By Dianna Brodine, managing editor, Plastics Business

Just a few minutes into the opening of the 2021 Benchmarking & Best Practices Conference, a shout interrupted MAPP Executive Director Troy Nix. 

“We are back!”

The source was Tim Capps, MAPP Board of Directors’ president and president of Par 4 Plastics, and the sentiment was echoed by the attendees who gathered in person for the first time since October 2019. Energy and excitement filled the room as 475 plastics industry professionals shook hands and hugged, catching up with old friends and new while sharing the struggles and the triumphs experienced throughout the pandemic.

Two common themes emerged in many of the sessions: labor challenges and supply chain issues. Conference attendees – both processing professionals and suppliers – combined their knowledge in breakout discussions and on panels to provide strategies and best practices to address those issues and many more. 

For approximately 36 hours, Indianapolis was the site of a plastics industry reunion. We are back.

Troy Nix, MAPP executive director
Checking Off an “I Should”

With his usual passion, Nix honed in on the slight dissatisfaction that has set in as we near the 24-month benchmark of the pandemic, pointing out that those in the audience may be feeling out of rhythm. The list of “I Shoulds” – I should eat better, I should start exercising, I should read more books, I should engage more at work, etc. – has grown significantly. Nix said that for many of attendees, their “I Should” list has been on hold for the last two years, and it’s time to look at why they are in neutral. According to Nix, now is the time to convert an “I Should” into an accomplishment. 

To succeed in turning an “I Should” into an accomplishment, a reason – a purpose – must be identified. Nix suggested the following steps:

  • Identify the goal (write it down)
  • Outline the purpose behind the goal
  • Plan the execution
  • Ensure accountability

Nix ended by encouraging attendees to finish the year strong, saying, “Commit to one. Let’s check it off. Let’s start moving forward.”

Matthew Kelly
Author of The Dream Manager

Dreams = Energy and Engagement

In this keynote, Kelly reminded attendees that people don’t come to work because they love to work or they love to work for the company in which they are employed. Instead, they come to work because they have dreams for their lives and their families, and they believe their employment can help them achieve those dreams. 

Kelly said that too often, human beings lose sight of their dreams – they are overwhelmed by work or family or illness or any of a variety of common challenges. When dreams are lost, so are energy and engagement. As an employer or manager, he explained, “The reality is if you want people to engage, you have to get people to think about their future. When they think about their future, they engage in their life. When they’re engaged in their life, they’re engaged in their work. When we’re engaged in one aspect of our life, we’re more engaged in every aspect of our life.”

And, to encourage that engagement and energy, it’s imperative to avoid the danger to every dream: excuses. Kelly dismissed the ease with which humans sometimes lose sight of their dreams, saying, “We come up with excuses all the time. Most people put their excuses into two buckets: I’m too young for that stuff or I’m too old for that stuff. But there are always challenges in the world. There are always challenges in our lives. Don’t say you’re too young. Don’t say you’re too old. Now is our time.”

Clint Pulver
The Center for Retention

The Perception of Leadership

“In the world we’re living in, in the economy we’re in, how people experience you and how people experience themselves when they’re with you matters,” said Pulver. In a highly energized closing keynote that featured Pulver’s incredible skills on a drum set, he reminded the audience that moments matter and that the moments that happen at work provide the opportunity to ensure that the people who are employed in any environment don’t just love the job but actually love who they are when they are at the job.

The number one driving factor in whether or not people stay or people leave, according to Pulver, is management. In each organization, there are four types of managers, and they are defined by how they identify with Standards – the tangible things that are measured, the protocols – and Connection – the empathy and relatability for the people in the workplace. Which are influencing employees to stay… and which are encouraging employees to leave?

The Removed Manager: Low on Standards, low on Connection. In the organization but not into it. Creates disengagement in the employee experience.

The Buddy Manager: Low on Standards, high on Connection. Wants to be everyone’s friend. Wants to be liked more than respected. Creates entitlement in the workplace.

The Controller Manager: High on Standards, low on Connection. Chooses to command and control. Creates rebellion and constant pushback. Does get results – but the results never last.

The Mentor Manager: High on Standards, high on Connection. Understands there’s a job to be done but also a person doing the job who should be respected and admired. Creates respect in the employee experience.

A Bright(er) Future for Resins

Four representatives from MAPP-member resin suppliers took the stage with moderator Tim Capps to discuss the current supply chain issues. The overall message was that relief shouldn’t be expected until summer of 2022. 

Grant John, PolySource: Logistics are completely out of balance. There are too many containers in one region, and not enough in another. And, there’s not enough equipment to unload it. Trucking companies are frustrated with terminal companies and vice versa. Demand is high throughout the value chain – for glass fiber, flame retardant and other additives – it’s not just resins. 

Alan Arduini, Chase Plastics: We need imports to meet demand, but the logistics are a complete mess. What used to be an exact science is a complete mystery now, and I think it will be at least the second half of next year before we see an improvement. Take advantage of this time to have difficult discussions with suppliers and customers about pricing and supply. 

