012. “Initially, the move was about making room for the business to grow, but getting our team members under one roof helped get rid of an ‘us versus them’ mindset,” Krieger said. “Having two facilities was wasteful and dividing.”

Once Krieger purchased the building, major changes were made to its appearance and environment. The facility was gutted and cleaned, and then it was double insulated against the Michigan weather extremes and painted all white. The cracked floor was ripped out, and eight-inch-thick double steel reinforced floors were poured throughout. In addition to installing better lighting, Krieger also installed high-tech air comfort systems to maintain a constant temperature and keep the air clean to breathe.

The time and energy spent on revitalizing and improving the physical environment was continued as Krieger invested even more to shape relationships with his employees. Krieger set about creating an emotional environment where employees would be comfortable and relaxed – where creativity and communication could be encouraged. He built a break room that felt more like home and added what he calls the “Tranquility Area” outside. The outdoor patio includes comfortable seating, a grill and a waterfall. This space is to serve as a quiet and calming place where employees could take a break, spend time with family or have a company party. “I enjoy grilling for my employees,” Krieger said. “It lets me serve them and lets them see that I’m approachable.”

Krieger wants to foster an environment that promotes a family-like atmosphere. Communication is the base upon which the culture has been built, and when employees are encouraged to share their ideas, he believes the company will attract and retain the best and brightest. As Krieger explains, “As I share my vision with the team and then listen to their input, we’ve been able to create a team vision that will help us all succeed.”

The break room was designed to provide a home-like atmosphere to employees.

Reaping the benefits

For Krieger, it is apparent that when employees share and work together, they become a tighter knit group. Creating a physical environment that is similar to the comforts of home while also opening up the doors of communication for team members has led to better and faster production. He knows the culture shift wouldn’t have been possible without General Manager Durbin Haas.

“Durbin has been essential,” Krieger said. “Our people want to do well, but we have to give them all the tools. Durbin has been my right-hand man and has really driven a lot of the changes at our facility.”

Krieger Craftsmen employs 30 people, and the team appreciates what the leadership has done to instill a sense of togetherness. When staff members were asked to describe their company, responses were focused on concepts that all relate to the change in workplace culture. Words and phrases such as “encouraging,” “open door policy,” “trust,” “family,” “approachable” and “communication” were echoed throughout the replies.

“The development of our culture hasn’t been a simple thing,” he said, “but our employees are bright people who are full of great ideas to help the company grow. Once management created an atmosphere that showed we were listening and wanted to hear their opinions, the employee contributions came more frequently!”

Krieger also knows the culture changes have been more than good luck. “My definition of luck is when opportunity meets preparedness,” he said. “I’ve been preparing for 23 years for the successes that Krieger Craftsmen is experiencing today.”