In Manufacturing Output Metrics Are Everything … Or Are They


These three elements were identified as core takeaways by speakers in a Legitimate Leadership webinar on leadership opportunities in manufacturing and other environments on 5 May 2022. There were 31 attendees.

Taking the three …

  • In pursuing continuous improvement, the temptation is for leaders to divert into getting a better computer system or putting people on more training courses. In reality we will get better results if we hold people to the standards that already exist and engage their will. In this, the leader has to have the COURAGE of his/her convictions. Being a leader is about insisting on holding high standards for yourself and other people around you. Sometimes it’s a lonely place to be.
  • Leaders have a CHOICE to spend their time on leadership issues and if they do, it yields great results.
  • Patience and PERSEVERANCE are needed. You can put these crazy ideas in people’s heads but you absolutely have to invest the time and effort in showing them how to actually use their time effectively, showing them good leadership practices. You have to persevere through the ups and the downs.

The webinar was part of a Legitimate Leadership series of webinars to bring experience-based, practical insights to leaders in organisations.

Ian Munro of Legitimate Leadership, the convenor of the webinar, said: “In manufacturing, a lot of time is spent talking about dealing with the challenges of automation, the increasing legislative environment, sustainability, etc.

“But this webinar is not about those things. This webinar is about leadership opportunities.

“For those who aren’t in the manufacturing space, these ideas will also apply in other environments with slight adaptation – please engage us about that.

“We are going to talk about things like output metrics and how a change in focus might be an opportunity for some organizations. We are going to talk about things like the role of human resources (HR) and how shifting perspective on it might be an opportunity to excel and build sustainability in your organization. And we are going to talk about how seeing continuous improvement through a different lens might be a good idea for your organization.”

Below are excerpts from the webinar.

JOSH HAYMAN, ASSOCIATE, LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP: “The coach is at the game and the score is definitely on the board but what the coach should not do is spend 90 minutes staring fixedly at that scoreboard. What the coach should do is put all of his/her attention on the players. The coach should do that to understand what s/he can do in terms of coaching action to help those players play a better game.

“What the coach absolutely should not do is run onto the field and kick the ball when the results are under threat. Yet that is often what we as leaders do when our results and our output metrics are under threat.”

IAN MUNRO: “I buy a cell phone and it stops working after three days. I take it back to the manufacturer, who says, ‘It doesn’t matter that it is not working because we have fantastic trust in our organization. And we have really high standards, and nobody got hurt in the production of your phone.’ I respond, ‘That’s all well and good but I want a phone that works.’

“Shareholders have a similar perspective.

“There is no doubt that both customers and shareholders have their eye on the results, on the outcome. So internally, how do we focus on the things that matter in order to get the results for them?”

MANDISA SELOANE, HR EXECUTIVE, ISANTI GLASS, SOUTH AFRICA (A GLASS CONTAINER MANUFACTURER WHICH IS A CLIENT OF LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP): “One of the roles that we have played as an HR function in Isanti has been diagnostically in identifying organisational issues, as well as watching market issues (watching what the market is doing so that we can remain relevant and address the opportunities).

“One of the opportunities that became apparent for us as part of this Legitimate Leadership journey was the opportunity for leaders to reclaim their responsibility for people – basically, for leaders to lead. Part of that is that leaders and HR should work very closely together. We know of the long-standing tensions in the relationship between the two in fighting for space in the leadership of people in the organization. But I am a firm believer that people leadership is the responsibility of leaders. HR plays a support role, a coaching role, for all stakeholders, including leaders. That’s exactly the role that we played.

”So what did that look like for us?

“We had a number of challenges – culture, ownership and accountability. We had quality issues and persistent low efficiencies. We could not get our heads around fixing these problems.

“There was a lot of focus on the results. We were a classic example of why focusing on results is actually not a very effective strategy – a case study for the Legitimate Leadership Framework.

“We embarked on this journey with Legitimate Leadership. The thing that stood out for me the most is in all the sessions, all our leaders understood what the problems were. The outcomes were the issues around quality, efficiencies, safety and housekeeping incidents – but at the centre of all of it was leadership issues.

“There was a pervasive trust deficit which had been there for a long time and we were not getting our heads around it. There were confrontational relationships with the unions – it is a highly unionised environment. For instance, because of the trust deficit we couldn’t go to the plant without making an appointment and notifying the unions. We were received with suspicion.

“Thanks to the Legitimate Leadership intervention we have institutionalised that as a habit and we are now more welcome. We are not where we want to be, but we are now received with much less suspicion.”

