What is the leadership answer you are looking for?
I had prepared another column for you, but then I met with a compelling group of leaders and I was sure you would want to hear their questions, as they may be similar to your own. This week I was privileged to co-facilitate AICC’s Production Leadership for Profit workshop at New England Woodenware in Gardner MA. We were there to discuss fundamentals and best practices, particularly for managers in manufacturing. The group was diverse in experience and education, ranging from street smart to book smart. Some participants had twenty years of machine operation and had recently taken a supervisory role. Others had postgraduate degrees and wide ranging experience outside the packaging industry before rising to the challenges of management as a neophyte. Would you be surprised to find a common theme in their leadership questions?
Supervisors put it this way; “How do I get the crew to want to do a good job?” and “How can I persuade the crew to come along with me to improve our productivity?” Another wanted to know how to get senior management to listen to the wisdom from the shop floor. One wanted the secret to getting the whole production leadership team on the same mission. The questions were as different as the men (yes, there were all men this time) that asked them, but the common theme came through loud and clear; how can we build buy-in. Put another way, how can we create trust and foster commitment to goals that serve to benefit us all?
The conversation continued over two days, bridging classes and breaks, even into lively exchange over dinner. In class we toggled between process and people. We discussed the organization and measurement of processes as well as methods for making the best way to do a process into “our way”. Topics included setting direction, organizing the workspace, measurement, and standardization of the work. Leadership style was assessed and improvement plans were made for communication, time management, accountability, and recognition of team members. Always the conversation was pulled back to ways of convincing people to take ownership of the processes they control.
“We need to figure out how to get the us back in Customer” said a savvy conversant. He explained that the company was consistently focused on the buyer of the product at the expense of attention to those who make the product. His company is not alone; P2’s cultural assessment survey has repeatedly shown that independent packaging firms focus the majority of their resources on the flexibility of the customer experience. Often the measured result is a workforce with too little structure to meet changing market demands. Like a sports team that is always playing but never practicing fundamentals or watching game film their ability to improve will diminish. This same participant is learning to put the us back in customer by shifting the company’s focus to include building trust with internal and external customers. He will work to build structure and flexibility into every aspect of the business.
We asked the men what builds trust in a leader? “Consistency”, they answered, stressing integrity and fairness. They were certain that consistency was particularly important in the two key areas of communication and accountability.
The Environments Voice. We can only improve at the speed of good communication so they considered what the work environment communicated to staff and visitors alike. The goal is to organize the workplace so that it is easy to understand, and difficult to do things the wrong way.
The Process Voice. They agreed that the measures should be few, understood by all, and communicated with clarity and frequency. We advocated for the balanced measure of Overall Equipment Effectiveness. Regardless of the method, key metrics should be reported consistently and feedback must clearly show how team members may contribute to improvement.
Individual Voice. The group also emphasized the importance of one on one communication. They said it was important to have an open door policy and a closed loop of communication. Closing the loop means concerns, questions, complaints, and ideas (even the lame ones) are remembered, credited, and resolved.
Follow Through. The workshop participants looked at the levels of accountability in the workplace and decided that leadership must first be accountable for follow though; providing resources and time to complete objectives. Of course there was sympathy in the room for the many competing objectives in a production leaders day. A simple tool to aid in ease of accountability is the Supervisor’s Daily Expectation, (pictured).
Consistent Discipline. Consistent enforcement of agreed upon standards was seen as a critical area fraught with difficulty. “It’s a thankless job, but building buy-in means I have to treat the long tenured employee and the new girl the same way”. The young men in attendance said it was often like disciplining a parent.
Consistent Recognition. Regardless of whether there is a formal incentive plan in place, giving praise is a requirement. The group saw this as a place to exercise emotional intelligence. They said that one-size-fits-all does not apply to the attaway. One employee will deeply appreciate being recognized at a company wide event, while another would be deeply embarrassed. For some a private conversation, or even a note to the home address will motivate. Custom recognition is called for.
So, the leadership questions were raised, partially answered, and plans were made to begin implementing at a new level. It was great to hear the questions on the minds of those on the front line of production leadership. These fresh questions, and their burgeoning answers, should inspire us all as we seek to develop a reputation with all those we serve for making and keeping promises.