psychological safety

Psychological Safety: What is it and how does it help company culture?

When you visit Google and search the words “corporate culture” you’ll likely be inundated with inspiring articles of what an excellent corporate culture looks like. You’ll be directed to countless studies, surveys, and research pieces reinforcing the notion that a diverse and inclusive workplace is not only an ethical responsibly, but simply good for business. We all know that when employees feel valued, morale improves; that happy employees are productive employees and when employee engagement is strong, voluntary turnover falls. These generic, positive cultural outcomes are easy to comprehend because we have likely experienced all of them in our own lives. When we enjoy what we do and who we are with, well, we complete that task with enthusiasm and we tend to do it much better than if it was a task we dislike. That’s just us being human.

But in my quest to identify what it is that makes diversity and inclusivity so important to the culture of an organization, I came across a term that I wasn’t too familiar with, psychological safety. Concerned that I wasn’t up to speed with new HR lingo, I dove right in! With pleasant surprise I found that psychological safety isn’t a modern term nor a new theory at all. In fact, it is something we do quite well here at Metalwest.

Psychological safety

Two words that would likely imply that an environment is free of disciplinary actions, consequences, and feedback. However, the actual meaning couldn’t be any different. Psychological safety is not about being free from repercussions, rather how comfortable a person is in making mistakes and their willingness to admit them. It is about an environment where employees feel confident in taking risks and sometimes falling short because the company sees their failure as an opportunity to learn and get better. It is comfort in knowing that your wins will be celebrated even if you stumbled along the way.

When employees feel psychologically safe at work they are at liberty to be their authentic selves without fear of reprisal. They speak up and share their opinion without fear of ridicule. When a company supports an environment that is inclusive and diverse, employees feel that they belong and their contribution matters. These two words are the building blocks to an empowered culture full of diverse ideas and out of the box thinkers cultivating an innovative and thoughtful environment. They lead to empowerment and accountability which just so happen to be one of Metalwest’s core values.

Having an inclusive and diverse workplace is not something that Metalwest has had to set goals around or even work hard at creating. Instead, operating under a firm set of unwavering company values we have organically created an environment where our employees feel psychologically safe. From teamwork, to integrity, accountability, to having fun, our values are at the foundation of how we do business and who we are as an organization. They are incorporated into nearly all decisions we make, including selecting candidates, identifying customers we want to do business with, and developing our iron-clad safety practices.

Take for instance the weekly branch stand-up meetings; by providing an open forum where employees voices are heard and employees are encouraged to participate in developing solutions we increase engagement, reinforce our team mentality, and relay that we are committed to being excellent. What was likely created to simply offer up another method for communication has led to a much more engaged, inclusive, and psychologically safe environment for our employees.

As a values-led organization with a strong sense of who we are and who we want to be, we don’t necessarily have to worry too much about the minor details because when we all uphold our company values, the small things will take care of themselves.

Post by: Emily Gunther, director of human resources for Metalwest
Feature image from: Halo Psychology

For more about company values, also check out the NIM Core Values post.
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MW Leadership Reflects on Acquisition of Metalwest

With the acquisition of Metalwest by Norfolk Iron & Metal (Norfolk Iron) approaching the 1-year mark, we thought it would be a great opportunity to talk with the members of the Metalwest leadership team to see how they feel about the acquisition and what it means for the two companies.

“Going through an acquisition can be very disruptive, for both the company buying and the company being bought. The Norfolk Iron team couldn’t have worked harder to make the transition as seamless possible. The result was very little disruption for both companies. The Norfolk Iron executive team has been fully supportive of Metalwest throughout our first year together. Their main goal is for Metalwest to continue operating profitably and find ways to grow an already very successful company. Every company has its own unique “personality” which means our cultures are a bit different. However, our company’s values are well-aligned. This makes Metalwest a perfect fit as part of the Norfolk Iron family of companies. Going into 2020, I’m excited about the opportunities that are in front of us as we leverage the combined strength of Norfolk Iron and Metalwest to grow our business together to higher levels than we thought possible.” – Jeff Simons, President, CEO

“For me the acquisition meant a great future and security for our team and our company. During the acquisition process the main goal of Metalwest leadership was to secure a future for the entire Metalwest team and we were able to accomplish this goal with Norfolk Iron. They made it abundantly clear that they wanted everyone to stay on board and run as we existed prior to the acquisition. We have owners/a parent company in Norfolk Iron who have the desire and willingness to invest in our future and our growth. This shows a tremendous amount of respect for our team and our abilities to perform successfully. For the Metalwest team, it means a bright future with owners who are supportive of growth through investment. The acquisition also means a return to our roots as Metalwest and I know this had a significant meaning to a majority of our employees. The name change allows us to return to an identity of a very successful and entrepreneurial company.” – Phill Cavender, Senior Vice President

“I’m comforted that Norfolk Iron and Metalwest share the same values. Things like safety, integrity, win-win relationships, and customer service are paramount to both companies. Becoming a part of the Norfolk Iron family provides us the opportunity to offer more products and services to our customers that value sourcing from a company with our shared values. It’s inspiring that both companies are doing an excellent job of collaborating with one another to develop and capture the best experience for our customers, suppliers, and employees. I’m excited to combine the Metalwest success of the last several years with the financial strength of Norfolk Iron, I feel we are poised to grow and expand even more with the combined companies. The future is bright!” – Tony Hammes, Vice President of Supply Chain

