In manufacturing today, internal and external forces are creating massive upheaval and transformation. Workers on the factory floor aren’t the only ones who will need to develop new skills and shift their mindsets to navigate the changes. As such disparate forces as the pandemic, climate change, technological advancements, and supply shortages transform the industry, manufacturing managers must get comfortable challenging the status quo and driving innovation as well.
Doing this will mean challenging typical hierarchies that separate frontline employees from manufacturing managers and working to create a more agile, adaptable structure that’s ready to face whatever new challenges may come. For those stuck in the status quo mindset, this can be easier said than done. Leaders have not always considered change management in the manufacturing industry a top priority, but it’s more critical than ever in today’s rapidly evolving landscape.
3 Manufacturing Management Skills to Drive Innovation
To drive change and help your company keep up amid rapid digital transformation in manufacturing, focus on developing these top skills:
1) Learn to experiment.
Adaptability and experimentation go hand in hand. To be agile, you must be willing to try new things and learn from your failures. Experimentation is, after all, the scientific method in action – it’s how innovation happens.
Of course, failing productively is not usually something that’s built into a typical engineering environment. If you want to become a business known for innovative manufacturing, however, you’ll need to get behind a more experimental methodology that will change how you and your team think and operate. Experimentation should expand beyond the technical side of things to include operations and methodologies as well.
For example, as advancements in machine health technology free up technicians’ time that was once spent on diagnostics or time-based maintenance, managers can experiment with reallocating workers’ time to new and higher-value tasks. Or, as technology can help you right-size storerooms for better inventory management, you can experiment with leaner operations to reduce costs. Experimenting on both the technical and operational levels will help you learn what works and what doesn’t on a faster timeline and push you to continue to evolve and grow as a company.
2) Form valuable alliances.
In an unstable and uncertain environment, you need all the support you can get. The right alliances can mean the difference between falling behind or keeping up with the evolution of manufacturing.
Understand that you’re a part of a larger change within the ecosystem of manufacturing. Your experience is best put to use when combined with the experience of other leaders in the industry. You must find opportunities to collaborate and figure out how to solve problems that are bigger than just one manufacturer. For example, managers can join online forums with other people in the industry to ask questions, discuss best practices, or brainstorm completely new approaches.
This type of alliance is still fairly rare in industrial companies, but that’s beginning to change. As more leaders recognize the importance of change management in the manufacturing industry, companies are forming more alliances with competitors and similar companies to learn from one another and drive change. The question for you is whether you want to be part of these alliances or on the outside looking in.
3) Recognize the people who drive change.
Workers who think outside the box and tinker with current processes have traditionally been seen as annoyances. But these people who challenge the status quo are those who are most comfortable with uncertainty and exploration, and they will be more important than ever for the future of manufacturing. A key manufacturing manager skill will be recognizing the change-makers and putting their talents to proper use.
That’s not to say you should turn your entire manufacturing team into disruptors. You’ll still need people who can make sure things run steadily. Find a balance between the two so that they can complement each other’s strengths. Encourage your experimenters to do what they do best while the other half of your team keeps the machine well-oiled and operational.
The faster managers can create positive change, the faster their companies will become more agile and the better able they’ll be to adapt to a new and changing manufacturing environment. Challenge the status quo and open your mind to lead the charge for innovation in manufacturing.