Marc Fern, M. Holland: Some aspects of the business look better, but we have a long row to hoe. Polypropylene prices are starting to come down a little bit, but polyethelyne is a different animal. In calendar year 2022, there’s supposed to be new supply coming on board. When these plants are built, the plan was that 40% of production would leave the country. We’ll see.

Bruce Flannery, AMCO Polymers: It comes down to product family. Supply for polyethylene should be good and should see some downward pricing pressure. With polypropylene, I’m a little afraid the bullwhip approach hits next year. And there’s no relief on the ABS side until the second half of next year.

Major General Tony Cucolo
US Army Retired

Empathy is a Leader’s Strength

Leadership is a journey of self-study, formal learning and experience, and Cucolo wanted to provoke self-reflection for those in the audience, specifically asking, “Are you connecting with those whom you lead?” 

Connection, he said, is a mutual feeling of being open, available and aligned. And, for leaders to connect with employees, they must embrace empathy and vulnerability as the sources of a leader’s strength. When a leader leads with empathy and communicates with empathy, the leader first thinks, “What are they thinking of right now? Let me address what they’re thinking about right now in the context of what I’m trying to communicate.”

It tells everyone that the leader is not the most important room, said Cucolo. To embrace empathy and vulnerability as leadership traits, the following steps should be taken: Listen well, confirm what was heard; and act based on what was heard. It takes courage to be vulnerable in order to connect, but employees need that connection before they will follow a leader.

Laurie Harbour, Harbour Results

Managing the Chaos: Labor Challenges

Harbour shared data from MAPP’s Plastics Benchmarking Study, powered by Harbour Results, Inc., to provide a framework for how the plastics industry responded to the COVID-19 crisis and what the priorities are now as the pandemic’s effects continue to be felt. 

The number one concern is access to labor, with 55% saying they can’t find good talent, but the challenge is that most are not actually doing everything they can to mitigate the problem. Use a marketing team to do innovative, creative things to find those people. Address the lack of diversity. Most shops do not have the ability to communicate in a different language to their workforce. And, there aren’t many women in manufacturing. “We’re missing a huge portion of the population,” Harbour said.

Of the owners surveyed, only 33% have a succession plan. What does that say about the ability to create the next generation of leadership? If ownership doesn’t have a plan, it’s likely there isn’t a plan for teaching the younger people in the organization.

The study also showed that those companies without a structured onboarding process have 94% turnover in the first three months, while those with a formal process reported turnover at 21%. Retaining people means investing in people and giving them follow up and focus from the leadership perspective. 

And, shops need to continue investing in robotics and automation. In 2020, 26% of EBIDTA was reinvested by the MAPP members who contributed to the survey.

MAPP Innovation Awards

The 2021 MAPP Innovation Awards honorees were announced on Friday, November 5. This is the seventh year for the MAPP Innovation Award, sponsored in 2021 by AMCO Polymers which was established to recognize innovative solutions to common issues. Processors were asked to share their successful methods and procedures in developing and retaining employees in their organizations, which then were sent to industry peers for voting. This year’s awards were split into two categories to recognize plastics companies with over or under 150 employees.

2021 MAPP Innovation Award Honorees:

< 150 Employees Winners:

  • Plastic Components Inc.
  • Intertech Plastics, Inc.
  • Greenleaf Industries

≥ 150 Employees Winners:

  • Seitz Corporation
  • Deluxe Plastics – Medford
  • Viking Plastics

Thank you to our sponsors

  • AMBA
  • AMCO Polymers
  • Americhem Engineered Compounds
  • Athena
  • Aurora Plastics
  • Bear Industrial Group
  • Beaumont Technologies Inc.
  • Benesch, Friedlander Coplan Aronoff
  • Berkley Insurance
  • Carbon, Inc.
  • Chase Plastic
  • Colors for Plastics Inc
  • Conair
  • DELMIAWorks
  • DME
  • Epicor Software
  • Federated Insurance
  • Fortify
  • Globeius
  • Grainger
  • Harbour Results
  • HYRobotics
  • Ice Miller LLP
  • iD Additives, Inc.
  • INCOE Corporation
  • M. Holland
  • Mantle 
  • MBS Advisors
  • Motoman Robotics Division
  • PartnerShip 
  • Paulson Training Programs Inc.
  • PCS Company
  • Plante Moran
  • Plastics Business
  • Plastics News
  • PolySource
  • Precision Color Compounds, LLC
  • Progressive Components
  • Purgex Purging Compounds
  • Rapid Purge
  • RJG, Inc.
  • Routsis Training
  • SIGMASOFT® Virtual Molding
  • Stout
  • Superior Support Resources
  • Synventive Molding Solutions/Thermoplay
  • Vive Marketing
  • WayPoint Marketing Communications
  • Wipfli
  • Yushin
  • Zeiss