Manufacturing Leadership: Managing by Walking About

  • Wednesday, December 1, 2021
  • Posted By The Growth Company

We share our observations from the first cohort of the Made for Manufacturing programme, which takes Manufacturing Leaders on a ten-week journey of virtual workshops and peer-to-peer learning to achieve excellence in their business.  

Launched towards the end of 2020, the Made for Manufacturing programme is designed for ambitious Manufacturing Leaders who are committed to embedding the habits and routines of continuous improvement in their business. The first cohort is now complete, and the programme has been very well received.

Our delegates formed a strong peer network, one that will endure into the future. They have identified, implemented and planned a number of improvement activities following the course mantra of Measure something, do something, learn something. It all bodes extremely well for the upcoming cohorts. Our first graduates have shown that if you commit to action and shared learning through the programme, you will see positive change in your business.

The programme uses the following devices to identify priorities, commit to actions and verify quantifiable improvements:

·         A pre-course Self Audit and Quantifiable Gap Analysis

·         One-to-one Coaching Support

·         Best practice Workshops

·         A manufacturing peer network

The workshops address the topics of how better practice manufacturing companies can:

·         Deploy strategy and measure performance to ensure company goals are on plan

·         Develop a culture that values learning and devolved improvement activity

·         Sustain an environment of manufacturing good practice; standard work and real time visual control

·         Ensure they have identified and taken advantage of digital technology advances

Made for Manufacturing is about promoting and celebrating the culture of a ‘learning’ organisation. That applies to us as well. As we deliver the programme, it’s equally important that we learn from the major concerns, frustrations and goals of our delegates. As you can see from the bullet points above, the workshops were designed to address discrete topics with specific goals, barriers and solutions. However, as we as a peer group began to develop our goals and identified the barriers to achieving them, a common theme immune to bullet point classification became apparent.

Going walkabout

The common theme relates to leadership and the coaching of people. It was uncanny how often applying the Five Whys to a problem or obstacle would lead us down this path over the course of the programme.

One of the joys of peer groups and peer learning is how quickly barriers come down.  People are happier to open up when they realise they’re not alone, when it’s not only them struggling and feeling frustrated. To get a room of Manufacturing Leaders together and for them to feel comfortable revealing that they could be more effective leaders is quite an achievement. It shows the power of peer groups and of mutual trust, and it’s extremely cathartic. It’s also the first step of change and continuous improvement.

A major element of the frustration was that everyone knew that effective leadership is paramount. When asked how much coaching they did as leaders, every single delegate said they wanted to do more. They all wanted to coach good behaviours every day. We started to use the common phrase “Managing by Walking About” to summarise what effective daily coaching looks like after it has become an established habit, and we explored the reasons why people didn’t do more of it, even when they knew it was important.

Two things repeatedly came up, and again the release was palpable when delegates realised it wasn’t just them:

1.    Unforeseen events – everyone would love to find that available, set time every day to do the daily walk, but something always gets in the way

2.    The conditioned realisation that if you go to the shopfloor you’ll come back with more problems to solve and a bigger to do list than when you left your office.

Putting first things first

The first point relates to time management and prioritisation. I would urge every leader to read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, with a particular focus on Habit 3 – ‘Put first things first’ – and the goal of ‘Quadrant 2 thinking’. Here are some videos that introduce the subject nicely:

·         Stephen Covey's 4 quadrant time management matrix

·         Big rocks - Quadrant 2 thinking

·         Weekly planning - Quadrant 2 thinking

Below is an illustration of the 4 quadrant matrix. As Stephen Covey himself says: If there’s one thing that would improve the quality of your life, what would it be? The big reveal with that question is how often small inconsequential things (see quadrants 3 and 4) stop us doing it.

Learning not to collect monkeys

The second point relates to picking up other people’s problems – making your workload go up as other people’s workload goes down. Quite often, you’re probably the best equipped person to solve a problem and it may well be expedient to do so. But remember the old adage: You can give a man a fish, or you can teach him to fish. You can’t grow your business and provide strategic direction if time is spent solving low level problems.

Discussing this in our peer group brought us to the classic Harvard Business Review article Who’s got the Monkey? which equates work to ‘monkeys’. If you take on someone’s problem, the monkey has effectively transferred from their back to yours.  The key to effective management by walking about is to become skilled at not taking other people’s monkeys, but instead coaching them to own their own monkeys and solve problems themselves.

As a Manufacturing Leader, taking monkeys has two negative effects:

1.    Most apparent – the time lost taking other people’s monkeys is time that could be spent on strategic growth, continuous improvement or indeed on coaching others

2.    Less apparent (but more insidious) – it undermines you as a leader. As soon as you utter the inevitable phrase “Leave it with me”, the leader/subordinate relationship has been inverted. At some point you will return to the shopfloor and the original monkey bearer will ask “Did you sort it?” You, burdened with everybody’s monkeys, will say “Oh no, sorry, give me 10 minutes”. Who is the leader and who is the subordinate in this relationship now? Don’t get me wrong, it’s always good to support and oil the wheels, but only on your terms.

There’s strength in numbers

A real enabler within the Made for Manufacturing programme has been the identification of effective learning behaviours and the coaching of those behaviours until they become habit or routine. This is learning, and learning is much more effective within a strong peer group blessed with pre-existing experience, and the group validation that comes from mutual support and sharing.

Our first Made for Manufacturing cohort was willing to open up regarding obstacles and frustrations, as well as successful initiatives. The strong peer group effect was one of the real positives of the course and one we will nurture on subsequent cohorts. It reflected strength in numbers and the reassurance that you are not alone in facing these problems; it’s not just you on this path. Leaders have to lead, of course they do, and someone has to provide the direction and choose the path, but, as when navigating a mountain in fog, it’s reassuring to come across other walkers going in the same direction and striding out with equal purpose.