“The acquisition of Metalwest by Norfolk Iron initially created concern for many of the Metalwest team members. Being acquired by another company creates uncertainty and the potential for change. Fortunately, Norfolk Iron and their leadership share all of the important values that Metalwest considers to be at the core of our culture. Norfolk Iron’s integrity and commitment to excellence have made for the successful transition of ownership for Metalwest. Norfolk Iron is family owned and family oriented, and they have consistently displayed those values as they have welcomed Metalwest into the Norfolk Iron family of companies.” – Brian Madison, Vice President of Corporate Services

“Its personally rewarding to work for a company that is appreciative of the contribution you make to their success. The folks at Norfolk Iron share the same values as the Metalwest leadership team and that makes it easy to communicate and work through the myriad of integration issues. I think that Metalwest has a much brighter future with Norfolk Iron because they see Metalwest as an important vehicle for growth and is willing to invest the money necessary to move the company forward. It is imperative that we reward their generosity with industry leading return on capital.” – Bruce Pole, Vice President, CFO

It seems like the Metalwest leadership team views the acquisition positively and are excited about the future. We also talked with the Norfolk Iron leadership team to get their side of the story as well. You can check it out on their blog, Norfolk News.

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Day and the Life of an Outside Sales Rep

At Metalwest our outside sales team is a huge part of our company. While our customers work closely with our inside sales representatives, the outside sales team is who they see on a monthly, weekly, or sometimes daily basis. They are essentially the face of Metalwest.

So, what does a typical day for an outside sales rep look like? Well, I went on a ride along with to find out.

My Ride Along with an Outside Sales Rep

I spent a day with John (JJ) Chojnowski, an outside sales rep for our Ogden, UT branch, to meet some customers and find out what exactly our outside sales reps do all day.

The day began with JJ reviewing our proposed schedule. The schedule included a good mix of key customers and potential accounts. He explained to me a little bit about what each company does and what our objective of visiting them was. Then we set off for our adventure… well, my adventure. It was just a typical day for JJ.

Customer Visits

Something I learned along the ride with JJ is that customers aren’t just customers. They are friends and family. At just about every stop we made he took the time to talk to the buyers about their families, projects they are working on outside of work, and their hobbies. He also made plans with several to get together outside of work.

He goes mountain biking with one customer on a regular basis; with another he takes boating trips.

I asked JJ if this was a common theme between outside sales reps and their customers. He said that many of our customers establish friendships with our outside and inside sales reps. It’s not just his selling technique, but an actual value that is shared throughout our company.

Customer Lunch

After a busy morning we met another customer for lunch. I half expected it to be another sales call just with food, but we hardly talked business. JJ had the customer tell me a little bit about what the company does and how business has been, but the remainder of lunch was spent growing the customer/sales rep relationship.

It was interesting to see how strong some of those relationships are.

Down Time

OK, so when I say “down time” I mean for me. We did spend a good portion of the day sitting in parking lots of random gas stations. After each stop JJ compiled his notes and would call the corresponding inside sales rep to discuss what happened at each customer visit. Because, while the outside sales representative is who the customer sees regularly, the relationship they have with the inside sales rep is just as important. I was impressed that he took the time to keep the inside sales rep in the loop almost in real time.

Coffee Breaks

I don’t personally drink coffee, but it provides fuel for an outside sales rep. And JJ in particular happens to be a huge coffee consumer. We had regular coffee stops to ensure he had the energy (although anyone who knows JJ knows he doesn’t necessarily need it) to make it through the day.

Ending the Day

The day ended with JJ reviewing all that took place during our “adventure.” He double, sometimes triple, checked he had all his notes submitted correctly, touched base with the inside sales team once more, and finished the last of his umpteenth cup of coffee.

Talking with Other Outside Sales Reps

Because I wanted to see how similar/different our outside sales reps are throughout the company, I talked to a few more reps to see what their favorite part of the job is and what the most challenging part of the job is.

Brooke Murray, outside sales rep for the Texas Region

“My favorite part of being in outside sales is meeting new people every day and learning and seeing how products are made using the material we sell. The most challenging part is trying to break into a new account when the buyer is even-keeled with their current supplier.”

Evan Skinner, outside sales rep for the Midwest Region

“The best part of the job is the relationships you make with customers. Many times you even become friends. The most challenging part is getting a foot in the door at an account that is happy with their current supplier. It takes patience as well as the ability to take rejection. Many people are not able to handle rejection.”

John Ripp, outside sales rep for the Northeast Region

“My favorite part of being in outside sales is the interaction I have with different customers and different types of people every day. No day is the same as the last, which I really enjoy. I enjoy every surprise and experience this job presents to me. The most challenging part of this job is to not get down on yourself or be too disappointed. When you’re in a position like I am in and have to build a territory, you will have a lot of doors shut in your face and a lot of rejections. This was tough in the beginning, but as I grew in my position I learned that I just had to treat each day like it’s a brand new opportunity.”

What I learned

After a full day of meeting customers and observing the transactions, I learned that customer/sales rep relationships are extremely important. This makes total sense seeing as how Metalwest was built on the principle that we are not just about steel.

I also learned that it is a team effort. The outside sales team couldn’t do it without the help of the inside sales team, the warehouse employees, truck drivers, and the rest of the support staff… even if they sometimes think they can.

Another thing I learned was that outside sales reps don’t get near as many steps in a day as I assumed. I wore my step tracker and ended up with only a few hundred more steps than I normally do while working a regular day in my office.

But in all seriousness, it was a great adventure. We have some great customers and our sales reps work hard every day to ensure our customers are happy.

Learn more about Metalwest here.