The approach has to start the other way around. Start by building a Smart workforce, a workforce that is engaged, enlightened, and empowered; a workforce that trusts its leaders; a workforce that believes in the message communicated and example set by its leadership. This is a tall order to be sure — especially if the leaders are a group of short-term planners and profit seekers that care more about depreciation than employee engagement.

Here are four critical steps for starting the process:

1. At the top, build leadership credibility. The only way to have leadership credibility is to have organizational leaders demonstrating the core values of individual integrity and respect for others.

2. Leaders must treat employees with respect. It’s remarkable how many leaders do not show such respect. In a recent Harvard Business School study of 20,000 employees, half of all respondents indicated they did not feel respected by their leaders. And, respect was rated by the participants as more important than any other workplace incentive, including compensation. Imagine how company performance would improve if you solved just this one problem.

3. Leaders have to demonstrate personal integrity. In study after study, integrity is an essential attribute of leaders that people admire, and want to follow. So, integrity is the foundation for building credibility.

Leaders also need to demonstrate integrity in what they say. You cannot be like so many leaders who “tell half the truth, hoping the other half doesn’t show up.” You must be completely honest all the time. You have to tell workers what they need to know. If your company is headed for trouble, tell them. If the company needs to pivot into new markets or products, tell them. And tell them why. Tell them everything.

You would be amazed at how smart your workforce can be if you give them the chance to show it. My constant advice to myself and others: “Trust in truth.”

4. Integrity is not only for leaders. The entire workforce must embrace the values of respect and integrity, but you cannot expect people below to do what those at the top will not do. You may have leaders that lost their credibility long ago. They cannot recover it. You must replace them.

Smart manufacturing starts at the top, not the bottom. Smart manufacturing starts with establishing a new compact with the workforce. Smart manufacturing starts with people, not machines.  

Steven L. Blue is the president and CEO of Miller Ingenuity, a global supplier to the transportation industry and author of “American Manufacturing 2.0: What Went Wrong and How to Make It Right.” Learn more at