Written by Jeremy Praud, Head of UK & Europe at LI Europe.

When we talk about continuous improvement in manufacturing, our thoughts often jump straight to operational processes. However, we also need to invest in continuous improvement of people too, especially ourselves.

A solicitor must keep up to date with new laws and changes to legislation in order to stay effective. A doctor must keep abreast of changes to medical procedures so they can continue to offer patients the best possible care.

In the same way, manufacturing professionals must stay up to date with changes within their industry. This applies to technological advances, industry regulations and methodologies for achieving operational excellence. Managers also need to continually build on their management and leadership skills to ensure they can motivate and lead teams effectively.

The world is constantly evolving and with it the workplace. The manufacturing industry has certainly advanced in the last century and the rate of advancement is rapidly increasing.

Technology has seen the most obvious progression, but management style has also seen some major shifts. There was a time when employees were trained to be seen and not heard. They arrived, did their work and, if they were lucky, went home with all their limbs at the end of the day.

Fortunately, most companies have now realised that productivity is greatly increased if employee wellbeing is taken seriously. They have also found that their employees often have the best insights into how operations can be improved.

The point is that things change; something you learnt ten years ago may have been innovative at the time, but may not be best practice, or even good practice anymore. If managers aren’t investing in their own personal development, then they will eventually become ineffective.

It’s not just new skills that need developing; refreshing your existing skills and knowledge is just as important.

Knowledge can fade with time, especially if we aren’t using that knowledge on a regular basis. Think about a book you have read more than once – it’s highly likely that you picked up on things when you read it the second time that you missed on the first read.

Our brain is like a computer and just as a computer needs regular updates, so does our mind. Too many managers spend all their time developing their people and processes that they neglect their own development. Ever been too busy to read a new research paper on health and wellbeing at work, or to attend a management course, or to improve your knowledge of a new piece of equipment? These types of task may not be urgent, but they are important.

Our Ambassador Academy is an opportunity for manufacturing professionals to meet monthly to share best practice. This is an ideal opportunity to work on your own personal development. You can learn about training opportunities, new technologies and management techniques, as well as hone your lean tools skills.

If you’d like to know more about this opportunity, visit our Ambassadors webpage.

Written by Nathanial Marshall, Practitioner at LI Europe

When a business is not performing as efficiently as it could, it can be tough to work out where to make immediate changes for the biggest impact. Knowing which order to do all the important things is difficult.

We had a case where a client restructured four times within eighteen months. During that period, several individuals managed the operations on a temporary basis with varying levels of support. Each had their own view of how the operations structure should be and where CI fitted into it.

As a result, the business went from having no CI resource to having a dedicated CI team. The impact on resource to focus on CI was good, but did putting people in a role for focus on continuous improvement fix the site’s problems and guarantee results?

In a case like this one, what impact does restructuring have on the consistent execution of strategy? How does it impact the front-line management team who cannot develop their teams effectively without knowing how long they will be working with them until the next restructure?

Is changing a management structure to improve bandwidth and provide dedicated resources to CI really the path to achieving sustainable results?

The answer is both yes and no. Yes – because the operational structure is important and will have an impact on results. No – because focusing solely on one element of your business won’t create sustainable improvements.

We believe the key to unlocking productivity improvement is the OPEN process.

The OPEN process works on the basis that it is better to be effective in all areas rather than ineffective in some and world-class in others.

Why focus on building an exceptional organisational structure, but not set clear KPIs? Are well-structured weekly meetings effective if nobody is collecting data or following up on actions?

In our OPEN process, each element is scored by colour with effective being green, good practice being silver and best practice being gold. FMCG factories should aim to get every area green and then work towards turning them silver and gold.

But surely this brings us back to our original point about not knowing which order to do all the important things? If you have multiple areas that are in the red, which do you focus on first?

That’s why we’ve designed our FMCG Academy. It works by allowing you and your front-line teams to audit each area. By involving front-line teams, you get a true insight into which areas are ineffective. You might find that some of the results surprise you – areas you thought were under control might actually be areas that need attention.   

Not only does the FMCG Academy give managers an insight into the views of the front-line teams, it also improves employee engagement and educates them around elements of continuous improvement. We believe that knowledge of operational excellence and world-class manufacturing shouldn’t be limited to the realm of the few. Our objective is to promote productivity improvement by sharing good and best practice with everyone involved in running a factory. 

You can find out more about our FMCG Academy by signing up to access our free version. This will give you an insight into how it works and whether it is right for you.  

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

The CIPD and Simplyhealth 2019 Health and Wellbeing at Work Report found that stress is one of the top three causes of short-term absence and that the second biggest cause of workplace stress is poor management. With that in mind, it is essential that businesses are investing in their managers.

