Reinventing Operational Leadership

Author : Performance Solutions by Milliken

Manufacturing managers and supervisors often rise to operational leadership positions thanks to technical expertise with their companies’ processes and products. They know how things — machinery, information technology, etc. — are supposed to work, and have specialized knowledge about how to fix those things when problems arise.

Unfortunately, things have very little to do with successful leadership anymore.

Leading manufacturers have discovered that people are now the engines of success. A new generation of employees is looking beyond paychecks to seek mission, culture, and leaders they can trust; they want leaders who inspire, guide, safeguard, and coach. Legacy command-and-control structures erode employee motivation — and the bottom line.

At Performance Solutions by Milliken, we believe that in order to dramatically increase returns for their organizations, managers and supervisors must evolve from:

  • Firefighters to collaborators/communicators: Companies typically reward managers for individual contributions to the bottom line. But this narrow focus overlooks the importance of developing associates to accomplish far more, far faster. Educated, empowered, and engaged associates identify and implement improvement initiatives without close supervision — allowing leadership to focus on new opportunities.
  • Autocrats to coaches/mentors: Old-school managers often underestimate the capabilities of frontline workers. Yet almost every associate is capable — with respectful coaching — of autonomous management of his or her work area. Over time these new operational leadership behaviors move workplaces from authoritative structures to trusted mentor/mentee relationships.
  • Micromanagers to planners: Managers and supervisors often limit their own effectiveness by jumping in to fix issues that employees could resolve on their own. Leadership should instead invest time in higher-level tasks that eliminate problems in the first place: establishing work teams to audit activities and surface problems; teaching problem-solving skills and the scientific method; and advising associates on how to develop standardized work procedures.

Making the leap from command-and-control to coaching requires new skillsets that enhance leaders’ communication and collaboration abilities. They’ll also need a system that guides everyone’s behaviors as associates and managers alike seek to achieve:

  • Rapid and permanent problem-solving: All associates become problem-solvers, escalating issues to managers and supervisors only when they don’t have the means or authority to address them. A daily management system becomes the support mechanism to communicate and solve problems.
  • Innovations to processes and products: With less time devoted to management minutiae, managers and supervisors use their new skills to explore new ways to design and manufacture better products, often in collaboration with the leadership of other organizational functions (e.g., R&D, marketing).
  • Increased employee satisfaction: By creating a culture of trust and respect, the organization taps into latent workforce skills that lead to engaged employees, safer workplaces, lower labor turnover, improved performances (e.g., quality, cost, delivery), and higher productivity.
  • Development systems for the next-generation of leaders: Practices and behaviors adopted by today’s managers and supervisors serve as the basis for hiring and training the next generation of operational leadership (e.g., recruiting, onboarding, promotion and advancement systems).

Does your company have the operations leaders it needs to succeed today? At Performance Solutions by Milliken we have helped operations leaders in multiple industry settings to reinvent themselves. We can help you create a better tomorrow. Contact us today.