Let me tell you the story of the packing division of a cement packing plant.
It consists of ten packing lines, each one staffed with about 20 union workers and their job is to pack all the cement into sacks, boxes and cartons and move it along. This is a three-shift job and all ten lines function to capacity.
Each line has a cement hopper, packing machine, conveyor belt, pulleys and drives. Packers pack the bags with cement and filled cement bags gets transported tothe loading area. Loaders load the bags in the truck or train containers.
The production division is answerable for fulfilling customer orders and their job is to keep the cement flowing to the packing division – as much as they can, and as quickly as they can. Their performance also depends on the efficiency of the packing division.
The general manager (let us call him GM1) of the packing division, a hard task master, was known to run the division at full capacity all days of the week, twelve months of the year. This caused frequent, unforeseen breakdowns. GM1 had simple orders: fix the breakdown and resume the activity.
In other words, GM1 focused all time and effort on the URGENT tasks.
Accordingly, the engineers did not have the time to analyze the root cause, but went about fixing the problems that surfaced. This led to further breakdowns and the workers’ life became miserable. They did’nt know which line would breakdown and when and for what reason. Every breakdown cause the line to stop packing and about 20 workers would be doing something other than packing.
This also caused the product (cement) to pile up on the production side, while the loaders on the shipping side and the trucks would be idle.
A new general manager (GM2) then took charge of the packing division under these circumstances.
Right at the outset he told the packing staff that he would bring about predictability in the operations. He would take down one packing line at a time for complete inspection, maintenance and replacement of any defective parts. This would mean a two-three week period that this packing line would not be in use. He kept aside about 4-6 months for the complete overhaul of all ten lines.
The results were spectacular. About nine lines would be humming smoothly at all times, with one packing line taken down for preventive maintenance. This was predictable and planned. The nine lines were more efficient than the ten operating under GM1. The packing division staff looked up to GM2, they were eating out of his hand. Their bonuses were secure and they knew they had an effective leader!
Here’s an analysis of what GM2 did that brought such terrific results:
- 1. GM2 had a vision, and that was to ensure a packing line free of unforeseen breakdowns
- 2. He had a plan and the confidence that the plan would work
- 3. GM2 put forward an execution strategy, clearly understood each team member’s role and communicated it clearly to his staff
- 4. GM2 also knew that the packing division’s work affected the results of other divisions. He communicated his plans to the production division and also to the shipping division to secure their buy-in. He influenced these two divisions
- 5. GM2 would also have had to communicate this effective to senior executives that were responsible for the functioning of the whole plant
In essence, GM2 worked on the IMPORTANT tasks and thus made the operations quite effective.
In summary, this story highlights the importance of having a vision, then putting a plan in place, ensuring that all affected people are communicated clearly and then executing the strategy.
There are some advanced leadership skills that GM2 exhibited, but the basic skills such as communication, confidence and teamwork are also evident.
GM2 emplasized the value of “doing the right thing at the right time” and “putting the right person on the right job”
Most leadership skill can be learned, developed and sharpened!
You can be an effective leader too.
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