How 3 Manufacturing and Production Companies Are Creating ‘Innovation by All’

JM Family-Best Workplaces in Manufacturing 2019
Courtesy of JM Family

The manufacturing and production sectors are composed of companies from many different industries. One only must look at the recently published rankings of the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production, compiled by the global workplace culture experts at Great Place to Work in partnership with Fortune, to see the diverse array of industries represented.

But despite the many differences across this group of companies, there’s a singular refrain that top executives recite when asked about some of their biggest concerns: “How can I drive innovation across my entire organization?”

What separates these companies from those that have not earned a spot on this year’s list is that they approach innovation differently than their competitors. These companies have a commitment to creating a “For All” culture, where everyone is treated equally, regardless of their experience, background, title, or job function. And most importantly, a “For All” culture is one where every worker feels welcome and supported in creating new ideas for processes, products, or services. In other words, where Innovation can be achieved “By All.”

After compiling this year’s ranking, we reached out to a few Best Workplaces—organizations from the food and beverage, medical devices, and automotive industries, specifically—to learn more about how they are achieving greater success by applying the “Innovation By All” approach to business. Here’s what we discovered.


(No. 1 on the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production)

At Stryker, one of the world’s leading medical technology companies, innovation is everyone’s business, according to Katy Fink, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. “Having a truly innovative organization is about getting everybody’s voice at the table,” Fink says.

One of the company’s divisions regularly hosts an innovation challenge for employees that is based on the popular start-up TV show Shark Tank. Anyone in the organization can volunteer to present a new idea to Stryker’s leaders and have it potentially selected to receive support and funding.

One recent idea that became a blockbuster success was an innovation called Pulse Ox for the Planet. The pulse oximeter, a device that regularly checks a patient’s heart rate and blood oxygen levels, is a disposable single-use device that usually ends up in a land fill. “A team of workers at Stryker came up with the idea to encourage customers to send their used pulse oximeters back to Stryker so they could be reprocessed for future use,” Fink says. In exchange, the company donates trees to the National Forest Foundation and areas that have been severely damaged by wildfires.

To date, Stryker says that nearly 2,700 customers are enrolled in its program to reprocess Stryker products, which has saved $340 million in supply costs and diverted 13.2 million pounds of waste from landfills in 2018. This year, the company plans to expand the program to include more products that can be reprocessed and rename it Products for the Planet. “All of that came out of this idea of listening to the voices of others,” Fink said.

JM Family Enterprises

(No. 2 on the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production)

Diversified automotive company JM Family Enterprises, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, is a longtime winner on Fortune’s annual list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For, and is no stranger to innovation. One of its subsidiaries, Southeast Toyota Distributors, has associates who tailor vehicles with accessory packages (available only in its region) and are often working with new innovations coming from Toyota corporate. But they’re also coming up with new ideas for accessories and processes to satisfy its dealer partners and their customers and help the business grow.

Last year, CEO Brent Burns launched a new program called the Doing It Better Showcase (DIBS). Every year, JM Family’s executive management team travels to each location to host a lunch with associates and show appreciation for their dedication and hard work. This past year, DIBS was added to the agenda, which invites associates to present their latest innovations and newest developments to executives.

“We have seen some DIBS presentations from the team that are just pretty phenomenal, and its great to give recognition to associates who are taking the initiative to do some work and take ownership of work that we normally wouldn’t get to,” says Carmen Johnson, EVP of HR and Legal at JM Family Enterprises.

At a recent visit to JM Family’s parts warehouse, executives learned from an associate presentation that they often received damaged parts.

“They were having to return many parts, causing a delay in the work to be done to a customer’s car,” Johnson said. The associates decided they would identify the parts that were most troubled and conduct intensive studies and make suggestions to improve the packaging.

“We don’t control the packaging,” Johnson said. “That’s Toyota. But they invited Toyota to come visit our facility to see the work that our team has done. And with some very novel packaging changes that they had designed, they were able to propose new packaging that now keeps those parts safe and secure while they’re being transported and eliminate the damage that was being done for the customer.”

“The DIBS program is great because the people presenting are the same folks that do the work. It’s been a terrific way to highlight some of the practices that they were already doing in these facilities, but it just kind of upped it a notch and really shows how these folks are engaged and how important it is to the overall success of the company. They continue to innovate in big ways but also in small ways,” she said.

Sharon Ruiz, the company’s director of operations for Southeast Toyota Distributors, adds: “What’s super cool from the associate perspective is the recognition at those high levels of the work that they’re doing because many of our improvements are these very small continuous improvements. They’re not quantum leap improvements that are changing the world by millions of dollars, but they’re making people’s lives easier, safer, and better. The value of the recognition is huge, but also it allows us to help them build their tool kits around other skills that they might not have otherwise pursued, like public speaking, and how to present your ideas to a group, and how to use problem solving in different ways than they have before. So, it’s really helping us across the company to get people excited about building their own capacity for growing and for the future.”


(No. 3 on the Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production)

“Innovation often is thought about as creating new products, but it’s so much broader than that,” says Caroline Sherman, the Vice President for Corporate Affairs for Mars Food North America, a division of food, confectionery, and pet care giant Mars Inc.  “The way that the world is changing you must innovate across how you think, across your products, across supply chain, across your approach to sustainability in order to stay relevant. And it does take the brain power of everybody in an organization to participate in that process to get the most and best out of it,” she said.

One recent development at Mars is the creation of its Seeds of Change Accelerator, which launched earlier this year to fund startups in the food and beverage industry with revolutionary ideas that could potentially disrupt or change the future of food.

The Seeds of Change Accelerator is the first time that Mars Food, a division of one of the world’s largest private companies, has ventured to invest in startups. “We know that the food ecosystem is rapidly evolving. In order to stay relevant and close to trends on the ground, we created this accelerator program where we’re opening our doors for the first time to six startup companies that are purpose-driven on creating the meals of tomorrow and where the future of food is going so that we can learn from them, and likewise help them with business challenges that Mars might have more experience with. It’s a perfect combination of mutual learning,” Sherman says.

In July, Mars hosted a selection day event in Chicago where it narrowed a group of 10 finalists down to six winners. All of the company’s associates in Chicago attended, and Sherman says, were inspired by the way the new companies were operating. “Getting associates in the frame of mind, that perspective to help us stay hungry has been really helpful,” Sherman says. The six winners will be mentored by and advised by teams of Mars associates, and vice versa. “They’re helping our team learn about news ways of operating, marketing, distributing, as well as new ways of communicating with consumers.”

Mars believes that the sharing of new ideas encourages all associates to approach things in new ways and to be open and to push each other to innovate. “We’re constantly evolving as a 100-year old company and you can imagine in order to be where we are today, we’ve had to have that as a part of our DNA,” Sherman says.

At Great Place to Work, we determine how successful a company is at achieving “Innovation By All” by looking at its Innovation Velocity Ratio (IVR), a comparison of the number of workers who feel able and inspired to innovate versus those who feel they are not able to participate in the process. Companies can determine their own IVR by having their workforce take the Trust Index Survey. To learn more about how to calculate your company’s IVR and how it can realize Innovation By All, download the first part of Great Place to Work’s Innovation Insights series.

See the full 2019 list of the 20 Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production, broken down by size:

Christopher Tkaczyk is the chief content officer at Great Place to Work, the global authority on workplace culture, and is a former editor at Fortune and Travel + Leisure.

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