Leadership: Putting Insights Into Action – July/Aug 2022

Top 10 Tips: Successful manufacturers get things done.

By Paul Hogendoorn

I’m continuing the Top 10 Tips gleaned from successful companies and leaders that I’ve worked with over my 40-year career. Although the two Tips shared in this column (Tip 8 & 9) are very similar and intricately related, they are also critically distinct.

The first tip comes from something someone said to me many years ago in a non-manufacturing context, but it is something I have observed plenty of times in successful manufacturing operations. It was said by a colleague on a church board many years ago, as the two of us were assigned yet another task (on our already compressed personal schedules). He said: “if you want to get something important done, then ask a busy person.

Here’s why that’s a great tip. Truly busy people in manufacturing have a knack for getting things done – that’s why they’re busy people. They are not looking to put new things on their list but instead are trying to find the quickest way to get an item off their list. Yes, there are people in manufacturing (like everywhere in our society) that know how to make themselves busy or keep themselves busy, but successful company leaders innately know the difference between routinely busy people and truly busy people that get things done. How do I know this is true? Easy. A task that is critical and really needs to get done seldom gets assigned to a person with a track record of managing never ending projects that seem to go on and on, they get assigned to people trusted to deliver an outcome. Without even deliberately knowing they delegate tasks in this way, they do. The truly busy people get assigned the important tasks because the expectation is that they will get the task done, while the routinely busy people have a knack for keeping visibly busy (and therefor important) by keeping projects open and problems unresolved. Truly busy people know how to delegate, when to stay out of the way, and when to roll up their sleeves and just do it themselves. Their focus is getting the important tasks done and making themselves less busy. Routinely busy people are looking to remain busy (or important), and often without knowing they are doing it, they keep tasks open and keep themselves positioned as a critical communications conduit; they resist closing the task out to get assigned another task, or worse (in their minds), have no important task assigned to them. Truly busy people don’t have this aversion, because as soon as they have any bandwidth at all, other important tasks are assigned (or reassigned) to them. What I’ve observed over the last 4 decades is that most progressive company and department leaders already instinctively know this, they just aren’t aware of it. The key is to not burn out your truly busy people, but instead, let them graduate up the ranks as they succeed, confident that there is another high achieving candidate ready to follow their lead and fill their shoes.

The second tip comes from someone I was also on a board with. We faced many challenging situations together, some big, some small. His closing mantra was “leaders find a way.” And indeed, they do. The leader is not the person with the position or title, or the education, or the letters behind their name. The leader is simply the person that finds a way when others don’t or can’t. In all of our workplaces, there are many people that can point out the reasons why something can’t get done, and in fact, we often admire, empower, and even promote individuals that have great abilities to foresee or articulate problems that others can’t see. But how does that get a company ahead? At best, it keeps the company from going backwards – but it doesn’t pull the company forward. Not going backwards does not equal going forward. Many managers are to some degree inclined to keep companies from going backwards, but leaders are more often inclined to find a way forward. There are leaders in every organization, in roles up and down the org chart. In the most successful organizations I have encountered, the people that find a way (leaders) are supported, encouraged, and appreciated. In less successful organizations, the folks that have a knack of finding a way become discouraged and move on. If a leader’s true role is to develop new leaders, the company’s culture will foster and encourage its people to imagine, plan and persist – to find ways to move forward, and not just prevent ways of moving backwards.

This is a key differentiator that I’ve observed that sets succeeding and thriving manufacturers apart: they build on the people that take them forward. As they empower, enable and grow those people, they build their businesses.

Who are those people in your organization – the ones that find a way and get things done? Are you building on them?