Think about the best manager you ever worked for. What was it about them that made them such a good manager?

Were they invested in your development and success? Did they teach you more than any other manager? Did you feel as though they understood you, had your back and wanted you to reach your potential?

When we think about who we viewed as good managers when we started our careers, they are usually the people who had great leadership skills and lots of emotional intelligence. They were the people who got the best from us, inspired us and taught us.

Do we think about the manager who was really efficient at filling out forms? Do we rank our managers by how good their paperwork was?

Probably not.

Yet, when companies promote employees into management roles, they usually promote those who are good at the ‘doing’ work. When they train managers, they usually train them on processes and policies and systems. Emotional intelligence is difficult to quantify, so it often gets overlooked.

And therein lies the problem. Managers need both technical skills and emotional skills to be effective at motivating and managing their employees. It’s not enough for them to understand the systems and processes; they need to know how to engage the teams so that the teams are motivated to do the work.

The question is, can we teach people the soft skills needed to motivate and lead?

It might not be entirely possible to teach empathy, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t areas that can be improved. Developing soft skills such as conflict management, active listening, communication, time management, assertiveness and delegation will help build the confidence and self-awareness needed to be an effective leader.

These soft skills should become part of every manager’s personal development plan. Just as they need to keep their technical competencies up to date, they need to continually build on their emotional skills too.

The Ambassadors Academy gives manufacturing professionals the opportunity to share best practice and learn from each other. This is a chance to discuss technical aspects of manufacturing as well as to learn how to implement changes effectively using soft skills to engage and motivate teams.

If you’d like to know more about this opportunity, visit our Ambassadors webpage.

Written by Erica Bassford, Head of Aspire, LI Europe Ltd

Despite the doom and gloom so often reported in the media, UK manufacturing is not getting worse. The problem is that when the media talks about the manufacturing sector, it focuses on jobs, whereas when it reports on the financial sector, the focus is money.

Despite widespread perceptions, UK manufacturing is thriving. The UK is currently the eighth largest manufacturing nation in the world. Manufacturing makes up 11% of GVA and 44% of total exports for the UK. It also directly employs 2.7 million people.

It is true that output and productivity have flattened since 2007. There is a productivity conundrum, not just in the manufacturing sector but across the whole economy.

This lack of movement has been widely attributed to a decline in skilled workers and a decrease in employer-investment into training and development. However, while skills are an important part of enabling productivity, it is unlikely that this is the primary cause for any stagnation.

None-the-less, measures have been taken to address the skills shortage in the hope that this will drive up productivity.

One major initiative is the apprenticeship schemes which were put in place to combat poor productivity and the decline in employers’ investment in training. Unfortunately, the frameworks that were in place didn’t always result in the apprentices gaining the skills they needed to actually do the roles.  

In 2017, the Department of Education implemented several changes. The purpose of these changes was to ensure apprenticeships better served the needs of employers as well as improving the quality of training for the apprentices themselves.

Reforms were also introduced to make the programmes more employer-funded. Under the scheme, businesses that have a pay bill of over £3 million pay into a levy. The amount of funding you receive towards the training of an apprentice depends on whether you pay into the levy or not.

This is supposed to encourage businesses to run apprenticeship schemes so they can, in effect, reclaim their money from the pot. It acts as motivation for companies to upskill new and existing employees as they are already paying into the levy.

It all sounds great in theory. Unfortunately, the take up by employers has not been as high as expected. Since the funding reforms were introduced, there has actually been a decline in the number of people starting apprenticeships.

Anyone who has read about the Israeli Nursery Study in Freakonomics probably isn’t surprised by that.

So, what is the problem?

One reason is the risk of no return. While funding is available for training and assessment, there is still a big investment of time required to train apprentices. Employers must allow for 20% of the apprentices working time to be allocated to off the job training.

Apprenticeships are well tailored to large manufacturers who have high demand, but smaller manufacturers miss out because they do not have the scale to set the agenda. 

The FMCG Sector has many smaller manufacturers, but relatively few different technologies.  This makes it ideally suited to benefit from apprenticeships, but it requires collaboration between smaller manufacturers to set the curriculum, where historically there has been none.

FMCG manufacturers together are bigger than aerospace and automotive combined, and yet, current apprenticeship schemes do not adequately meet their needs. The FMCG academy exists to promote the needs of those thousands of small FMCG manufacturers.

Written by Jeremy Praud, Head of UK & Europe at LI Europe.

Imagine walking into your favourite coffee shop, and when the barista asks what you would like to order, you simply say ‘a drink’.  

