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Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer

Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer

Steve Hill and Jim Howey's leadership style is unusual in an industry known for top-down hierarchies.

There's a simple reason why manual laborers are called "blue-collar": The color blue, it turns out, hides dirt better than the white seen in office buildings. But "blue collar" defines more than work apparel, of course. It defines industry, even a way of life. And its stereotypes are often unflattering.

But a metal products manufacturer in Colorado is working to undermine those stereotypes, right on the shop floor.

Sandwiched between rail lines and a tire depot, the Blender Products factory hides in a quiet neighborhood in Denver. The nondescript warehouse looks from the outside as nondescript as most warehouses do. But the way Steve Hill and Jim Howey lead inside the building is unusual in an industry known for top-down hierarchies of management.

"The metal fabrication business is extremely cutthroat," says Hill. "Workers are given a singular task, and maximum output is demanded. They're simply a factor of production. As a general rule, they have no access to management. There is very little crossover between guys on the floor and guys in the offices."

Hill and Howey aim to subvert the us-versus-them mentality. Many days they walk the shop floor, engaging their workers as peers. Employees on the floor are treated as importantly as the managers, undermining the adversarial culture simmering in many manufacturing businesses.

"The company has tried to abide by a simple philosophy concerning our employees," Steve said. "Pay them well, provide great benefits, and invest in lives. . . . The guys in our shop . . . know that I'm a human too. I have many of the same struggles they do. Showing humanness to people is key to disarming those stereotypes."

Extraordinary moments of God's grace abound. One longstanding Blender employee endured a season of family crisis. In that moment, he turned to those closest to him for support, prayer, and care. For him, those people were his colleagues. He openly shared his pain and his managers prayed for him and helped him find his footing. Baptized soon thereafter, the employee's tragedy has been redeemed, forever changing the trajectory of his life.

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