Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinner: Lead Huskies

Posted on 8 Mar 2013 by The Manufacturer

Talent is a stretched resource in UK manufacturing, but there are techniques which can help to maximise its potential. Industry leaders at a Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinner swapped tips on how to leverage lean thinking for more strategic HR and human capital management.

“At Toyota, my mentor met me on my first day in Japan and worked alongside me for five years – even moving back to the UK with me when my job relocated.”

This was the insight given by Mark Gregory, now head of transformation and engagement at BAE Systems but previously of Toyota and then Ford.

His point was this: UK manufacturers tend not to be brave enough in dedicating time and senior resource to the continuous development of leaders within their organisations. Without demonstrating commitment, from the top down, to succession planning Mr Gregory says talent, and therefore productivity, will remain sub-optimised.

In a word, Gregory sees sustainable productivity as reliant on ‘engagement’ – an overused term in management mantras, but one which Gregory insists is at the heart of efficiency tool kits like lean.

“The vast majority of businesses still try and ‘implement lean’ as a productivity proposition,” observed Gregory as he kicked off debate over dinner in Birmingham. “What they need to realise is that lean is first and foremost an engagement proposition – the engagement leads to productivity.”

Gregory’s insight is far from being fluffy consultant talk. He has years of experience in operations roles applying the principles of the Toyota Production System, including a three year project which made substantial savings on the manufacturing costs of the Typhoon jet at BAE.

He is now responsible for consolidating BAE System’s federated HR services into areas of synergy to create a rationalised shared service for the business. “It’s very enjoyable for me, coming from an operations background, to work with HR. It’s a little bit less enjoyable for them,” he joked to fellow forum members as he spoke about the challenges of using lean principles to elevate HR from a back office function to one which is central to delivery of business strategy.

Strategic HR

BAE Systems is not the only business going through this process. According to a recent Aberdeen Group report, Human Capital Management Trends 2013, 55% of surveyed companies said HR was repositioned in 2012 to become a more strategic business function and is now critical to growth plans.

Experiences and opinions shared at this Manufacturer Directors’ Forum dinner corroborated the trend. Vic Bellanti, CEO of specialist chemicals, sealants and coating company, Norman Hay, shared that his company had recently elevated the HR manager role to director level.

It is perhaps surprising that it has taken so long for manufacturers to realise the potential power of linking HR with business strategy. The industry is deeply concerned by its skills gaps but, until now has often ignored the opportunity to link recruitment, training and succession planning with productivity data and growth strategy.

Attendees at this forum event observed that this can, in part, be attributed to a communication gap between the engineers and finance professionals who tend to drive strategy in manufacturing firms and HR. “We like to see everything in terms of metrics and equations” said one guest. Whereas talent development is often driven by difficult to quantify characteristics – work ethic, confidence and, critically, leadership.

Systematising talent management

With most guests at this dinner coming from large organisations with less flexibility to act on the instinct of a small leadership team, conversation turned on the feasibility of creating a human capital management system which could allow HR to capture both perspectives – progressing both technical and management talent into positions where individuals will feel their skills are valued and make a difference.

Understanding what information such a system should capture, in what format and who would need to access it is something of a holy grail for software company Oracle who sponsored this dinner.

“We can all be guilty of focussing on transactional business data to make decisions,” observed Guy Cunnington, HCM lower case director at Oracle. “But we need to give more time to factors like talent and I believe there are real opportunities to capture information about talent and use, for example, predictive analytics to help a business understand what changes are needed to grow in an identified strategic direction.”

“Highly skilled engineering professionals expect and deserve professional management” – Peter Bowler, Group Human Resources Manager, Renishaw

While there was little experience among guests of using tailored IT systems to manage talent along these lines, there was plenty of insight into a variety of competency frameworks for talent management. It was admitted by all that these tended to be paid lip service and the leaders present were largely dissatisfied with their effectiveness. One framework for leadership development identified by Peter Watkins, global lean enterprise director at GKN, intrigued other guests however. “When I worked at [automotive supplier] ArvinMeritor we had a progression system based on the coaching abilities of individuals,” he explained. “You could only progress to a new role once you had successfully coached a proportion of you team in certain capabilities and behavioural standards. And it was those being coached who judged the success of their coach – not an external observer. A leader had to have the support of their team behind them to gain promotion.”

The challenge of trying to systematise deployment and development of talent was agreed by all to be complex but full of potential value creation. Key factors in successful human capital management emphasized the importance of respecting the ambitions of individuals and appreciating the reactions of different teams to different types of leadership style.

While social media was discussed as a means for large organisations to efficiently gain visibility in these areas, face to face meetings and appraisals were generally felt to remain an essential element in talent management. Jo Lopes, head of technical excellence at Jaguar Land Rover also stressed that defining a process for talent management – as with any operation or function – requires stability. He shared useful insight into the way in which Tata ownership, despite the diversity of the business, has brought this stability to JLR.

Professional approach

Many different definitions and characteristics of effective leadership, and the influence this has on business performance, were swapped over the course of dinner but one in particular seemed to resonate. “We look for the lead husky,” said Peter Bowler, group HR manager at metrology firm Renishaw.

“A lead husky will be the most adept. It responds to the calls and direction of its driver to lead the pack from the front. It puts in as much, if not more effort, as the team behind it to get the sled to its destination.”

How does Renishaw find its lead husky’s? Mr Bowler says the firm uses a number of recruiters, but in essence talent management relies on the company’s lack of hierarchy, on a “very short chain of command”, and on the culture defined by its family run publically owned management history. Professionalism in human capital management is a core value for the company, “Highly skilled engineering professionals expect and deserve professional management,” Bowler summed up.

The Manufacturer Directors’ Forum

TM’s Directors’ Forumis a growing community of manufacturing leaders who regularly meet at regional dinners to discuss shared sectoral, regional or strategic business challenges.

If you are interested in being invited to a forum event or have a discussion area you would like to see raised at a forum dinner please contact Grace Gilling ([email protected]) on 0207 401 6033.