Jonny McMurtry, Chief Operations Officer at Precisionscreen, shares tips on how a company can keep its employees engaged, motivated and innovating.
The culture precedes positive results. It doesn’t get tacked on as an afterthought on your way to the victory stand. Champions behave like champions before they’re champions: they have a winning standard of performance before they are winners.
That’s a quote from Bill Walsh, the former head coach of American football team San Francisco 49ers and regarded by ESPN to be one of the greatest coaches in the NFL history.
Walsh’s quote was only one of the sports references in Jonny McMurtry’s presentation to Precisionscreen employees when he gathered the team for a number of culture building sessions throughout 2022.
Having recently completed his Master’s thesis in sports psychology and coaching with the University of Queensland, in conjunction with Rugby Australia, McMurtry has spent years studying what motivates young athletes, both on the field and away from high performance environments. Lessons from the study, he said, have come in handy since he assumed the position of Precisionscreen’s chief operations officer in early 2022.
“I’ve been involved with Rugby Australia for over 16 years. Since I started my research with the University of Queensland, there was always the intention to introduce these learnings into the workplace environment and to make Precisionscreen my case study. With the industry facing a shortage of skilled labour and the importance of retaining motivated team members, I think leading with empathy and understanding when in leadership or managerial positions is now more important than ever,” he told Quarry.
As an Australian manufacturer involved in the design and manufacture of mobile screening, washing, crushing and recycling equipment, McMurtry said Precisionscreen has not been immune to the challenges of finding and retaining workforce.
“The industry-wide struggle in finding and/or retaining skilled labour, combined with a shift in our management structure and loss of significant amount of experience, led to our culture becoming an area of focus to help us retain our position as a designer and manufacturer of Australian machines,” he said.
“It’s not been easy but an internal focus on employee development and reaching out to new members of the industry by increasing the number of our apprentices and new trainees has helped us,” he added.
As part of this culture building exercise, McMurtry said the team has been engaged in a series of internal meetings, including a visit to the local footy field, to help them take onboard the management lessons and leadership techniques from his studies.
Leading by understanding
One management principle that McMurtry said he teaches and encourages line managers within Precisionscreen is to lead with empathy.
“The biggest thing is just understanding the person in front of you,” he said. “People carry a lot of baggage these days. We all lead very high information, high paced lifestyles. You might have a 60-year-old employee working alongside a 16-year-old apprentice. Their viewpoints on life, the skills they have, how they’ve developed their trade and even how they see the work-life balance can be very different from each other. So, what we try to instill in our senior and line managers is to understand the uniqueness of each individual through questioning, active listening and teaching or leading with compassion.”
This, of course, does not take away from the company’s own vision.
“Obviously, you have your morals and business ethics [to consider]. You’re aware of what’s important for the company, but at the same time being aware of what’s important to the individuals is critical so that you can get your message across, and have it heard, understood and appreciated at the same time.”
Another lesson McMurtry shares from his team building exercise is around building a culture of honesty and accountability.
Burrowing from a well-known management lesson, McMurtry has been promoting the OARBED behaviour model within his team. The OAR part of the acronym stands for Ownership, Accountability and Responsibility, representing ‘above the line’ or ‘victor’ behaviour, while BED stands for Blame, Excuse, Deny, which is ‘below the line’ or ‘victim’ behaviour.
“Some of our biggest focus points this year are the mantras ‘focus on what is right’ as opposed to ‘who is right’ and not letting our fellow team members lie in BED (kicking out blame, excuses and denial) from our production process. We’ve worked hard to generate a culture of honesty and reflection to ensure we continue to grow and develop as a company and the individuals within,” said McMurtry.
“While we currently have a lean team, we want to make sure that the standards that we set are being met through the company so that it doesn’t matter what position you’re in, it’s focusing on what is right as opposed to who is right.”
McMurtry said the outcomes from this team building exercise were already evident.
Recently, the team completed the design and manufacture of a bin feeder for safely loading bulker bags into existing Precisionscreen PLC pugmill units. The process, from concept discussion with the client to delivery onsite was completed within just six weeks – an outcome that McMurtry said was due to the “hard work and willingness to try new ideas of many employees.”
“One of the key theories that I come back to is the ‘Self Determination Theory’. This theory outlines three main areas which make self-determined and motivated individuals: autonomy (sense of control or input into their decisions and actions), competency (recognised growth and development of themselves and their skills) and relatedness (sense of belonging to group or collective identity),” McMurtry explained.
But is it difficult to maintain a competitive edge as an ethical Australian manufacturer with the current market conditions?
“I don’t think it’s difficult at all. We obviously renumerate our employees adequately compared to industry standards; yet one of our big points of difference is the sense of purpose for our team: They get to see our machines designed, fabricated and finished. Australian machines, made by Australians, for Australian industries.”
“Ultimately what we’re trying to offer is a quality product that we can stand beside for Australian customers within the Australian market. That starts with our culture and making sure that we’re happy with the machines that we make. Beyond that, the score will take care of itself.”