Someone asked me recently for my thoughts on “Smart Manufacturing,” the so-called IT revolution in the factory. He found it incredible that I do not see Smart Manufacturing as the salvation of American manufacturing.

First, just to clarify terms, “Smart Manufacturing” is a technology-driven approach that applies and leverages Internet-connected machinery to monitor production processes. In general, the goal of Smart Manufacturing is to identify opportunities for automating operations and to access and apply data analytics to improve manufacturing performance.

Don’t misunderstand me: Smart Manufacturing has a role in reviving American manufacturing. I have a Smart factory, and we deploy the latest technologies in pick-to-light systems and automated CNC machinery, and we have achieved seamless integration from order inquiry to accounts receivable. But, that isn’t where I started my revolution — and you should not start that way either.

The problem with many CEOs today is they have turned away from the astonishing potential of the workforce and turned toward automation instead. It’s a big mistake, but I hear about it frequently from consultants and technology developers, and of course from Smart Manufacturers preaching to the unconverted.

What is the sense in spending millions of dollars to automate your factory if the workforce could not care less about the new capabilities? What is the sense in buying expensive new production machinery if the workers are just dragging themselves into place at the start of the shift, and cannot wait to cannot wait to get out of there?

I’ll tell you the sense of it: It is based in a conclusion reached by too many CEOs who have come to view their employees as expandable assets. They should view them as renewable resources — and they should renew them.

Don’t even bother with Smart Manufacturing if you have a dumb workforce. But, note: if your workforce is dumb it’s your fault, not theirs.

Don’t bother with an IT revolution. Your revolution has to start with a “Smart Workforce.” You must make a new compact with your employees. You need to ignite the human spirit in your workforce. Imagine what would happen if every day your employees came to work excited to do their jobs better than they did yesterday? Imagine how your company would grow if your employees were absolutely dedicated to supporting the mission, and each other in attaining it? Imagine what it would be like if your employees were like Cirque de Soleil performers?

This is the place where I get blank stares from many CEOs. They don’t like the “soft stuff.” “Give me the hard stuff,” they say. “Tell me how to build a Smart factory, not a Smart workforce,” is what I often hear.