As manufacturing leaders, it is part of our job to support our teams to perform better. Under most circumstances, manufacturing leaders have several options to choose at their disposal. One of those options is not to act. Not taking action, of course, applies to just about any situation.

In this post, I am going to focus on situations that are all too common for many manufacturing businesses. Picture these in your organization: 1) An unhealthy culture, in other words, leaders are not performing as expected, the workforce is disengaged, employee turnover is rampant, a rivalry between groups/shifts/departments exists, trust is lacking everywhere, employees do not believe or respect the leadership team, well you get the picture. 2) The business is not performing to its potential; whether it is late orders, underutilization of resources, quality/accuracy concerns, costs are increasing, and the competition is looming. In other words, you get the job done, but with great struggle operationally speaking. There is an obvious opportunity to improve the business, but nothing is being done.

In many cases, these situations are inherited from a previous leadership team. In others, leaders have been inadvertently a part of the problem. Nonetheless, many leaders, in their minds, justify the lack of action with thoughts, such as: “Not right now,” “We are too busy,” “People don’t care,” “It’s too slow,” “We are in the middle of budget,” “It’s the end of the month/quarter/year,” “If it ain’t broke…,”, “I’ll get it done when I can fit it in,” “There is nothing I can do,” “We have too many initiatives,” among others.

The reasons for these thoughts vary widely: sometimes manufacturing leaders are just too busy with the daily firefighting, sometimes they are oblivious to the situation with their people, they are in denial, poor time management, procrastination, or even pride, as leaders fail/refuse to recognize that they need help.

For manufacturing leaders out there who may not realize how their failure to act affects them and others around them; I wanted to offer a list of ways they pay for not taking action in the face of the circumstances described above:

1. Loss of credibility: To a manufacturing leader, this is “influential currency.” Your employees become frustrated because problems are not being resolved. There is a risk you may lose talented team members. Your customers become frustrated because their requests are not being met, whether it is the quality, cost, or delivery of their orders being subpar. Your leader/manager begins to lose trust in you as the leader that will help the business out of the situation/problem.


Girl in a jacket

2. Unhealthy culture: In a manufacturing workplace where leaders don’t address lousy performance or bad behavior, culture deteriorates very rapidly. People stop caring, those that care leave, tension builds up between the people that stay and want to succeed and the people that are creating the toxic environment.

3. Increased costs: When turnover starts to rise, manufacturers lose in so many tangible ways: staffing costs, loss of skill, among others. Bad performance has a tremendous effect on the company: loss of sales, increased direct and indirect costs.

4. Career stall: When a leader’s perception in the eyes of the stakeholders takes a turn to the negative it can lead to being passed for promotions; it can also lead to senior leaders handing out poor assignments due to their lack of confidence in the leader’s ability.

5. Self-doubts: Once a leader is perceived as part of the problem, people will behave in a way that shows their lack of trust in the leader’s ability or commitment. Such environments will negatively affect a leader once he becomes aware of that perception. Self-doubt may kick-in when the leader is not successful and especially if the leader is dismissed.

Proactive leaders recognize how taxing not acting is to the business and themselves. Here are some things to do:

Get on offense – actively begin to identify the causes of your problems and create a plan of action to remove them. Use metrics to help you understand performance gaps and develop the discipline to monitor and improve your performance continuously.

Lean leaders are proactive and are always looking for ways to improve their business.


Girl in a jacket

Engage your employees – Whether you notice it or not, your employees know the reasons behind their problems. Tap into that knowledge and get a better understanding of the issues affecting them. Get them involved in the solution process; showing that you listen, and act on their concerns will buy you significant amounts of credibility with them.

Build your leadership team – A manufacturing leader cannot solve all the problems by him/herself. However, if he/she can build a cohesive leadership team around him/her, the same mindset can be cascaded to the entire workforce. Make sure you select people that share your values and can follow through.

Develop your frontline and middle leaders – These individuals are the backbone of your business. Provide the support they need to be successful, such as training on the job, clear expectations, resources needed, and constant feedback that enforces good performance and coaches the gaps in their thinking.

Develop your cultural identity and communicate it to the team – When people understand the direction of the business, and they agree with it, they start to feel identified with the culture and they become advocates.

Handle your bad apples – When you start to show a consistent behavior, people begin to understand if they fit or not in the organization. Sometimes bad apples linger, be sure to give these individuals the opportunity to modify their behavior/improve their performance. After that, swiftly re-assign or dismiss them; your employees will gain respect for your leadership.

If you are trying to improve your manufacturing business and would like to discuss your specific situation, schedule a call.

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