Viewpoints: Develop Your Internal Talent
Building an effective operations team is a top challenge for manufacturing executives. Plant Manager and General Manager roles are core to a company's success and sustained growth. As leaders, however, too often we commit a career development "crime:" we find as many good manufacturing/quality engineers, lean coordinators, and production supervisors as we can, and sit on them, for years, for our own benefit. We are short-sighted in wanting the comfort of having seasoned professionals around us, and can lack the vision to realize that by constraining their movement, we fail to deliver the best results for our function.
Out of fear of having to replace them, we often hoard our talent, and then watch as key plant and operations leadership roles are filled by ambitious people from outside the manufacturing world. Why? Because they have "broader" experience in other parts of the business. We need to stop hoarding, and start exporting our manufacturing talent into other functional roles within our companies. Here's the benefit of becoming a talent exporter: When your top employees are encouraged to venture into other challenging functional areas, such as supply chain, sales and marketing, integration, or development-engineering roles, they become your best recruiters for positions on your manufacturing team.
Not only are they your advocates, describing the great development and training opportunities they had under your mentoring, but you are "cross-pollinating" other functions. It's also the right thing to do for the employee, as well as the organization.
For example, my lean deployment manager, with responsibility for over 100 locations, reached this level in the organization, at age 29, because he was encouraged to take stretch assignments throughout his career. Graduating with an industrial engineering degree, he started as a leadership program trainee, and then was offered an international assignment on a European acquisition. His next position was at a plant as a lean coordinator, and then we put him on the road again as an integration manager for another acquisition. If he had stayed in the first plant he was assigned to, his future would have likely looked much different. In the traditional model, take the same person, with the same smarts, and he/she probably would be locked in by the system as an operations manager at a smaller manufacturing site.
There is a purely selfish side to this approach. By encouraging your people to move into other roles, you expand your personal sphere of influence into other functions and locations within your company. Today, you are molding the business philosophy, leadership style, and thought process of the people that work for you. By exporting your talent, this "DNA" of your philosophy can now be injected into other areas of the organization. We all are aware of the power of an aligned common vision. In the long run, the practice of exporting your team to other parts of the business makes it much easier to achieve alignment. From your own perspective, this approach is simply good business. An added benefit is that you have also provided the avenue for a broader understanding of the manufacturing world by other functions.
By applying this leadership philosophy with your people, you create an internal company reputation as a functional employer of choice, as well as a developer of future leaders. But with the "old school" approach of nailing someone's shoes to the floor, you greatly limit your impact. Worse yet, you risk talented internal applicants viewing a job on your team as a road to nowhere.
Teach your employees what questions to ask, give them better tools to do their job, and then get out of the way as they excel and have the chance to pursue exciting leadership-track opportunities in other parts of your organization. I've found it tremendously satisfying to know that I had a hand in helping create better all-around executives and leaders. In the end you will experience the same reward in knowing that a "little bit of your approach" is also moving on.
What's your leadership legacy? Are you measuring yourself only on how you meet deadlines and make your budget? My challenge is to broaden your perspective. Consider how many people you have developed who were promoted into other parts of your company. Even with the greatest technology, best equipment, and marketing prowess that money can buy, at the end of the day it's our talent that makes an organization grow and makes it world-class.
This article was first published in the January 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine.