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Help your team by focusing their efforts to drive plant improvements

Aug. 3, 2022
Tom Moriarty says demands for better margins, velocity, and cash flow can put stress on leaders at every level.

Over the past year I’ve been in several manufacturing plants. Not cutting edge, highly automated, pristine facilities with large profit margins and few resource constraints. I’ve been in plants that make basic, low margin products, used as feedstock for other manufacturing processes.

During typical daily status meetings the plant manager listens intently to his or her direct reports talking about production numbers, upcoming product changes, customer complaints, and other important information. Each production upset causes slowdowns or lost production availability. The plant manager thinks out loud, “Let’s create a PM task so this doesn’t happen again,” or “We need to form a project team and do a root cause analysis to keep this from happening again.” The problem is, every day there are things that can be addressed by creating a PM, forming an RCA team, or taking some other action. But every day the worklist of “opportunities for improvement” grows.

The plant manager feels like they are not doing enough to address production gaps. However the staff and employees feel that they don’t have enough hours in the day. There are open positions, employees that gave notice and are leaving soon, yet the worklist continues to expand.

Senior leaders, such as plant managers and department heads, have had a history of success prior to being in their current position. They have worked hard and done many things right. Being high performers, they may mistakenly believe that their path is the path that everyone else aspires to. They may project their experiences and abilities onto others. Because of that, some leaders develop an unconscious bias towards believing that their direct reports and others simply need to work harder.

Another flaw may be that high performers don’t truly appreciate the situation their direct reports, supervisors and lead persons are experiencing. They are constrained by employment environment. For the past several years there has been high turnover (30% to 60% is not unusual) and difficulty attracting and retaining qualified employees. This has become the norm.

Poorly managed new employee orientation is a self-licking ice cream cone. New hires accept a position in a facility. They are immediately pressed into service before they know where the restroom is located. They are given responsibility beyond their initial capability. They don’t know the plant but are expected to be productive right away. The new hire feels stressed. Then they progress to irritated and then disgusted. Soon the recent hire tenders their resignation and the cycle repeats.

Human Capital

This article is part of our monthly Human Capital column. Read more from Tom Moriarty.

Venture capital managers and corporate executives demand better margins, velocity, cash flow, customer satisfaction, and sustainable growth. The sum total result is a perfect storm that puts stress on leaders at every level.

What can a leader do? First, the leader should walk the facility, talk to people, and learn first-hand what their team is experiencing. Ask team members what their issues are. Actively listen to what the team members are saying and ask them for ideas on mitigating the problems. Chances are they have much more insight than what you hear during the daily status meeting. Approve the good ideas. Share information and educate when an idea may not be worthy. People will appreciate and feel respected when they know they are being heard.

Second, provide guidance on what the organization will focus on, and walk the talk! The focus area may be better proficiency on product change overs or increasing the reliability of v-belt driven equipment. Maybe it’s improving the new hire orientation program or the reliability of a subsystem in the production line. The point is to bound the problem and keep focus on a manageable scope. This will keep the team from being overwhelmed.

Walk the talk by staying dedicated to the focus area. Keep yourself from expanding the scope. Give your direct reports the responsibility and freedom to let you know when they perceive that you are expanding beyond the focus area. Put a daily reminder on your calendar to contemplate if you’re walking the talk. Let people solve the other problems at their level, without your adding to their worklist.

It is better to address and complete a few focus items than to have a stressed out team and dozens of items that are never completed. When everything is a priority, nothing is a priority. The way to reduce stress and make improvements is to respect your team, focus their efforts and drive improvements to completion.

Go forth and do great things.

This story originally appeared in the August 2022 issue of Plant Services. Subscribe to Plant Services here.

About the Author: Tom Moriarty
About the Author

Tom Moriarty | P.E., CMRP, President of Alidade MER, Inc.

Tom Moriarty, P.E., CMRP is president of Alidade MER, Inc., a consulting firm specializing in asset management, reliability engineering, and leadership improvement. He is a member of SMRP (Florida Chapter Board Member and CED Director), a past Chair of ASME’s Canaveral Florida Section, and author of the book “The Productive Leadership System; Maximizing Organizational Reliability”. He has a BSME, an MBA (organizational development), is a licensed professional engineer (PE) in Florida, and a Certified Maintenance and Reliability Professional (CMRP). Contact him at [email protected], (321) 773-3356, or via LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/alidade-mer.

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