If you are reading IndustryWeek, chances are you’re quite familiar with the state of manufacturing in the United States. That said, we all are impacted by the daily drum beat of negative news, and many people lose sight of the strengths of U.S. manufacturing. The National Association of Manufacturers regularly publishes facts about the industry. Below are just a few examples that give us good reasons for manufacturing leaders to use their influence to drive growth in their organizations:
- The United States is the world's largest manufacturing economy. China is second, and Japan is third.
- U.S. manufacturing produces $1.7 trillion of value each year, or 11.7% of U.S. GDP.
- Manufacturing supports about one in six private-sector jobs.
As companies shake off the recession doldrums, they are looking for ways to drive innovation, performance improvements, free working capital and build an ethos of momentum into every aspect of their businesses.
With the industry growing once again, it is an important time for manufacturing leaders to step up their efforts to drive growth momentum throughout their organization. Leaders need to identify and capitalize on positive shifts in demand while at the same time creating positive shifts in production and output across the entire performance chain. Answers to three questions can guide leaders in building demand and supply side growth momentum:
- How can a company move up the maturity scale from improvement projects to a way of growing across the entire performance chain?
- How can leadership disciplines be used effectively to shape change expectations?
- How can daily decision-making and actions be used as a catalyst for growth?
Let’s solve each individually:
Move up the maturity scale from projects to a high-growth performance chain.
I dare say most manufacturers today are at a minimum familiar with Lean Six Sigma approaches. These organizations are in their early stages of performance development, and growth can be challenging to absorb. Many companies have internal black belts and lean teams that can run improvement projects. They have reached adolescence and should have good basic processes in place to anticipate demand changes and the associated manufacturing requirements. Peak performers are highly proficient and have an ingrained “lean” culture. The last set have already graduated to a mature high-performance organization. They are the most ready to scale successfully.
The key to stepping up (or leap frogging up!) from projects that have spot positive impacts to a high-performance manufacturing culture is to first map your demand and supply flow across the organization and then build accountabilities for growth into each job, position or function. Starting on the demand side allows the integration of customer input (formal and informal) into every step of your operation. If you’re lucky enough to have lean leaders at your disposal, use them not to run projects or kaizen events but instead to coach, measure and facilitate a new performance ethos across both the demand and supply sides of your operation.
Drive change expectations through leadership disciplines.
Often when people say, “He or she is a great leader but short on management,” what they really mean is that the person is inspiring, great at sharing a vision and can build enthusiasm, but when it comes to delivering, they fall short. If you’re in growth mode, as a leader you need all your charisma and energy -- and you need discipline.
Around what things? Well, there are many great books on the subject, but many of them boil down to a few key disciplines: Choose your customers wisely -- don’t chase every opportunity without understanding the impact it will have on your performance chain. Focus -- don’t let an off week or a stumble -- or a new shiny object -- pull your attention away from your growth prize.
If you lose focus, you give everyone in your organization permission to wander off task. Actively engage -- get out on the floor; demonstrate your commitment to growth by touching lots of people in your organization every day. Instead of telling them your vision, ask them their ideas about growth and act on at least some of them.
Let people experience growth through your leadership and encouragement.
Catalyze performance and growth through daily decisions.
Many years ago I coined a phrase, “Leadership is action, not position.” Too often leadership is ascribed to a role or status in the organizational hierarchy. Yes, there are leader positions. But leadership is action. The best opportunities to display leadership come in everyday decisions. In a manufacturing environment, literally thousands of decisions are made every day. What if, in each situation and as direction is set, you asked each person to take responsibility to answer this simple question: How will this decision I’m about to make support our growth requirements? If it does, speed ahead. If it doesn’t, maybe there is a better decision to be made.
U.S. manufacturing is growing again. Hooray! It’s in your hands to keep it that way.
Chris LaVictoire Mahai is the author of ROAR: Strengthening business performance through speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage (www.roarthebook.com). She is co-owner and managing partner at global strategy and operational change firm Aveus.