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It’s Not Just What You Know, It’s Who You Grow

Posted By Jeff Moad, January 27, 2014 at 7:13 PM, in Category: Next-Generation Leadership and the Changing Workforce

What are the key metrics that your company uses to measure the performance of its senior manufacturing executives?

Traditionally, the performance yardstick for most manufacturing executives has revolved around operational processes and outcomes and the ability to do more with less. Greater output using fewer people and less inventory.  More efficient use of plant and equipment. Less unplanned down time, and greater quality.

 And there’s no doubt that most manufacturing executives continue to be judged based on their ability to measure up to such operational expectations.

But, increasingly, I’m hearing from top leaders that they have added another metric for assessing the performance of their executives: How effectively they develop the leadership capabilities of the employees who report to them. Several members of the Manufacturing Leadership Council have recently told me that they have added mentoring and leadership development to the  criteria used to evaluate their executives.

Why the big focus on requiring executives to take responsibility for developing the leadership capabilities of the folks who report to them? Several reasons, I think. First, manufacturers tell us they are increasingly operating as globally disbursed enterprises in which work is done and decisions are made in a collaborative fashion by cross-functional teams. This means that leadership—particularly the ability to quickly coalesce teams around important decisions—is more important than ever. And it’s more important for these skills to permeate manufacturing organizations. It’s no longer enough for leadership capabilities to be concentrated at the top of organizations.

At the same time, the generational shift that is rapidly changing manufacturing cultures will require senior executives to embrace the role of mentor and teacher. In survey after survey, millennials—people born between 1980 and 2000—say the thing they value most from a job and career is the opportunity for continuing growth and professional development. According to a recent survey of millennials by human resources firm Jumpstart: HR, the opportunity for growth and professional development is a higher job priority even than compensation, benefits, and employer brand. Employers that fail to bake mentoring and career development into their cultures will watch the best and brightest look elsewhere for employment.

And, third, the kind of formal, highly structured management development systems once made famous at companies such as General Electric are no longer in place at many manufacturing enterprises. Instead, employees focused on continuous learning and the management track have little choice but to find a mentor in their immediate supervisor or elsewhere.

As Monique Valcour, professor of management at EDHEC Business School recently wrote in the HBR Blog Network, “Gone are the comprehensive career management systems and expectations of long-term employment that once functioned as the glue in the employer-employee contract. In their place, the manager-employee dyad is the new building block of learning and development in firms.”

Unfortunately, many senior manufacturing executives also tell us it can be very challenging to focus managers on mentoring and the development of leadership capabilities in the people working for them. Very often, senior executives say, the VPs and general managers under them say they don’t have the time to identify subordinates who have great potential and to mentor them.

No doubt those VPs and GMs have a good point. Keeping global networks of plants operating at peak efficiency is a full-time job and then some.

But I suspect there’s more to it than that. Most manufacturing executives have become successful thanks to their ability to master more traditional operational management skills, not based on their ability to teach or mentor others. So it’s quite possible that, for a culture of mentoring to take root, first the mentors will need to be mentored.

Written by Jeff Moad

Jeff Moad is Research Director and Executive Editor with the Manufacturing Leadership Community. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Awards Program. Follow our LinkedIn Groups: Manufacturing Leadership Council and Manufacturing Leadership Summit

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Posted on
A wonderful presentation, but one that particularly resonates with companies such as ours with about 50 employees, because the life blood of creating the tribal knowledge in our crafted manufacturing process can only come through the mentoring process and the buy in by those doing the mentoring. Similarly it is critical to develop our management culture through the same mentoring process with internships in order to ensure that all segments of our organization live in and buy into that company culture.
Posted on
Jeff, engaging and growing employees is certainly a hot topic, particularly since Fred Reichheld and others have shown how this drives competitive advantage and profits. I was wondering what your perspective was on a more systematic approach, which is what open book principles provide. When I was working with Southwest Airlines and BHP Billiton, both were interested in applying open book to help their employees get a better understanding of the business, and by doing so, help them improve results. Like many small to mid-sized companies I have worked with, the results were very good.
Certainly having executives take personal responsibility for the growth of their employees is good. But it struck me that one way they could do this is by providing more transparency and economic understanding by applying open book principles. A recent Harvard Business Review article that John Case and I wrote provides one facet of this: http://blogs.hbr.org/2013/12/a-winning-culture-keeps-score/ What is your perspective on open book management, as a tool to grow employees?
If you would prefer to respond to me privately, my email address is bill.fotsch@openbookcoaching.com
Posted on
Hi, Bill.
Thanks for your comment and the link to the Open Book article. I agree that transparency and a focus on the right KPIs can go a long way toward aligning interests and affecting behaviors.
But I'm not sure that this principle applies very well when it comes to mentoring. There, transparency is vital. Mentors and proteges need to be able to honestly discuss and learn from failures as well as successes. But I'm not sure the mentoring process can be helped by focusing on a single KPI. The development of leadership qualities and thinking seems a bit too multifaceted for that.
I would be interested in your thoughts on this.
Thanks again.
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