Effective leadership is about deeds, not words

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Liz Skelton, Chartered Member and vice president of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH), played a part in judging the TMMX Awards. She shares her thoughts on what it takes to be a good strategic leader.

It might not appear obvious at first, but a successful manufacturing operation can learn a lot from Team Sky.

Liz Skelton, chartered member and vice president, IOSH.
Liz Skelton, chartered member and vice president, IOSH.

When the British professional cycling team was set up in 2010, its main strategic vision was to win the Tour de France within five years.

Fast-forward to 2015 and the team have not only won the Tour de France once, but three times.

Key to their success was an unwavering dedication to implementing a philosophy of marginal gains.

Everyone in the team, whether they were a rider, manager, mechanic or medical professional, bought into the vision and explored in minute detail where performance could be improved.

When combined, all of these minor gains served to help catapult the team ahead of its opponent, with Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome reaping the rewards of the team’s cumulative efforts.

I believe the same philosophy can be applied in other walks of life, and especially in business.

As part of the judging panel for the TMMX Awards’ Leadership & Strategy category, I was able to see first-hand, UK manufacturers benefitting from sharing this belief.

We visited each of the seven nominees to assess their business strategies, in particular looking at their culture around safety and health, and for examples of inspirational leadership.

IOSH PQ Dec 2015The nominees were a real mix of SMEs and big organisations which specialised in a variety of traditional and modern-day manufacturing processes.

We learned from senior management about each business’s strategy, how it was implemented throughout the company and the end results. There were some great examples of businesses walking the talk. As one nominee told us it is about deeds, not words.

Generally, the visibility of the business’s strategy was crucial in ensuring that everybody across the board knew what the vision was.

Some of the nominees used great visualisations and real-time information on the shop floor to get across to workers how their performance contributed to fulfilling the business’s goals.

The firms also took behavioural safety seriously and appreciated that general risk management plays a part in shaping any strategy.

These companies had a clear understanding of the difference between risk and opportunity, and how some risks can be made into opportunities. They also had an end point to their strategies, and knew how to get there.

IOSH Link Dec 2015The key thing for me is that a business strategy has got to be more than just an appreciation of lean manufacturing.

It shouldn’t just focus on how the business can achieve better productivity, but should look at all facets of operations.

Being involved in judging the TMMX Awards has left me feeling hopeful about the future of British manufacturing.

I saw businesses with strong strategies that embraced opportunities for good quality and innovation.

If every SME could take on board some of the lessons learned from the companies we visited, then UK manufacturing will be in a much better place