It’s often said, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression." This adage may be a cliché, but it carries with it a great deal of truth. And, this is especially applicable to plant managers during their first three months on the job. Whatever impression a plant manager makes during the critical, initial 90-day period can easily spell the difference between success and failure of that person’s tenure.
Below are five "must-do" activities that new plant managers should build into their initial plans to ensure everything kicks off in the right direction. Of course, specifics for each task will vary according to the particular position, industry, business situation, and size. Nevertheless, completing these activities will go a long way to helping every new plant manager succeed.
1) Introduce yourself and be visible
Get started on the right foot by introducing yourself to as many personnel as is possible, and try to remember as many names as you can. One of your first tasks is to hold a company-wide meeting to introduce yourself to the entire plant, give a brief overview of your background, and present a broad outline of your strategy and objectives as you envision them.
These wide-ranging plans should be consistent with the directions given by your hiring committee or manager. This is also an excellent time to announce any changes in responsibilities that have already been made. Be sure to quell any anxiety about layoffs or personnel changes.
2) Gather first-hand information
During the first ninety days, it is vital to spend 70-80% of your time out on the plant floor. Be visible as much as possible and in all plant areas. This is the time to meet operators, learn about their jobs, listen to their complaints, and begin developing a list of problems and possible solutions.
During this time, it is crucial to project honesty, integrity, trust, and expectations. If you will have an open door policy discuss with the employees. Hold meetings with small groups by department or manufacturing lines, ask for suggestions, and reinforce the company’s strategy and objectives. If small, easily solved problems are identified, these should be fixed immediately.
As you circulate through the plant production areas and departments, consider creating a SWOT analysis ( strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats.) Above all, listen to your employees, who will appreciate that you care about their particular situations and concerns. Pay particular attention to equipment utilization due to equipment failure. In many plants, the lack of adequate maintenance planning and execution offers significant opportunity for both quick and long-term improvements which can significantly lower operating costs.
3) Study and understand plant financial data
Meet with accounting, finance, and sales personnel to review and understand the plant’s financial data. It is likely that during the hiring process you were advised of the plant’s overall economics, but now is an excellent time to look at the data itself, how it is collected, the components used, and overall financial KPI trends.
Data such as margins, costing, overhead, sales, customer satisfaction, WIP, inventory turns, and other vital measures should be reviewed. This is also a good time to delve into the details, as these figures will not only be a part of how you will be measured but also are critical indicators of plant performance. Understanding their composition and interpretation will help your decision making.
4) Study and understand plant operating data
Ask each employee about their jobs, how it is done, what their goals are, what their problems are, and what suggestions they have for improvement. Develop an appreciation for the contribution each position makes to the overall objectives of the plant. For support departments such as maintenance, understand the processes used to identify and correct equipment malfunctions, what systems are in place to prevent breakdowns, and the kinds of records kept.
In conjunction with operating managers, review operational KPI’s to understand their construction, sources of data, how data is collected, current levels and trends, and history. Is schedule attainment declining or improving, is equipment downtime getting worse or better, and is quality at an acceptable level? These and other operations characteristics should be understood.
It is likely that during the interview process, the selection committee laid out some specific or general goals and objectives for the plant as a whole. Understanding plant operating data (such as OEE) and KPI’s will help support your plans to reach the specific targets set by upper management. Visits to the lines will help you gain an understanding of where, how, and who collects this data and adds fresh insight into exactly what these numbers represent.
5) Initiate improvements
Before the ninety days is up, you should take action to address some of the problems or seize some of the opportunities identified earlier. It is likely that some small or easy to fix problems were brought to your attention. These should be corrected immediately. Doing so will demonstrate to your employees that not only were you actually listening but that their suggestions were taken seriously. This is the sort of first good impression you should strive to make.
There are many important plant operating measures that should be analyzed and tracked such as quality levels, inventory, equipment capacity utilization, and others. And, there are many great solutions which can be implemented to bring about improvements. For example, computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) tools can be installed to help a plant manager reach company goals. Predictive and preventative maintenance is especially important if the plant maintenance department is being reactive rather than proactive. A predictive maintenance program can make your problem list shorter and your plant financially stronger.
Getting off on the right foot as a plant manager is critical to long-term success. Making a good first impression is one of the most important steps a new plant manager can take. Employees may be apprehensive about a new ‘’boss” so it is critical to get to know people and to listen, listen, listen. Getting a good start means taking those steps necessary to communicate you’re serious about helping the plant and its employees prosper.