Whether you are a seasoned manufacturing leader or this is your first day on the job, you can start doing these 5 things immediately. 

Your manufacturing leaders can easily get caught up in the firefighting and problem solving all day every day. After an entire week of running from one issue to the next, it can feel like you didn't make any progress on your long term goals. Manufacturing leaders are constantly in a state of chaos, but adding some structure to the day will help you prioritize long term goals in the midst of the madness.

Here are 5 things your manufacturing leaders should do every day:


1) Walk the floor

Leaders should walk the floor every single day. Your employees want to know that you care enough to put on your PPE and walk out on the floor to talk to them. The goal for this walk is to listen to the people on the floor. Doing this everyday will make you in touch with your teams on the floor. Meeting them where they are gives them a chance to show you something on the floor that is causing a problem or that is working really well. 

  • Block time on your calendar in the morning before you can get pulled into a meeting or issue
  • Switch it up and go see different areas each day - word will get around that you are walking the floor, and all of your employees deserve to be heard. Don't just go out to the area that is closest to your office, but instead go out to the edges of the operation and work your way back to your desk.
  • Don't make empty promises: when you say you will do something, you must follow through

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2) Have a safety conversation

Your time spent on the floor is a great time to have a safety conversation with someone. Your team needs to know that you prioritize safety, and the only way they will care about safety is if you care about it. This means that you need to spend time talking about safety everyday. 

  • Pick a common safety outage and talk about it everyday. For example, if people are forgetting to wear ear plugs in the area, you should comment on ear plugs with every person. Thank the people who are wearing their ear plugs. Confront the people who are not wearing their ear plugs. Don't walk around with them in your pocket, you are doing the work for them! Instead, offer to watch their machine while they go get a pair. You won't have to do this several times, they will get the point.
  • Ask an employee to tell you a safety story from their last shift. If they can't think of a way they had to consider their safety, then they aren't putting safety first. You can help them by asking them to recount a safety example.

3) Ask about yesterday's results

The crux of any good continuous improvement operation is to understand what happened yesterday and determine how you can do better today. Asking about results when they fail to meet the goal is a given. You should also ask about them when they do meet the goal. Ask about what happened right yesterday and how to repeat it. The team needs to know what they are accountable to deliver.

  • Pick a couple of really important metrics and follow up on them everyday. Your team needs to know what is most important and be able to spend extra focus on those items.
  • Ask about what went right, not only about problems and issues
  • Thank someone for doing a great job. Reward behaviors that are important to your business, perhaps someone fixed a small issue before it became a really big problem, those are the kind of behaviors you should reward. If you always reward the team member that rides in on a white horse and fixes a big problem, people will let small problems become big problems so that they can get the credit. Focus on your employee's strengths to connect with them best.

4) Follow up about something

You want to build trust between your team members and yourself. In order to do that, you must do what you say you are going to do. If you are starting your floor walk for the first time, people are interested to see if you will stick with it. If you see something on your walk and say "I will follow up about that," you must follow through or you will have lost all credibility. As the leader, your job is to help people succeed by eliminating barriers. You can influence others differently than your team on the floor just by making a phone call or walking to talk to another leader. When you see an opportunity to make an impact, use your power to your teams advantage.

  • Start small - pick something that is "low hanging fruit" to follow up about and circle back to that person to make sure their issue is resolved
  • Follow up when the employee says that they are going to do something - Encourage your team to fix issues that you know they can do themselves. If a team has the full capability to do something, don't do it for them. Instead encourage them to do it themselves and then come back the next day and ask how it went. 
  • Ask about the top loss - Have something that is consistently preventing you from meeting your goals? Ask about the top loss for the last month. Even if it wasn't the top issue yesterday, you can still learn something about what went right yesterday, and people will know you still care about the big issue.

Related: Tips to improve your loss tracking

5) Meet with someone one-on-one

The best way to stay in touch with your employees is to set aside time to meet with them away from the manufacturing area or the lunchroom. Spend time one-on-one with your employees on a regular basis to show them that you care about their work. If you aren't ready to commit to recurring one-to-one meetings with your team, that's okay. You can start small and meet with a few people each week. Or if you are ready to tackle a bigger commitment, you can set a goal to meet with every single employee.

  • Pick a non-threatening environment to have one-on-one time. Get out from behind your desk and put a round table in your office or grab an open conference room to make sure the conversation is open and that the power structure is not a barrier
  • Don't avoid the squeaky wheel. If you start avoiding certain team members, they will notice and be even louder and squeakier about it. Instead, use their influence to your advantage. Invite them to meet first and have a productive conversation with them, and they won't be able to complain that they didn't get the opportunity.