If there is one thing I have learned in my career, it’s the importance of spending time walking the manufacturing floor and talking with people.  I was fortunate to have bosses, and managers explain the importance of this simple but effective concept early in my career.  Early in my career, I even remember questioning the importance of walking around, thinking that strategy and data analysis was more important.  While these activities are also critical, they are even more effective when combined with floor time.

As I progressed in my career, I found that I enjoyed being on the floor, talking with people and having me become part of the solution.  You read this correctly for me to be part of the solution.  Stop and think about your organization, which is filled with many great people.  As you think through the people, you will probably come across names that have been doing their jobs for long periods of time.  These are your true experts.  They have been through it all, management changes, good times and bad times, economic challenges, etc., and they have continued to keep performing.  Additionally, these are the ones who have all of the answers and can solve your most challenging questions, all you have to do is ask them.

Some of these experts may be too humble to get involved; when they do, you may have difficulty openly praising them.

So, as you look at your organization, spend time where the work is being conducted.  It could be an office environment, R&D facility, laboratory, or manufacturing floor.  Think beyond your four walls, maybe a supplier, 3rd party warehouse, or customer visit.  Dig even deeper and further upstream; it could be a secondary supplier who sells ingredients to someone you purchase from.

As important as it is for you to talk with people, it is equally important to be part of the team and truly engaged.  People want to see their leader, and even more importantly, they want to talk with them, not just about business.

I have found that first, it is important to know the people in your organization, not just from a work perspective.  You have to build a relationship with each one to the point that they trust you.  Once this happens, they will be comfortable with you to tell you when something is a problem and how you should go about solving it.

There are many management turnaround books that describe the top leader being actively involved in the operation.  Leaders such as Douglas Conant at Campbell’s Soup, who walked the office every day asking for ideas, Alan Mulally at Ford, who went to dealers and sold cars, and Larry Bossidy from GE, who was frequently in manufacturing plants talking with employees and plant leadership teams.

So how can this help you prevent a recall?  Here is a small list.

  • You will get critical information and feedback straight from the source.
  • You will see things on the floor that will lead you to ask more questions and may lead to an opportunity or issue.
  • You will build relationships with people who want what is best for the company and will tell you things you may not want to hear.
  • You will see important trends and possible opportunities in the manufacturing process, training effectiveness, optimization, and documentation.
  • You will see differences across different shifts (It is critically important to spend time on all shifts, including the weekends.)

It is critical that you do not overreact to your findings and absolutely do not “shoot the messenger”, they are all trying to help.

Be the best leader you can be, listen, be sincere and genuine, and help to coach and mentor people when you see the opportunity!

Together we can all do our part to be advocates for prevention and drive out recalls worldwide!

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