I first met Tom when he and his wife Mary having a heated discussion. We were all at a dinner party together. Tom had been quiet and distracted during the evening, and annoyed Mary, who felt he was not present.
Tom could only mutter was that he was up to his eyeballs in WIP. He couldn’t get the next product onto the production lines because of the congestion. Mary’s parting comment as she stormed off was for him to be more mindful and not bring his work baggage to this party.
I felt for him, having been in similar situations more than once during my corporate career. So, a bit later in the evening, I asked if I could visit him at work to see if I could learn anything from his operation.
I got to the factory a little early on the morning of the visit and settled in at reception. A young lady approached me saying Tom sent apologies she would take me on a tour of the facility. We entered the production area where pallets of product lined the passages. I started to get a sense of Tom’s dilemma and asked staff what their problems were? Waiting on Quality Assurance, they are never happy!!! We can’t move product into the warehouse because it’s full. 2 lines on Changeover. Engineering are struggling with a breakdown while we’re trying to run new packaging. Planning keep changing the schedule. Worst of all, we set up line 1 only to find there were packing materials shortages.
After an hour or so in the plant, we went back for coffee and a chat. They had laid on great biscuits, but I had lost my appetite. Tom had arranged a chat with his team, so we chatted while waiting for him. I quizzed the team members who turned out to be from all the problem areas. They each had sad stories of their own. I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was listening to the same war stories I had heard numerous times in various settings, the stories however followed the same theme Frustration!!!
Tom never made the meeting. He called me later to apologise and we agreed to meet for coffee the following week. Tom was already there when I arrived, still looking harassed. We chatted about the weather until he was more relaxed and comfortable with me. I used the opportunity to contract with Tom, guaranteeing full confidentiality.
Tom broached the subject of work. I let him vent his frustrations, all the while assessing his truth with that of his team. Listening to what he was and wasn’t saying. Tom had been with the Organization for five years and considered a future leader. He had worked in various support and line functions as he progressed through the organization. This was his first opportunity to lead an operations team. His responsibility included the supply chain, manufacturing and packing operations and engineering support.
In a nutshell, Tom felt his team was short on skills. They didn’t understand the fundamentals of business or running a factory. He had to make all the decisions and no one would move without his say so. I agreed to coach him in creating a plan to reduce short term pressure and buy him time to resolve his bigger issues.
We compiled a list of basic information he needed to bring to our next discussion. Performance metrics, Inventory levels, Customer Service level. Our next meeting would be at his plant to have resources at hand in case we needed clarification.
Reflection and preparation for the next session
I am amazed at how few people understand the laws and principles of Supply Chain and Operations. I see this time and again in business, especially where staff have been grown from within. Succession is a great policy. It should make an organization stronger because of the depth of Intellectual property. The problem is, we forget to educate and train our staff so they can perform in these new roles when we promote them. This leads to sub-optimal performance and very often destroyed careers.
As I prepared for our next session, I reflected on Tom’s approach and his skills set. Questions on how to change his mindset and use this to change and motivate the team was first on my agenda. We would then start looking at his team, how they currently perform as individuals, and as a department.
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