How many questions would you have to answer before you got the drink you wanted? Hot or cold? Tea or coffee? Milk or cream? Any flavouring? What size?

You probably wouldn’t be very popular with the barista or the customers waiting in line behind you.

Now imagine the barista doesn’t ask any questions. They just pour you a drink of their choice. They are giving you what you asked for, but will it actually be what you want? How many coffee shops would you need to visit before a barista correctly guesses which drink you want?

It sounds ridiculous, but quite often, this is exactly what happens in a business. A target is set, such as ‘reduce waste’ or ‘increase sales’, but no specifics are given. The employees are left to work out for themselves what is required.  And, just as each barista would make you a different drink, each employee would approach your request in a different way.

Let’s take reducing waste as an example. If there is no specific target for how much we want to reduce waste, some employees might aim for 1% reduction while others are striving for 25%.

There will be differences in how this is delivered. Some employees might decide to simply manipulate the figures so a reduction can be reported. Others might spend longer carrying out tasks to ensure less waste, but this could result in a lower output.

You may also find employees focusing on different types of waste. Some will be reducing time wasted, others reducing materials wasted, and others reducing the number of products that don’t meet quality standards.

In all the above examples, every employee is giving you what you asked for, but not all of them are giving you what you actually want.

When it comes to reducing waste, we need to be clear what type of waste we are reducing – is it giveaway, packing waste, effluent or process, or something else? We need to know the reasons for loss and set specific targets by each reason. 

Unspecific targets with the wrong measures result in the wrong behaviours, and this is detrimental to the business.

That’s why specific improvement strategies are so important. It’s not enough to just ask for a reduction, increase or improvement to something. You need to set specific targets for what that reduction, increase or improvement will look like, and be clear on how that should be achieved.

So, when it comes to setting targets and measures, be specific. Don’t just order ‘a drink’, make it clear what you want and how it can be achieved. Encourage the right behaviours to get the right results.

If you are open to sharing your experiences and learning from others about creating specific improvement strategies, why not come along to our Ambassadors Academy.

The Ambassadors Academy is a monthly event for ambitious manufacturing professionals concerned with driving productivity, in all its form. If you’d like to find out more about the Academy, visit the Ambassadors webpage.

Written by Jeremy Praud, Head of UK & Europe at LI Europe.

Very rarely do we embark on a long car journey without doing some planning. The first step is usually planning which route will be most efficient. We take into consideration the time of day, the amount of traffic, the terrain and other factors, then select the most appropriate route for our needs and the capabilities of our vehicle.

We decide what time we want to arrive and what time we need to set off. We calculate how much fuel we’ll need, and check our vehicle – tyres, engine, oil, water – to ensure it is fit for purpose. Then, throughout our journey, we check we’re on track by consulting our dashboard.

Our vehicle dashboards provide us with lots of essential information. We can see how fast we are going, how far we have travelled, whether we have enough fuel to complete our journey, whether our vehicle is safe to drive.

Information from our odometer and speedometer allows us to calculate our expected time of arrival. Warning lights give us the opportunity to adapt our plans to ensure we can still complete our journey. If we are running low on fuel, we schedule a fuel stop.

Every instrument on our dashboard provides us with key information to ensure we complete our journey safely and successfully. We are so used to having this information to hand that we take it for granted and barely give a thought to how important it is.

If we think about it, our dashboard can teach us valuable lessons about how we track things in our business to ensure we meet our goals safely.

Planning an improvement strategy is like planning a long car journey. You need to plan how you will arrive at your desired destination and what you will measure along the way to ensure efficiency.

In the same way that a car tracks safety, speed, distance, fuel and RPM, manufacturers need to track safety, quality, delivery, cost and engagement.

Without tracking every area, we can’t tell if success in one area is compromising another. If we only measured the distance our car had travelled, we wouldn’t know if we were driving at a safe speed. In business, if we only tracked sales and not cost, we wouldn’t know if we were making a profit.

It sounds straightforward, and the theory behind it is. The problem is that businesses often become so focused on improvement in one area that they forget to pay attention to another. It’s like watching your speedometer so closely that you forget to check your fuel gauge.

Goal setting is all well and good, but there must be appropriate KPIs to measure along the way. Otherwise, it’s like just getting in your car, setting off and hoping that you’ll reach your destination at some point. You could quite easily end up driving around in circles or running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.

Rather than simply picking a destination out of thin air and hoping for the best, plan your improvement strategy. Then decide what your business dashboard will look like to keep you on track. Like a car dashboard, employees should become so used to having that information to refer to that they can interpret the data and adapt accordingly without a second thought.

If everyone understands the destination and how to get there, then the journey will be more enjoyable. 

Download our TIP Card to help you plan your Journey.