Have you ever known you needed to do something different, but struggled with it because you don’t know how? It’s logical to go back to what you do know and do well, but it doesn’t really create the outcome you were looking for. Getting a fresh pair of eyes on an existing problem can get you thinking in different ways. By Lisa Renn.

Call it innovation, call it redeployment, there is no doubt that creating something new from the same stuff is the current challenge facing the Australian manufacturing industry – looking for new markets, new opportunities, new products, new uses for old equipment. If you listen to predictions of the future of work you’d be forgiven for being a bit anxious; the majority of the jobs that our young kids will do have not even been ‘invented’ yet.

One thing is certain, continuing to do things the same way and having the same expectations of your workforce will mean you keep getting the same results and the same frustrations. Unfortunately, you can’t innovate when you do things the same way, and you won’t get anything different from your workforce if you keep treating them the same way – whether that has been extremely well or mediocre doesn’t matter. You don’t get fresh eyes without changing something.

The focus for manufacturing has always been technical skills. Your teams and managers are great at production. This is why managers become managers. They were great technicians, and the standard (albeit flawed) logic suggests that if they are good at “doing” then they should be good at “managing” too. The issue is that management skills are very different to technical skills. Research looking at the management capability of the manufacturing sector in Australia sees us coming up short on the skills needed to ‘instil a talent mindset’, which has been interpreted as a proxy for innovation capability.

Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, in their book ‘First, Break All the Rules – What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently’, concluded that people join an organisation but leave a manager. Getting the opportunity to do things you are good at every day and having someone who cares about you at work are important to employees. The relationship that people have with their direct manager directly impacts the contribution they make.

Do your current managers have the softer, people skills needed to tap into the potential that your existing workforce has?

There is a depth of skill and experience in your current work force that has likely gone untapped. People are pigeonholed by their job description and not asked to think of opportunities beyond that. In a recent global survey of jobseekers conducted by LinkedIn, 37% of respondents said their current job does not fully utilise their skills or provide enough challenge.

Manufacturing great products has been the goal in the past – the future markets that define the next era of manufacturing require new thinking and new ways of doing things. To achieve this, managers need people skills to be able to create a culture of contribution, where it is the norm and an expectation that everyone contribute to the future of the organisation. Let’s call this Management 2.0.

This is not about making people work harder – it’s about getting them to contribute their expertise for the advancement of the business. People want to demonstrate they are capable, and if you are only allowing people to work within their allotted job role you are cutting your business opportunities and their career opportunities short.

Management 2.0 skills and the culture it creates mean the business is utilising the talent and knowledge currently within its walls, not only for gains in innovation, but also improvements in employee engagement, which has been shown to increase productivity and profits. Just like charity, collaboration can begin at home – who knows your business better than those people that work in it every day?

Management 2.0 skills place a critical emphasis on three key factors: purpose; significance; and influence.

  • Purpose: Management 2.0 is not only needed for innovation to occur; it’s also required to retain the talent of the future. Generation Y wants to work for companies that have a purpose they believe in. The LinkedIn survey identified that 50% of respondents wanted to know about the mission of the organisation and 66% wanted to know about the culture. People care about how and why you do business as much as what they will be doing.
  • Significance: How do you demonstrate that individuals matter in your organisation? Do they feel a sense of inclusion as they understand they have a role to play in its future? How do you create this, particularly in large organisations where the ‘boss’ is so far removed from the workforce? How do you provide opportunities for people to demonstrate their competence within and beyond their job description?
  • Influence: Once you have systems in place that provide the opportunity for your workforce to contribute ideas, you can start to align their desires for skill and career development with the organisation’s goals. When this occurs, you increase employee engagement, which benefits the business and its people. The individual influences the business and, in turn, the business positively influences their career.

Have you ever felt too close to a problem to find the solution? Looking to create new things from old stuff using only technical expertise could see you only ever achieving half of your potential. Upskilling your managers with people skills to increase the diversity of ideas and the productivity within your workforce is the key to tapping the full innovation potential in your business.

Lisa Renn consults to the manufacturing industry on making more from what you already have. For a free copy of the ‘Future Proofing Manufacturing’ whitepaper go to: