Kevin Pelley is an engineer with an M.B.A. who describes himself as process- and results-oriented. One of his process improvements was finding a better way for staff to lunch.
When he was recruited in 1999 by founder Peter Kohler to join Kohltech International Ltd., a Debert, N.S.-based company that designs and manufactures energy-efficient windows and entrance systems, Pelley soon learned that talking to his employees was the best way to get the results he was looking for.
“The most important thing I do as a manager is to set a vision and then really clearly communicate so that we can get everyone rowing in the same direction,” says Pelley, now president of Kohltech.
Kohltech is constantly refining its strategy, starting with a mission statement that gets translated into a strategic plan, then further broken into weekly and even daily key performance indicators. They also have a weekly “lunch box,” where team leaders highlight progress. And in addition to regular meetings with senior management, Pelley meets once a month with his “shop council,” a rep from each area of the manufacturing team. “We meet for two hours, very casually, and anything can be thrown on the table,” says Pelley. “The only way to really understand your employees is to put yourself in their shoes—and you have to sit down and talk to people to do that.”
Recently, Pelley found out through his employees that many weren’t bringing a lunch. Kohltech’s Nova Scotia manufacturing facility—there’s a second facility in Edmonton—is in a rural area, and there are few options for those looking to purchase food.
Kohltech is now piloting a subsidized lunch program with the intention of offering five or six affordable, healthy choices that employees can have taken off their pay. “My accounting team was very concerned about how we were going to manage this, but it’s not a big investment,” says Pelley. “And at the end of the day, if we have employees who aren’t eating then it’s not just affecting them, it’s affecting the business.”
Clear communication is the hallmark of Pelley’s management style, but listening is equally important. “I learn so much every day by just picking up the phone to my customers and keeping my door open to employees,” says Pelley. “When you’ve got 400 heads, it’s much better than one.”