Over the course of our combined 50-plus years working in manufacturing, we’ve worked for, with or have visited hundreds of manufacturers of all sizes and types. This only goes to point out that we’re getting older. One of the few advantages to getting older is that we’ve noticed some things … one might call it experience.
Ours is the type of experience that comes not just from getting older, but also by not being in any one place too long, as opposed to the type of experience you get by doing the same thing in the same place for an entire career (which is actually one year’s experience, repeated 40 times). On a good day, we’re able to decipher, distill and draw on this experience to help our clients achieve the success, or avoid the failures, of some of the companies to which we’ve been exposed.
One thing we’ve noticed is there seems to be some common traits of most high-performing manufacturers. Now, we fully recognize that there are people who are a lot smarter than us and who have done much more extensive research into what makes up a high-performing company, so please, take this for what it is, only our observations.
These are the 10 traits we’ve noticed high-performing companies have in common.
Engaged leadership with a commitment to excellence
Lead by example, instead of managing by intimidation. Set big goals, but not so many you can’t be successful, and stay committed to achieving them. Understand that failure is a necessary part of success. Create a culture where everyone’s contribution is important.
Systemic Continuous Improvement
Every company says they want to improve, just like every NFL team says they want to win. But only a few create a system that produces results. Real improvement doesn’t occur by accident, it doesn’t happen in our spare time, it takes planning and commitment to execute.
Culture of engagement
Everyone wants to be part of a winning team, and everyone wants to feel their contribution matters. If people look at their job as only a paycheck, it’s because that inner desire to be part of a winning team has been driven out of them.
Culture of accountability
Accountability is usually seen as punitive: “I’m going to hold someone accountable!” Truth is, we all need accountability; it’s what enables us to look ourselves in the mirror. Helping someone be accountable, when done properly, is not only good for the organization, it’s good for the individual. By the way, owners of small businesses need accountability more than most, and are the least likely to have someone who helps them be accountable. If you’re a small business owner who wonders why that’s important, see number 1.
Relevant, actionable metrics/KPIs (key performance indicators)
What’s the point of watching a game, let alone playing one, if you don’t know the score? People need to know what the score is … now, not last month. They need to understand what the score means, and they need to know what they can do to affect the score.
Invest in the business (people and equipment)
Yes, you can run a profitable business being the low cost leader, you just won’t have any fun doing it, and you’ll never be a high-performing company.
Effective use of information
We operate in an age where we are overwhelmed with data, and are able to make good use of only a small fraction of it (“water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink”). Invest in information systems and reporting dashboards. Make data-driven decisions.
Effective capacity management and scheduling If you’re building the same widget for the same customers at the same rate, you can ignore this one. For any custom manufacturer, this is probably the number one issue we hear. It is one of the keys — the holy grail of high-performance manufacturing.
Efficient, well defined processes
Most companies have either:
a) Poorly defined and understood processes which overly rely on “tribal knowledge,” or
b) Overly constrained, burdensome processes which limit individual contributions and organizational performance.
Purposeful and planned communication
Manufacturers are an action-oriented lot, they’re doers. With that comes the fact that most manufacturers spend far too little time communicating within their organization, and even less time planning what, how and to whom they communicate. Communication needs to be a key element of your strategy, with the same level of planning and focus on implementation as other aspects of strategy.
So there they are. In no particular order, other than the order they came to mind. Oh, there is one more common trait of high-performing manufacturers: They’re willing to take an honest look at themselves and make the necessary changes. So, the real question is, what will you do with this list?
Doug Bengson, manager – operations consulting, with Schenck SC, has nearly 30 years of experience leading improvement initiatives and providing consulting for companies in numerous industries. He provides practical expertise in Lean Enterprise implementation, leverages technology to improve business processes, and provides coaching and training in leadership, communication and life skills.
Kevin Shaver, director – operations consulting with Schenck SC, has more than 30 years of large-scale business process re-engineering. He has extensive experience working hands-on in manufacturing environments to improve processes for greater profitability and efficiency.