Navigation SearchNavigation ContactNavigation Products
Leader Pulse
Leadership ideas, trends, and smarts

A Systematic Approach to the People Engine

By Jill George, Ph.D.

Jill George, Ph.D

If your operation typically thinks of HR as “touchy feely” or whom they should contact when a manager wants to “send people off to that training course,” consider this: HR has been steadily becoming a strategic asset to manufacturing operations, moving away from simply being overhead or the gatekeeper of people transactions. World-class manufacturers who outperform their competitors better leverage talent across the employee lifecycle and talent pipeline, from CEO to production team members,  thus achieving better results, such as an additional $35,000 in revenue per employee and 20 percent faster inventory turns.


How do they do this? With a systematic approach to the “people engine.”  As anyone in manufacturing knows, you don’t run your equipment at half capacity and expect to achieve your production numbers. Similarly, manufacturing operations with production teams and leaders who are not ready, or who don’t have the skills they need to perform against future challenges, are in essence running their people engine way below capacity.

How can you tell if your operation is running the people engine at partial capacity? Below are several behavioral examples:

  • Workers slow the line down because they don’t have the skills to keep up.
  • Machines are down much longer than they need to be without collaboration and partnerships between material handlers, operators, and maintenance.
  • Product is scrapped because of simple or easy-to-fix errors in automation that are left unaddressed.
  • Leaders are overwhelmed with too much capacity, too much span of control (ratio of production workers to leaders), and not enough skilled problem solvers who “own” the line and the production capacity/quality metrics.
  • Leaders spend too much time in HR’s office, trying to determine how to resolve performance problems, rather than resolving them quickly on the line.
  • Line changeovers take more time than they should and create confusion.
  • The Director of Operations is not an advocate of worker and leader readiness.  In fact, he/she may undermine efforts to train or cross train talent, using time off the line as the reason.

A Better Way: World-class manufacturers get results by using a systematic approach based on the science of Industrial Psychology and research-based approaches, not unlike the engineering discipline. Key hallmarks of that approach include:

Success Profiles That Are Future-Focused.Today’s strategic HR ensures tighter alignment between the people engine and the production strategy by using well-defined competencies that are in line with production metrics and relevant to each person’s role level. When implemented properly, success profiles can be used as a metric against which every individual can be selected, developed, and evaluated fairly and consistently. And, they help translate your organization’s values into expected employee behaviors on the line or in support of the line.

High-Quality Hiring and Promotion based on competency and dispositional data that are required for success in the job based on the future-focused job profile. Manufacturing operations make thousands of hiring and promotion decisions every day, but it’s not often easy to select the right person for the job who also fits the needs of the business. You must strike a balance to identify candidates who will not only “fit,” but also grow, lead, and drive performance—now and in the future. Best-in-class manufacturers gain cost efficiencies with the right selection strategy and tools, and therefore make high-quality, cost-effective talent acquisition decisions for their operation.

Accelerated Development. The quality of your people engine—from production team to first-time supervisors to middle managers to senior executives—determines the success of your production system. World-class manufacturers achieve results with a research-based approach to leadership development: leaders who not only improve their essential skills, but transform the business by driving more productivity, engagement, and customer satisfaction. Operations achieve the best results by using a formula of team, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills along with technical skills for production team members, leveraging repeated reinforcement and application to the actual job over time. For leaders, accelerated development includes skills to build an engaged workforce, such as communicating with impact, coaching, resolving conflict, delegating with purpose, and building partnerships, all of which would include on-the-job application, building skills over time.

Plant executives closest to world-class status believe that human resources is important to plant success (76 percent rate HR as “important” or “highly important” versus 53 percent of those furthest from world-class). What result could you achieve with more strategic HR talent practices that increase talent readiness and rev up the people engine?

View all five of the Plant Leadership Series Infographics.

Jill George, Ph.D., is DDI's Manufacturing Practice Leader.

Posted: 17 Jul, 2015,
Talk to an Expert: A Systematic Approach to the People Engine
* Denotes required field
Consent to DDI Marketing *

I consent to DDI emailing me, collecting my personal data, and processing that information in the provision of services and for the purposes of marketing and research. I am aware of my rights and the ways in which my data will be used as referenced in DDI’s Data Privacy Policy. I am aware I have the right to revoke this consent at any time.

Please enter the number this image
 Security code