March, 2018

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New and Renewing Members

Thank you to the following members who have recently joined or renewed your membership!

Engage Technologies
Mikros Engineering
Radius Track Corp
United States Distilled Products
Functional Industries
Tjernlund Products 
InTech Industries
Volt Workforce Solutions
Becker Arena Products
Modern Tool 
Hutchinson Manufacturing
American Converters 
Quality Ingredients Corp
Thiele Technologies
Danfoss Power Solutions
Interscapes, Inc.
Twin City Die Castings 
Chandler Industries
RiverSide Electronics
Omnetics Connector Corp
RiverSide Electronics
Surgical Technologies
Carley Foundry 
Wurth Industry North America
Pallet Service Corp
Best Source Electronics
Delkor Systems
Kendall Howard
Catheter and Medical Design
Bruker Nano Surfaces
Midwest Industrial Tool Grinding
Electric Machinery Co 
Illume Candle
Bird & Cronin
Division Stampings
Design Ready Controls
SBS Group of Companies
Safety Speed Mfg
USP Structural Connectors
Motion Tech Automation
CSM Bakery Products
General Label 
Ceramic Industrial Coatings
Emerson Process Management
Travel Tags
Liberty Diversified 
Caterpillar Paving Products
Wilson Tool

Completed Certifications

Congratulations to the following individuals who have recently completed their certification. Job well done!

Corey Latuff-Gemini
Jeremiah Jarchow-Atlas
Tom Ruza-Aqseptence Group
Bobbi Daly-Aqseptence Group
Randy Bergagna-Aqseptence Group
Joe Donahue-Travel Tags
Dave Miller-Travel Tags
Kathy Osterberg-GLS
Tom Rohlik     
Chris Staples-MGK
Josh Halverson-Talon
Nathan Romsdah-Talon
Chad Wellsted-Talon
Jerry Lundeen-Talon
Terry Lefeber-Talon
Amanda Stachowicz-Talon
Patricia Ranch-Toro
Jeremy Johnson-Talon 
Rich Novak-Talon
Joe Evans-Talon
Chris Howe-Talon
Dan Middendorf-Talon
Darrin Lindblom-Aqseptence Group
Patrick Knudson-Consolidated Precision Products
Karl Henry-BTD 

Manufacturer of the Year Awards

Join us on April 12 to celebrate this year's winners: Uponor, Design Ready Controls, and EDCO Products! Seating is limited. Must pre-register Here. New this year attendees may pre-register to tour the winning company of their choice. Contact Sue Moldenhauer,


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Upcoming Events

February 7th 2023 09:00 am
- The Role of the Leader Online

February 8th 2023 08:00 am
- Creating Process Maps

February 9th 2023 08:00 am
- Sustaining Lean Culture Through Leadership Changes

February 14th 2023 09:00 am
- Learning to Solve Problems Supervision Fundamentals Certification

February 15th 2023 09:00 am
- The Role of the Leader

February 16th 2023 08:00 am
- Conflict, Communication and Collaboration

February 21st 2023 08:00 am
- Learning to Solve Problems 6 Sigma Green Belt Certification

February 21st 2023 09:00 am
- Leadership Style & Versatility Online

February 22nd 2023 08:00 am
- Root Cause Analysis

February 22nd 2023 09:00 am
- Learning to Solve Problems Supervision Fundamentals Certification

Article Index

New Toyota Kata Coaching Workshop
Article by: Sam Wagner

"Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their growth" - John Whitmore.

Lessons from Creating a Replenishment System
Article by: James Bertram

When you talk to most “Lean folks” one of the most satisfying parts of their job is working with people to improve their area.

The Benefits of Background Screening: Better Safe than Sorry
Article by: Christine Cunneen

There is arguably no other industry where safety is more of a paramount concern than manufacturing.

Retaining Sales Talent
Article by: Jim Thomas

Recruiting sales talent, and especially global sales talent, is a difficult task that takes money, time and effort.

MN Economic Outlook
Article by: Dr. Ernest Goss

The February Business Conditions Index for Minnesota expanded to a healthy 57.6 from January’s 55.8.

New Toyota Kata Coaching Workshop

"Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their growth" - John Whitmore.

Developing our people - no other action is more fundamental to an effective continuous improvement culture. Just as in music and sports, an experienced coach can guide our development. Coaching provides the ongoing support needed to help us continue to initiate improvements and engage people in sustaining those changes.

To supplement our training on the visible Lean tools, Manufacturers Alliance is introducing a new workshop called “Toyota Kata Coaching” that focuses on the unseen managerial routines and thinking that lie behind Toyota’s success with continuous improvement and adaptation, as described in the book Toyota Kata, by Mike Rother.

In this new workshop, we review and practice two successful thinking routines, the Improvement Kata (IK) and the Coaching Kata (CK), a coaching model proven effective in any setting where people and processes come together to strive toward a challenging goal.

What is Kata Coaching? Specifically, Kata Coaching is a systematic way of guiding another’s thinking and providing momentum to improve. As in other applications, the coach must first have a fundamental understanding of the specific discipline involved; likewise, Kata coaching is directed at the Improvement Kata (IK) model.

Using this proven IK model, we ensure our improvement activity is aligned with our company vision, as the long-term Challenge aligns with this vision, and the short-term Target Conditions align with our Challenge.

Once aligned, we identify obstacles to achieving the Target Condition, then choose one and define a small experiment to advance our learning about the focus process. Then, using the familiar PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) cycle, we discover how to overcome the obstacle. We continue this pattern to overcome obstacles until we achieve this Target Condition, then the next, until we meet our Challenge.

Where does the coach fit? The coach begins by asking the learner five key questions about the experiment. By using the embedded PDCA cycle in the five questions plus reflection questions, the coach guides the learner’s improvement efforts, ensuring the use of practical scientific thinking.

Through practice, this workshop begins to develop coaching skills, both through a deep dive into the Improvement Kata, and by learning to use the Coaching Kata and its two key coaching tools: the Kata Coaching card and the learner’s Storyboard with experiment (PDCA cycle) records.


Practicing Kata daily, every individual can be the expert in doing and improving their work. Kata equips people to help themselves learn, and it is a pathway for developing the skill of practical scientific thinking. Kata also provides freedom to safely experiment and innovate under the skillful guidance of an experienced coach, so learners are not afraid to try new ways.

Used in this way, the Coaching Kata provides momentum for people growth through coaching patterns. Coaching Kata and its partner Improvement Kata are key to a “pull” people development system, as well as a “pull” system for using Lean tools.

The Manufacturers Alliance Toyota Kata Coaching workshop is scheduled on June 28. Visit the website for more information.

Sam Wagner has led continuous improvement, quality, and manufacturing teams for more than 20 years. He is a Manufacturers Alliance instructor and frequent presenter of best practices at both local and international conferences. He can be reached at

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Lessons from Creating a Replenishment System

When you talk to most “Lean folks” one of the most satisfying parts of their job is working with people to improve their area.

So when Kirby Sneen of the Manufacturers Alliance approached me about writing a guest blog about “Replenishment Systems” I knew it was an opportunity to share a project that one of our team leaders, Julie Schuette, did for her Lean Practitioner Certification.

Initial Condition
Julie’s project focused on a service area of our business. Starkey Hearing Technologies doesn’t only manufacture hearing devices, but we also service those devices once they are out in the field. When we started, the product followed the process diagrammed below.

As the product progressed through the process, they left the service area to go into a kitting room. An expeditor (waterspider) was responsible for transporting the parts to and from kitting, and as a result the work was “batched." Also, the variety of parts being kitted was relatively small, only 12 part numbers. These factors suggested that there was an opportunity to bring the parts to the point of use and bypass kitting altogether.

To read about the results and lessons learned from Julie's project and how it showed the benefits of empowering people to make changes in their area, follow the Manufacturers Alliance Blog.

James Bertram is a continuous improvement engineer for Starkey Hearing Technologies. He can be reached at

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The Benefits of Background Screening: Better Safe than Sorry

There is arguably no other industry where safety is more of a paramount concern than manufacturing.

As most employers are aware, safety begins with having the right people in the right jobs from the start. As such, the hiring process is particularly crucial in the manufacturing industry. However, it also presents its own set of unique challenges.

The past few years have shown a significant shortage of skilled workers in this field. This is due, in large part, to much of the experienced manufacturing workforce nearing retirement, while the younger generation is opting instead for more technology-driven careers.

The concerns of increasing safety and minimizing risks combined with a shortage of skilled workers creates a need for more creative approaches to finding and keeping the right people. The importance of background screening, including drug testing, employment verifications, and driver screenings, cannot be understated in this process. Background screening can assist not only with increased workplace safety, but also with a reduction in employee turnover, and increased protection for the company overall.

The background screening process may include drug testing, which is crucial for safety in the workplace–a top priority for employers in every industry. However, employers in manufacturing have the increased concern of safety-sensitive positions, operating heavy equipment, and other potential hazards.

Minimizing this risk and protecting all employees, customers, and company property and equipment should be of the utmost importance to all manufacturing employers. One clear way to do so is to implement a drug-screening policy at both the pre-employment stage and at various stages throughout employment. In fact, Minnesota specifically allows random testing for safety-sensitive positions. The company drug screening policy and process should be reviewed on a regular basis, as new illegal drugs are introduced into the marketplace. 

