The Top 10 Lessons for a Future Plant Manager

by Henning O. Bruns, General Manager, Cleveland (NC) Truck Plant6/14/2017
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Like a plant in a garden, the working culture of a manufacturing plant also needs nurturing. The challenges of keeping employees working productively and the plant running smoothly are typically unique to the manufacturing world. During my 26 years with Daimler Trucks North America I have ridden the waves of business fluctuations, and I have had the opportunity to play a key role in keeping the culture and camaraderie evolving to keep engines and trucks rolling down the production lines.

With that in mind, I wanted to give you my Top 10 List of Lessons Learned for Future Plant Managers.

10: Be honest to your whole workforce. Do not paint a rosy picture in challenging times. Setting an early baseline and being transparent on your expectations will be hard in the beginning, but it will earn you necessary respect later.

9: Keep building your knowledge and the team’s. All efforts could be in vein if the leadership team is lacking essential knowledge. If any of the critical leadership functions is lacking knowledge that can only come from first-hand professional experience, ensure that changes are made swiftly. The more your leadership team that is armed with knowledge, the more you can rely on them and free up your own time for more strategic decisions.

8: Know Your Numbers. Track your key performance indicators (KPIs) every day and be fully transparent about them. Nothing can be more derailing when in times of crises and quick judgement, you are not able to clearly identify the root cause of a deviation. Therefore, maintain a daily and specific tracking of your business metrics. Share trends with the whole workforce via daily dashboards.

7: Partner Closely with Union Leadership.  Even though Management and Union Leaders have different constituents, they are business partners and share the common cause of wanting the business to flourish. Teaming up middle managers with their union-counterparts creates joint accountability, and achieves deeper understanding of underlying targets and close partnership.

6: Have a Vision. Be clear on what success looks like and communicate that regularly and consistently to the team. Involve hourly team leaders in discussions around leadership principles, and encourage a true grass roots movement of team-driven continuous improvement. Challenge the status quo.

5: Cruise the Shop Floor. Practice daily shop floor management to be in the details and embrace every opportunity to talk to team members on the 'Gemba', a.k.a. the shop floor. Be authentic and show genuine interest in their expertise by working the lines and getting familiar with their processes.

4: Host an Open House. 'Close the loop' by receiving suppliers and fleet customers at your plant as well as do accompany new truck deliveries to dealers to understand potential damages during transport. This will build close and trustful plant – dealer-customer relations.

3: Drive Efficiency through Line Balancing. The nature of manufacturing is the constant quest for top quality products build at highest efficiency. A stable cycle time allows for continuous streamlining of work processes aiming at optimal equalizing of workload ‘peaks and valleys’. Cumbersome visualization of value-add and NVA tasks has been replaced by modern tools, providing Standard Work and Yamazumi charts at lowest effort. Openly communicate the need to drive efficiency by reducing work processes. Our employees do understand that optimization is a necessary part of the company’s ability to stay competitive.

2: Coach the Team. Ultimately focus on your people and coach them to become better leaders. The better leaders support their people in their professional growth, the more they will feel empowered and accountable for their operational targets. This leadership development should aim at reaching all the way to the hourly team leader level.

1: Encourage Balance. Everything in moderation. Ensure a healthy balance of work and life, of accomplishment and challenge, of new technologies and traditional standards, of pride and humbleness. A plant turnaround will certainly require intense times of work. However a stable and efficient plant run will only be feasible with a well-rested and motivated workforce.

Our truck plant in Cleveland, North Carolina has come a long way over the years. It has transformed itself into a modern workplace with highly accountable team-members and a perceivable sense of Great Place to Work. Our team is proud about the change, because it reminds us of what is coming down the road into the future – more success.

Henning O. Bruns General Manager, Cleveland (NC) Truck Plant

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