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The last few months have been trying, to say the least. Everyone in a decision-making role was tested—some likely more than others. Having fought through the initial stages, many of us are looking back and evaluating. What was our experience? Why were some things so difficult to react or adapt to? Staff and process decisions become more complex when you add in circumstances like Covid-19. But honestly, the more codified your standard approach was coming into it, the more likely you had an easier time adapting.
Here at College Park, we’ve been very fortunate over the last decade to have continually increasing demand. Organizational growth came alongside that. Inevitably, as an organization grows, the need for delegation arises. As people step into roles they’re unfamiliar with, a clear understanding of expectations is essential. That makes it all the more important to understand how we manage, so we can pass that on. After great reflection, I’d like to share some thoughts.
Communication and Company Culture
It all starts here with clear and honest communication. As managers, this is the most important function we perform–the communication of intent. To perform that function, you need to have a solid vision of what your intentions actually are. Whether it be task completion or communication within your team, anything worth doing, is worth doing right. This requires a plan.
- What kind of company culture are you trying to promote? If you have a clear idea of what you want, you can detail the steps to achieve and sustain it.
- Do people understand their own roles? Do they understand yours? An operator is expected to make things. Managers are expected to envision and facilitate an environment that allows the workforce to excel. We call this What, How, and Do. Upper management says what the goals are, middle management says how to achieve them, and the workforce does.
- Trust goes both ways. Management must be able to identify if things are performing to expectation. Help your employees understand the difference between appropriate supervision and micromanagement.
- Be purposeful in your communications. Always use words like us and we to reinforce the idea that we’re all in this together. Ask your employees what worries them. Share your concerns. We’re all humans, and they should feel that you recognize that.
- Transparency is key. What are our organizational goals, and how close are we to achieving them? Open a dialog with your team, as they may not know how you came up with the goals. It’s important to have realistic group expectations.
At all times, there should be a thorough understanding of what is needed to meet demand. Overall, this is called our Staffing Plan. While we have helpful tools and methods to hand off and show the new point person how the levers work, this wouldn’t help with the why. People should understand why they perform tasks the way they do–why it’s important to do it this way, and not that. Basically, while we strive to Poka-yoke as best we can, it’s always superior that people understand what good looks like. To that, there’s a few questions any manager should be asking themselves. What is the current demand? What did it take to meet that demand? Was that good or bad? If it’s below expectations, why? Nobody wants to have to dig for those answers each time the question becomes relevant. So, using a combination of common tools and methods, we monitor this constantly. Here’s a quick overview:
- Understand that demand is a dial. At any point, it can be turned far in either direction.
- Tracking efficiency daily by process is important. Keep in mind that many people misunderstand this. For clarity, efficiency is performance against expectation, not general speed. For planning and production purposes, we always strive for consistency.
- Understand scalability. End sales quantities are not always 1 to 1 with supporting activities. For each product sold, understanding the scaling under the hood, is critical. Multiple processes and subassemblies are normally required.
- Full-time equivalency is key. Cultivate a list of tasks required within a given department, with expected rates and the scalability factors for each. By inputting top-level demand for any department, the output will be the expected labor requirement. Additionally, an understanding of typical department downtime, whether it’s non-production activities (cleaning, organizing, etc.) or unaccounted time, is needed.
In general, safety should always be a concern, not just in times of crisis. However, it’s often a misunderstood topic. Of course, physical safety is of utmost importance, especially within a manufacturing environment. As a manager, we must view this is as only one facet. When we talk about safety, we’re really talking about risk. Whether it’s physical or financial risk, it must be constantly accounted for and minimized as much as possible. Here are a few things to consider:
- Whenever contemplating a new endeavor, a risk assessment should be pursued. Stakeholders should be involved from any division that will be expected to contribute. There are many tools available to assist in this. In manufacturing, we use Process Failure Mode Effect Analysis (PFMEA), to work through the possible risks. This same process can be applied to any concept though. Consider how severe and likely the risk is. How hard is it to detect if it does happen? Where unacceptable risks are found, mitigation actions must be developed.
- When the status quo changes, educate yourself. Quickly develop an appropriate response plan to keep your organization healthy and safe.
- Train the team on the proper procedures and protocols. Keep record this occurred.
- Make sure everyone has access to training and reference materials that are obtained from a controlled source.
As we learn and grow, we’ll find that old solutions are no longer sufficient. One phrase that makes me cringe, “It’s how we’ve always done it,” is a trap we fall into if we never examine our methods. We need to assure ourselves that it’s okay to reverse course or pivot, contradicting what we once practiced. Some may call that hypocrisy. If we can say, that with the information that was available at the time, we made the best decision possible, there is no shame in admitting there was a better path. To that, I’ll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Brandon Sanderson: “Sometimes a hypocrite is nothing more than a man in the process of changing…I have found, through painful experience, that the most important step a person can take is always the next one.” So how do we manage? We reflect and try to understand how we failed. Then, we take the next step.