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A New Way Of Looking At Manufacturing Leadership

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Formulating a leadership strategy centered on agility, strategic thinking, and the development of talent should be at the top of manufacturing executives’ agenda as the sector continues to pull itself out of the depths of the economic downturn of recent years, a leadership guru suggests. “To me, those are three leadership elements that are really going to make a big difference,” Gail Angelo, an ICF certified coach, skillful strategy consultant, and catalyst for personal, professional, and purposeful transformations, says. “These are important leadership themes, particularly in manufacturing, where they are coming out of a very, very difficult time, having to figure out how they want to create a future that is now very distinct from their past,” she adds. Here’s why manufacturing executives should pay close attention to what Angelo says: Before starting her consulting and coaching practice, she held human resources positions in the consumer products divisions at a pair of food manufacturers that are household names, Nestle and Frito Lay. “Believe me, I have been on the floor, on third shift, many times,” she tells Leo Rommel of Industry Today.“I really like the pace of manufacturing as well as the integration of different functions and roles to bring quality products at a reasonable price straight to the consumer.” Today, Angelo operates a coaching and consulting firm with clients of varying company sizes, including numerous Fortune 100 companies. Deloitte, for instance, is one of them. “I love working with leaders who are navigating change – that keeps me pretty busy given the increased rate and complexity of change in the U.S. economy,” she says. “Organizations today are experiencing increased globalization, changes in technology, regulatory changes and the threat of gaps in skilled labor. Just about everybody is looking for more efficient and effective ways to anticipate and deal with change.” Manufacturing leaders included, she adds. “What is required, first and foremost, as manufacturers are coming out of the downturn, is developing a culture centered on agility, one that is able to not only navigate change but to anticipate change,” Angelo says. “I was reading a magazine the other day about the top 10 skills that make for great leaders, and the first skill listed was the ability to adapt to change.” “In my experience working with people, adapting to change is a reactive response,” Angelo says. “Being agile in my experience, is being able to anticipate change and proactively take action to reduce risk, and to make the most of opportunities in what will inevitably become the “new normal.” With regards to manufacturing in particular, Angelo says: “The one change was the economic downturn, and the new change is how we want to be coming out of it. What got you here won’t always get you there. Leaders will determine what the new age in manufacturing will look like. They will chart the course. They will influence the way in which the organization responds (versus reacts) operationally, inspirationally, and innovatively. She adds: “Leaders and their teams can benefit from asking themselves, ‘What is the story that we’ve been telling about this organization? What is the story we want to tell going forward?’” It’s from that question that leaders begin to really create and define that bigger purpose and the direction that they want to go, Angelo says. “The clearer leaders are in communicating that purpose, the stronger the foundation for navigating change,” she says. A Tip For Engaging Employees Management welcoming change is one thing. Implementing it, especially among employees, is another. But Angelo has a proven recipe for success in that. “I often use the inner action model,” she says. “It is called “inner” action because it requires not just action, but reflection on three specific areas: how do you as leaders connect, engage, and impact? From a connection standpoint, how do you connect and get your teams inspired?” First is to be clear about what the desired vision and outcomes are and where you are headed as an organization, Angelo says. “Often times people resist change, not because they are afraid of the change but because they are not really sure about the direction they are going,” she says. “There hasn’t been a clear enough definition for them. What looks like resistance is often times simply not knowing enough.” Another way to keep teams inspired and to engage them is to “play to their strengths, the strengths of individuals, of teams, and of the whole organization,” Angelo says. “Look to those pockets in the organization that were successful even in challenging times. Determine how you can begin to take some of what worked for them and replicate it more broadly across the entire organization,” she adds. “Create those quick wins and then be sure to market and celebrate them internally.” Playing to people’s strengths and collaborating more broadly is what will inspire followership and help sustain a sense of commitment and ownership within the organization, she adds. “Consider how you are leveraging your talent,” she says. “Connect with their minds, by clearly communicating vision, direction and expectations. Engage them by leveraging their strengths and passions. Seek and create opportunities for people to collaborate across functions. The results are higher levels of of engagement for maximum impact.” The Value In Strategic Thinking Equally important to agility is strategic thinking, Angelo says. That includes being able to think long-term in terms of how you can create and deliver a competitive advantage in the marketplace, she adds. “Be clear about your market differentiators,” she explains. “How are you different than your competition? How are you using those differentiators to increase market share? “That strategic and long-term thinking for competitive advantage is critical,” she adds. Another form of strategic thinking includes attracting and developing talent, according to Angelo. In essence, how can organizations “begin to identify ways to provide broader and richer experiences for their leadership potential in the work that they are currently doing?” she says. The learning that has the greatest staying power is not necessarily formal classroom learning, she adds. It is experiential. “How can you identify those individuals with leadership potential and give them opportunities to test it, and grow?” she asks. “How can you partner those with leadership potential in a mentoring experience so that they benefit from the wisdom of the more tenured talent?” Here are a few solutions: consider a strategically important initiative, a task force, or a special project as a development opportunity, she suggests. “These provide platforms where these high potential people can really engage with a different set of people in the organization for different perspectives on strategic and innovative solutions,” she says. Furthermore, one of the best ways to attract talent is to give them things to be attracted to, like a professional and leadership development culture, she says. “Manufacturing organizations must provide employees with opportunities to learn and grow professionally if they are to have the pipeline they need for sustainable success.” The talent development strategy has to be something that goes above and beyond your usual performance review. “An effective talent development strategy is holistic – building technical, operational, relationship, and leadership skills,” she says. “It provides opportunities for employees to increase their understanding of the business and its issues as well as broaden their networks and capabilities.” Angelo adds, “Leaders with a focus on increased agility, strategic thinking and talent development will be the ones to steer their organizations and the industry successfully through its renaissance in these times of increasing change and complexity.