Manufacturing Today – How Managers Can Strengthen Their Teams & Culture

Simon Plimley worked at Allied Colloids, which became CIBA, then BASF undertaking a wide range of roles in over 30 years including Project Manager, Production Manager and finally Head of Production for 2 UK sites. Now a senior trainer for Dale Carnegie, he works with organisations such as Nissan, North East Automotive Alliance, VEKA and Lifterz supporting their leadership strategies and changing mindsets within their middle and senior manager groups.

In this article he looks at the changing roles of manufacturing managers and how the manufacturing industry can prepare itself to ensure its future longevity and success.

What’s the biggest change you see in manufacturing today?

When I started in manufacturing back in the 1980’s it was very much a ‘tell’ environment. Managers made all the decisions and the workforce followed strict instructions.

Nowadays, to be more productive in leaner, flatter structures, staff are encouraged to take on more responsibility, work flexibly, provide suggestions and work in teams. To do this, leaders need to create the right environment for their teams to feel comfortable and want to work in this way.

 How can manufacturing leaders manage change in today’s ever changing landscape?

Historically there has been a lack of trust between management and the workforce in manufacturing organisations. This created resistance and made change more difficult to implement. To overcome this and facilitate change, firstly we must build trust through being visible and open in our communications. We need to deliver on our promises and let everyone know that we care about them and the impact the change will have on them. Only when we have done this, can we present our vision for the change and expect our workforce to buy-in to the positive benefits.

In your opinion how important is a forward thinking culture in manufacturing?

Changes in technology has had a massive impact on manufacturing during my lifetime and there can be resistance to the introduction of new technology, particularly in an ageing workforce. If we can create the culture where innovation is seen as an opportunity and not a threat, then this will enable swifter and smoother transitions. To do this, our people must have trust in us and know that they will receive the required training and support as required during the change.

How in your opinion, how does manufacturing help the local economy for Bradford?

The growth of Bradford as a city was predominately due to textile manufacturing in the 19th century. However, as the demand for local textiles fell during the latter part of the 20th century many other manufacturing industries grew in their place, in particular chemicals, and more recently high tech companies. Research by Bradford Council shows that 25,000 people are employed in manufacturing companies in the district and this accounts for 13% of all employees (compared to 8.3% in Great Britain as a whole). Therefore, Bradford is one of the districts where manufacturing has a biggest impact on the local economy.

Apprenticeships are becoming more popular in manufacturing, how do you think this will change manufacturing for the better?

With the changes in technology over recent years, the skills required in manufacturing have changed significantly. From my experience, in the 1980’s employees were recruited based on their physical strength, their timekeeping history and whether they already had a relative at the company! Nowadays we need people who can operate sophisticated machinery, can fault find and can undertake a broader range of tasks. With a structured apprenticeship programme, building these skills and knowledge can be accomplished, whilst the apprentice is earning money and making a contribution to the company. Apprenticeships can also assist in raising the profile of manufacturing – helping school leavers understand that the conditions within the industries have moved on significantly in recent years.

What’s your top tip for strengthening teams in Manufacturing?

Leaders need to engage with their people as individuals, not just as employees. This means making everyone feel valued, treating them with respect and being open and honest. When we role model these behaviours, others will copy and the culture will start to change.

What’s the link between output and people when it comes to manufacturing?

As leaders, we need to ask the question – are our people working for the company, or for me as their line manager? If it is the latter, due to the strong relationship we have with them, then they are likely to be more engaged, flexible, feel empowered to resolve minor issues and willing to go the extra mile. I believe that the link between output and the people is massive, and if we can create a positive environment through our leadership, we can tap into the potential for making step changes in our output.

 Free resources/guidebooks to help improve culture and strengthen teams:

Transforming Attitudes and Actions

Resolving Internal Conflict

Leadership Coaching Guide

How to Provide Feedback Without Insulting Your Workers

Preparing People for Success in an Era of AI