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Senior Correspondent

Global business restructuring being what it is, our community will soon experience the shutdown of a major manufacturing facility, Harman International's Washington Plant. Our local newspaper reports that the permanent shutdown will begin in early January. According to the article, "the individuals and teams will be dismissed as business conditions dictate."

The state of the art, multinational electronics company has only been in our community since 2005. The first tier automotive supplier, recruited and hired wonderfully talented people, locally and internationally, who were proud to be part of such an exciting start up. The Quality Coach was extremely honored to play a role in preparing each and every new hire to be a part of the teams based culture. We got to know so many talented team members, who were grateful to work in such a quality-oriented, collaborative environment.

And, now, the plant is closing. They maintained profitability during the worst economic downturn that most can remember. The automotive industry was hit especially hard, and yet, the Harman-Washington plant consistently met or exceeded their business metrics, month after month. Being a part of a global business, none of that was enough to save 350 to 400 jobs.

We do not understand the logic behind these kinds of decisions. What we do know is that many talented employees will soon be out of a job. I suppose that's good news for other local employers starting down the path to recovery. It's bad news for teams who have worked together to start their plant, raise it to a level of world-class performance, and who are now applying that same pride and professionalism to shutting it down.

I recently had the opportunity to meet with the local HR Director. During a period of low, local unemployment that made recruiting a real challenge, she and her HR team staffed the plant from a handful of employees all the way up to a workforce of nearly 400 team members.

As we were catching up, one of the things the human resources director wanted me to know is that the remaining employees at Harman are still very much engaged. They work tirelessly to meet the continuing demand for their products, to deliver those products on time, and to produce each unit to strict quality specifications. There are nearly as many temporary employees as regular team members at this time, since so many Harman expatriates have been sought out and hired by local employers during the past six months, since the closure announcement was first made.  She tells me the regular team members take it upon themselves to make sure the temporary team members are completely trained to meet the high performance requirements their tasks demand.  

It is a very bittersweet piece of news for The Quality Coach team. We bring a lot of commitment and passion to our work, and to the success of our clients. We tend to take these kinds of global, impersonal decisions quite personally. The train left the station on this deal, and what we expect to see is the shutdown of this plant occurring seamlessly…in the very same manner as the plant start-up and production ramp-up were carried out, just a few short years ago.

We believe this is a story that needs to be told. We are extremely honored that we have been invited to visit during the shutdown sequence, to learn how team members remain tuned in, turned on, and determined to close their plant with pride and professionalism. Watch for more employee engagement lessons from this very sad plant shutdown.

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