Business thinker Steve Denning says the practice of management is undergoing a “paradigm shift,” an allusion to Thomas Kuhn's 1962 work on how scientific breakthroughs are born not of linear improvement but radical change. He has a point. Markets have gone topsy-turvy. Buyers have more options and therefore more power than sellers. Margins are lower. Once-understood ideas of how teams come together and corporations organize are out of date in the Internet Age.
"The most important anomaly in the traditional management paradigm is that good management doesn’t work anymore," Denning explained in a recent Forbes column.
Can that really be? Is it possible that listening to customers and betting on incremental improvement is no longer enough? A teetering manufacturing sector suggests there is at least some truth to Denning's argument, which leaves floor managers in the unenviable position of reinventing an industry backed by more than a century of tradition.
A daunting task to be sure.
Here, offered humbly, are five ideas for radically rethinking how to manage the manufacturing line:
1. Forget output, focus on profits. Instead of asking workers to meet manufacturing output targets, open the books and show them how they contribute to profits. Then introduce a scale-up rewards program that gets better as teams add more to the bottom line. Make it so everybody (i.e., customers, partners, shareholders, and most of all, employees) shares in the fruits of a job well done.
2. End the annual review. There is so little time as is, why waste any of it on a dated, monolithic idea that is inappropriate for a real-time economy where clients come and go like leaves blowing in the wind? Improvement should be a daily goal. Set tangible targets and measure success weekly or per project.
3. Rethink teamwork. Not permanently, per se, but avoid the idea of teams that work together forever as one unit. Manufacturing isn't the same as the police force, where “partners” team up for life. Production is about projects and organizing the best team for the work at hand. Keep personnel decisions fluid, and use downtime to help would-be teammates get to know each other.
4. Recognize process rather than results. Of course results are great -- organizing and rewarding based on profit contribution speaks to this very idea -- but great process often leads to great products, performance and ultimately profits. Recognize workers who've fine-tuned the way they work so that they may become an example to peers.
5. Take a lesson from gamers. Video game enthusiasts loathe breaks. There's an unhealthy side to their obsession, of course, but there's also something intrinsically powerful to the idea of "leveling up" in a game, wherein the characters are granted greater power for a job well done. Allow workers to "level up" by setting regular targets. Track progress and then honor each portfolio of accomplishments with enhanced rewards. Think broadly. Don't just buy event tickets. Establish a "Hall of Fame" for particularly impressive track records and then develop a package of rewards to match the celebration.
Radical change requires radical management. Be creative in how you approach the floor. Treat it like a game, with your workers aiming to "level up" in a way that boosts profits and then rewards generously and tangibly.
And, most important of all, remember that nothing rewards so well as public praise for a well-defined achievement. Business is a team sport; make it so that everyone shares in victory.
John Mills is executive vice president of Business Development at Rideau Recognition Solutions, a global leader in employee rewards and recognition programs designed to motivate and increase engagement and productivity across the workforce.