Q: GRAHAM FERHSEN, FOUNDER AND CEO OF NOVO, AND A ‘FRIEND’ OF LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP: “It sounds like it was a long journey, that it was ongoing, it was repeating itself despite your desires to change. Could you identify a moment at which it became crystal clear for leaders, and that collectively the leadership team in Isanti said, ‘Now WE need to change?’”

MANDISA SELOANE: “Before we embarked on the Legitimate Leadership journey there was appreciation that there needed to be change. It was just not ‘I MYSELF need to change’.

“I think a lot of the realisation for many of the leaders in the initial two-day Legitimate Leadership workshop, with all the gems that are dropped in there, enabled us basically to look in the mirror.

“Although there was then still some reluctance to take responsibility, there were more of us then who actually saw the picture. However some managers were going along just because we collectively decided after the two-day workshop that we were going to do the process.

“So there wasn’t one moment when all of us went, ‘Ah, I see it’. There were different stages of the process when a number of us would catch that aha moment. Then it snowballed.

“As more of us were rolled onto the framework and were seeing the impact of what was happening, as we implemented the tools that Legitimate Leadership gave us, that helped more of us to get on board.”

GRAHAM FERHSEN: “Mandisa’s insight – that it is a journey – is helpful. You don’t get everybody on board at once. But what you do need to realise – and I think this is the thing that is often most difficult for leaders where I work one-on-one as a coach – is that that it takes time to build a new lexicon of language around what leadership is. Leadership is a $90 billion business that’s been selling people ideas for a long time and there are many ways of thinking about what leaders are, what their jobs are.

“Until you have a shared view of it, you can’t change. So what I take from Mandisa’s answer is that there was a slow journey to getting everybody to have a shared view on the mechanics of leadership and that some experimentation had to happen on the way for them to see the return on investment. But once that happened momentum obviously became their friend.”

SEAN HAGGER, EX-OPERATIONS LEADER, JOHNSON MATTHEY AND NOW A UK-BASED LEGITIMATE LEADERSHIP ASSOCIATE: “If we go back to the matter of focusing on outputs instead of inputs, in the continuous improvement world, in the operational excellence world, it is well documented that the best thing to do is to focus on what goes in. Then you will get good outputs on the back end.

“But people get in the way and you end up in high-pressure situations, with customers shouting at you to get things out of the door. So you end up changing your behaviour, abandoning the things that you actually know work well. You end up stepping onto the football pitch and playing the game.

“And manufacturing specifically does attract particular types of people – engineers and mechanically minded people – who themselves go (onto the pitch) and try to solve the direct problem to get the KPIs back on track.

“When you’ve done that many times over many years you realize that on average it hasn’t made any difference. So you start appreciating that maybe you’re not doing what you should be doing.

“That’s where I think Legitimate Leadership made a massive difference to my leadership style – in that it is so important to give people the tools to carry on and do the right things when you’re not there.

“The only way you can do that is to engage their will so that they are wilfully doing the best they can do.

“And in my experience I’ve seen that occur best when leaders start to focus on standards.”

IAN MUNRO: “Sean, do you see luck as playing a big or small role in manufacturing?”

SEAN HAGGER: “It plays a big role. There are all sorts of factors out of your control and if you’re in a high-mix environment (lots of different products) that’s even more so.

“You’ll never know when the next power cuts come. Or who could have predicted Covid for instance, and the impact that that had on businesses?

“You’re never in control of these things. So you have to have this faith or belief, and that belief is strengthened by seeing the results going in the right direction – that if you continuously focus on improving the people on the pitch rather than continuously focusing on improving your systems, that will yield better results in the long term.

“The temptation is to get a better computer system or put people on some more training.

“In reality what we need to do is hold them to the standards that already exist and engage their will. But when standards start to drop because we’re not brave enough to do this – and you think ‘oh we’re being nice to everybody and we’ve got a high-care environment’ – morale also drops. You end up in a vicious circle – your results are going in the wrong direction, as is morale. Yet you think you’re doing the right things.”

IAN MUNRO: “So what is each person’s premier takeaway from this?”

SEAN HAGGER: “It is courage. You have to have the courage of your convictions. Being a leader is about holding high standards for yourself and other people around you. Sometimes this is a lonely place to be and what you’ve got to do is have that faith in yourself and in your methodology and stand your ground for the things that you know are right – even when you’re under pressure. It will bear fruit for you in the future.”

MANDISA SELOANE: “It is a choice. Leaders have a choice to spend their time on leadership issues and if they do, that yields the best results from my experience.”

JOSH HAYMAN: “Coming back to Graham Ferhsen’s point, patience and perseverance. You can put these crazy ideas in people’s heads but you absolutely have to invest the time and effort in showing them how to actually use their time effectively, showing them good leadership practices. It takes time and you have to persevere through the ups and the downs. That’s how you get better at doing this.”