8 Ways manufacturing leaders can make time to work ON the business
Do you ever have this feeling: “I had a list of things I planned on completing today/this week/this month and I didn’t even touch one of them.”
If this is you, read on to learn some ways to remove those thoughts from your mind. One of the observations I take away from interacting with manufacturing leaders is how overwhelmed they seem by the demands of the day-to-day. Seems like the longer they work, the more work gets thrown on their lap. Seems ironic, that Lean manufacturing advocates for building habits that allow us to remove ourselves from the distracting firefighting activities; Lean manufacturing also encourages us to embrace making improvements and consider these activities as one of the most valuable activities in our day. And yet, as leaders we seem to be going in the opposite direction. However, this thinking is not always embraced quickly by leaders, some common reasons for this are that leaders have become so accustomed to functioning in this manner that they simply accept this as the norm. In a lot of cases, leaders just don’t know to function any differently, because they have never seen anything different.
This is even harder when you are a leader that is aware of the Lean manufacturing principles and how they can help you.
“The problem I see with this, is that leaders should have the time to think strategically about where they want to take their business, department, division, etc.”
When a leader is stuck in the details of the day to day, there is no time to dedicate to questions such as:
- What could we be doing differently?
- Where are we failing?
- How is my team doing?
- Do I have the right team in place?
- Will we accomplish this year’s goals?
- What developmental coaching conversations should I be having with my team?
- How can we anticipate market shifts?
“This is a tough place to get out of, but it can be done. Getting out of the grind requires hard work and being intentional about how you gradually remove yourself from the activities that consume your day.”
Here are 8 ways to start making that shift:
1. Delegating. If you are a good leader, you want to support your team. However, that doesn’t mean you should focus on just any task. Identify the tasks that merit your time. Everything else should find a home with your team, or someone else.
“This is not to say that you are above some tasks, it’s that focusing on too low of a task can diminish your effectiveness as a leader. When you are absorbed with tasks that should be delegated, you are losing sight of the bigger picture.”
Identify the right person for those tasks and begin to transition them. You will relieve and surprise yourself at how receptive your team is to learning if you don’t overload them. I’ll use a phrase from the book Traction, by Gino Wickman
“Delegate and elevate.”
2. Become Process Oriented. When manufacturing leaders aren’t process-oriented, they leave everything to chance and they depend heavily on people’s sheer ability. The modus operandum here is: “You either got it or you don’t”; “leaders are born, not made”. I am convinced that provided the right resources, which include processes, people can accomplish much more than we estimate. Lacking an understanding of being process-oriented is evident when leaders handle things in a disorganized, unplanned, and reactive manner. A lot of inefficiencies are created by having to reinvent the wheel each time you focus on certain tasks. I love the phrase: “There is a method to the madness”; there should be a standard for most processes in your operation and business. With that said, have a process for planning things, evaluating your effectiveness, knowing what to focus on, etc. I’m not advocating for people being so prescriptive that you create robots necessarily, but
“Not being proactive should be unacceptable.”
3. Make improvements. Having a lot of waste can, of course, be a time killer. I find that a lot of our time goes to activities that are waste or are a result of waste in our process. We may have to spend extra time initially making improvements; when you are able to reduce the waste from your activities, you essentially are opening time on your schedule to dedicate to more important tasks.
4. Provide direction. When your team knows and understands where you are trying to go they can start contributing to your vision. What this means is that they can focus on the right things and address problems without you even having to tell them. You could do this through strategic planning, sharing your plans, or creating a set of key performance indicators, which should include goals, and reviewing them with your team periodically.
5. Time management. Manufacturing leaders should become very jealous of their time. As the phrase goes “Time is our most valuable resource”. Have a process or system to evaluate and prioritize where you spend your time, plan your days and weeks ahead of time. Be sure to account for time to tackle unexpected problems.
6. Cross Training. Don’t let yourself fall into the trap of becoming the de facto “back up plan”. Start focusing on building your team to become self-sufficient. Give them the processes, skills, training, coaching, etc. they need to be successful. In manufacturing, problems are going to happen; people have lives and work will be affected.
“If you are always the solution, then you are failing as a leader.”
Spend time making your processes consistent, and transferable. I remember an instance I had to work through this, and it required me spending extra time at work,
“Once I was done, I felt such a relief because I was no longer running around putting fires. I could utilize my team to support each other and deal with problems.”
7. Develop leaders. When you surround yourself with the right people, it’s remarkable how much weight they can carry and take away from you.
“As a manufacturing leader, one of the best things you can do is create a team that can share the load and eventually the leader that will take on your responsibilities.”
Ensure you have the right team, begin by assessing your team members, and identify their strengths and weaknesses; replace the ones that are not a good fit and create development plans for the rest. This should include regular one-on-one coaching discussions with you. Investing in your employees is a WIN/WIN/WIN/WIN; the employee’s career grows, you gain a valuable asset, other employees benefit, if the leaders develop them, and the organization benefits from better performance.
8. Ask for help. I have personally seen manufacturing leaders fail to do this. Most recently, a leader admitted he was afraid to ask for help. He felt his request could be seen as admitting that he couldn’t handle his workload. In other cases, the leader assumes everyone is as overwhelmed as he/she is. In some cases, the reason is pride.
“Be sincere and open with your team, they will respect a leader that is transparent and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable about his/her challenges. Avoid being a victim of pride.”
Are you struggling to find the time to start your Lean manufacturing implementation efforts? If so, schedule a call to discuss how we can help.
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