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How to Make Smart Manufacturing Smarter

By Jill George, Ph.D.

Jill George, Ph.D

On a recent trip to a major auto parts manufacturer, a senior HR person there brilliantly summed up what amounts to years of frustration for many of us. He said, “When it comes to technology, we will do anything to work smarter, not harder. But when it comes to our own leaders or HR practices, we only work harder, not smarter.” We then talked about examples of working “harder” instead of “smarter.”  When I asked his team, “How often do you have supervisors coming to you saying they can’t address poor performance? How often do you have production workers slowing down the line speed?” Their response? “Every day.” In fact, according to our 2014 Global Leadership Forecast manufacturing report, Only 37 percent of manufacturing leaders rated overall leader quality as high, giving manufacturing a last place finish among industries (see figure below). Talk about a key defective core component!

How to Make Smart Manufacturing Smarter

I say his statement is brilliant, not only because it is spot on, but also because it points out what is hiding in plain sight. That is, that the biggest opportunities for cost savings and revenue generation that manufacturers have are in the quality of their leaders, not just the quality of their parts and processes. Many manufacturers will spare no expense, spending millions to get the best technology to work “smarter” only to waste more millions by failing to apply their lean or supply chain methodologies to people and talent as they routinely do to material, machines, and processes.

So, why don’t manufacturers apply lean principles to the quality of their team leaders, supervisors, and managers so that they can have smarter HR practices and better financial outcomes?  Common reasons are that HR practices, such as improvements to leader quality, are difficult to standardize, reproduce consistently, and monetize.  How is it that manufacturers with high leadership quality and engagement are nine times more likely to outperform their peers financially (DDI GLF, 2014)?  What if you could get significantly higher financial payoffs using better leadership practices?

The answer is not difficult. You have the power to work smarter by managing talent, your biggest source of cost reductions and productivity gains, just like you manage your supply chain. Given your investments in technology and materials to work smarter, optimizing the quality of your talent supply is your best remaining strategy for improving productivity, quality, and competitiveness.

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

Want to learn more about Manufacturing’s Talent Supply Chain? Download the manufacturing industry report of the Global Leadership Forecast 2014|2015 by DDI and The Conference Board—and get 10 proven talent practices to improve cost and increase growth.

Learn how DDI’s Manufacturing practice can help you optimize your talent for the success of your business.

Posted: 10 Apr, 2015,
Talk to an Expert: How to Make Smart Manufacturing Smarter
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