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AUGUST 2020 I PCB007 MAGAZINE 13 tant to tap into that capability. Also, it is important to see deep- ly into the problems holding you back. Empowering people provides the best opportunities to solve problems quickly at the spot where they occur. That dis- tributed leadership is very pow- erful when an entire workforce is focused on accomplishing a small set of important and clear- ly defined goals. You need to get buy-in from your workforce by being transparent and solid with communication and purpose. Matties: Tell us what you've learned, Meredith, and how it applies. LaBeau: I learned that people could not wait for someone to fix a problem for them. It's impor- tant to teach employees it's their time to shine when a solvable problem presents itself. Grab the bull by the horns and try something. Make small reversible changes resulting in small im- provements. Fortunately, during the height of pandemic uncertainty, our executive manage- ment team didn't put up a square box for us to exist in. Instead, they said, "We have to do this. How do we get there?" We used creativ- ity to solve problems quickly and with grace to continue increasing production capacity. Matties: You're describing a work environment of empowerment, which doesn't happen in many companies. You're creating that space, and great things are happening. Brassard: Empowerment is difficult, and the re- sults are not always immediately forthcoming. Sometimes, it is the leadership; other times, the employees can't break out of old patterns. We have seen the benefits to our company and our people as we move down the path of em- powerment, but you work for every inch of progress with respect to culture change. For example, one of our youngest engineers shelved her R&D responsibilities for a time to run manufacturing equipment in our solder mask department for several months as the company strived to surge output. The experience was very disruptive to her life, and we thought it might break her spirit because she couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel, and the old patterns of operation were, to her, ineffi- cient, frustrating, and improv- ing too slowly. But she pressed forward, and with a little encourage- ment from Meredith, she en- gaged her co-workers to solve the problems. The result was a white paper and slide deck on how to improve employee training and career paths within the organization. Her ideas are now being imple- mented company wide. This is an example of how empowered employees can change an en- tire organization. That the best changes do not necessarily come from the top down but rather within an empowered workforce. Matties: Pre-COVID-19, it seems to me that you were doing a lot of training. How are you con- tinuing those training efforts now? Brassard: There are two major initiatives we are working on with respect to workforce train- ing. First is cross-training to enable a highly reliable and agile workforce. The second is de- veloping employees that are ready and able to manufacture the very complex technologies of tomorrow. The phrase "very complex" comes from a number of DoD prime OEMs, referenc- ing circuit board designs that are almost im- possible to manufacture in North America, especially at needed volumes, lead-times, and competitive prices. This was an outcome of the United States failing to maintain state-of-the- art engineering and manufacturing capabilities as outlined in a Department of Commerce sur- vey results delivered in early 2018. LaBeau: We are recognizing that the domestic PCB manufacturing industry is not as strong as it needs to be for producing very complex Meredith LaBeau

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