Production workers can often feel anonymous and underappreciated, especially since they usually don't have their own offices. "It's crucial to break through that barrier," says Chet Giermak, CEO of Eriez Magnetics, a $50-million manufacturer of magnetic laboratory equipment in Erie, Pa. "It's important that they understand that we need them."

That's why his factory has nameplates in its work areas. Each employee's name is engraved into a 4-by-30-inch slat, with the job description preceded by the word "sales" -- as in sales/welding, or sales/machine shop -- to reinforce the message that they play a key role in the company's growth. "I have a nameplate on my desk," says Giermak. "And these people are every bit as important to the company as I am.

"People like to see their names up there," adds Giermak. "Everybody wants to feel needed and useful."