Employment verifications and professional references can also ensure the applicant is who they say they are and will help in reducing employee turnover. There are instances when an applicant may not have a resume and only provide answers to the questions listed on the job application. Unfortunately, these answers will not tell an employer how they handled a certain situation or how well they fit in within the company culture. To learn about the applicant and how well they could fit into the new company, employment verifications and references are necessary. When handling the verification process in-house, it is advisable to connect with the human resource department directly, as applicants can pay fake companies to perform fraudulent verifications. If the verification process is outsourced, ensure that the provider handles the information in-house and does not off-shore the process to a call center outside of the United States.

Background screening also helps to protect the company in many ways. It saves employers money from the cost of potential bad hires. While there is a cost associated with having background screening as a part of the hiring process, that amount does not compare to what it will cost in the long run by having higher employee turnover and increased risks of workplace accidents and crime, as well as absenteeism.

Background screening can also help to increase productivity. By having the right people in place for the job and by reducing the risk of drug or alcohol abuse, employees will be more focused and have better attendance, both of which can substantially increase productivity. It can also decrease instances of workplace crime, including stolen property, violence, and fraud, which could potentially destroy a company. Finally, background screening will help to ensure that the company stays compliant with all federal, state of Minnesota, and local laws, including government standards and Department of Transportation regulations.

The advantages of background screening are numerous and far-reaching, especially in the manufacturing industry. When done right, it will assist not only in finding the right employee, but also in providing a safer, more productive work environment, helping to pave the way toward the ultimate success of the company.

Christine is CEO at Hire Image LLC, a nationwide background screening, drug testing and verification services company. Visit their website at

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Retaining Sales Talent

Recruiting sales talent, and especially global sales talent, is a difficult task that takes money, time and effort.

Losing talent hurts.Ten years ago, HR Consultant Kelly Rietow asked me during a recruiting process - do you think you can keep this salesperson for five years? That was the BEP (breakeven point) for our field sales reps. I am sure that the investment has increased since then. The first 90 days you can determine if the individual was as good as their interview and will be able to complete the tasks responsible to get the job done. Passed the honeymoon period-test one.
The second test is tougher and more on the Sales Manager. The next twelve-twenty four months is the make or break to the five year BEP. The salesperson will then be fully product trained, coddled, hazed and through at least one sales cycle. How do you retain your recruit through Phase 2?

1.    Provide them coaching so they can improve their skills. It is important to continuously schedule field time and provide written feedback as the salesperson advances their career. Dig back through past coaching sessions. Have they improved in noted areas? Are they keeping up with technology and new products?

2.    Set realistic expectations for their sales budget and plan so they have achievable targets. They may have learned the product basics, but they are still not experienced in product applications and customization. Their growth nut should be set more conservatively than more seasoned reps. It is also important for them  to believe their plan is achievable and well within their control.

3.    Get to know them personally. Invest time into getting to know the total person. They need to know that you have a vested interest in their career success. Know what makes them tick and how they can be motivated. Stay in their hometown and see how they spend their time and the places they frequent.

4.    Build out the rest of their 5-year learning plan (beyond the 90-day probation period). It should be replete with in house training, field training, industry events, external seminars, books to read etc. Competencies need to be identified, measured and mastered. If they feel it is fully on them to take advantage of learning programs they don’t see the companies vested interest in their future. Stay on top of their training regimen. 

5.    Show them a career path and a way they can increase their compensation and career satisfaction. Provide them a mentoring opportunity with another resource if they want to be in management. Assign them key accounts or a market specific segmentation and training if they want to continue to be an individual contributor.

6.    Give them some public recognition. Rookies are usually highlighted as is the Sales Rep of the Year. Sophomores and Juniors can be forgotten. Look for ways to identify their successes to keep them engaged. It may be a new customer addition, coursework completion, but make sure it is heartfelt and meaningful.

Like most of sales management this stuff is not rocket science-it is simple two-way communication to stay engaged. Eliminate minor dis-satisfactions so that you can retain the talent and celebrate their five year anniversary.

Good Selling!

Jim is the founder of Dynamic Development LLC and has over 30 years of education and work experience in international business. He can be reached at or

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MN Economic Outlook

The February Business Conditions Index for Minnesota expanded to a healthy 57.6 from January’s 55.8.

Components of the overall February index from the monthly survey of supply managers were new orders at 62.2, production or sales at 59.8, delivery lead time at 51.8, inventories at 52.1, and employment at 62.2. “Average hourly earnings for Minnesota private-sector workers expanded by a solid 3.2 percent over the past 12 months. Both nondurable and durable goods firms in the state are growing a steady pace,” said Goss.

Dr. Ernest Goss of Creighton University, used the same methodology as The National Association of Purchasing Management to compile this information. An index number greater than 50 percent indicates an expansionary economy, and an index under 50 percent forecast a sluggish economy, for the next three to six months.

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