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HR as Anticipators: Manufacturing’s Missing Link

By Jill George, Ph.D.

Jill George, Ph.D

On the production line, you anticipate likely repairs. In supply chain, you anticipate material outages. In engineering, you anticipate structural weaknesses. What do you anticipate in HR if you want to be a proactive, prescriptive business advisor to your manufacturing operation? As anyone in manufacturing knows, the changes in how customers buy, audacious growth targets, and the relentless pace of technology are transforming the industry. What is less known is how poorly talent systems, generally the domain of HR as key caretakers, are keeping up with production system advances. Even less known is how HR can anticipate and actively address the implications of these mega trends for leaders and workers on the plant floor.

First of all, why should HR transform their role from administrative reactor to business problem anticipator? Manufacturing HR leaders who work as “Partners” or “Anticipators” manage talent better and guide the operation to higher sales per employee and higher inventory turns. In DDI's Plant Leadership five-part series presenting findings from the MPI Manufacturing Study (2014), more than two thirds of plants with good or excellent leaders describe the role of HR as a Partner or Anticipator and get more results with their plants: $22,000 more revenue per employee and three more inventory turns per year.

Manufacturing’s Missing Link

Next, what do HR Anticipators do? Take, for example, three top mega trends facing manufacturing. What would an HR Anticipator do in the face of these challenges? How are they impacting today’s talent, and what actions should HR anticipate taking for each?

  1. Mass Individualized Customer Demands. Customers want more volume, tailored to changing specs. How often do changes in customer requirements impact your operation? Daily, right? HR Anticipators realize talent status quo is no longer possible given how much and how often customer demand changes. Production leaders need to “sell the vision” of changes to expect and more agilely coach the line to respond and problem solve. Production workers need high degrees of problem-solving capabilities and high-performance team skills to augment “extreme lean,” enabling them to meet changes in demand with agility. HR Anticipators let go of old models and job descriptions from yesterday and develop future-focused success profiles to make sure the operation is hiring the right kind of people, from production worker to CEO, who can meet the mega trend demands head on.
  2. Audacious Growth Targets. It is common for manufacturing strategies to expect to double revenue in the next five years. According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast (2014), 69 percent of over 1,600 participants said that their organizations are planning gradual to rapid expansion. HR Anticipators use rigorous behavioral and testing assessment data based on the future-focused success profile across all team member and leadership levels to determine if their talent is ready to actually achieve double-digit growth. HR Anticipators understand that not all leaders are wired to execute significant growth and that shifting talent is more than hoping for growth using old paradigms of cost control.
  3. The Relentless Pace of Technology. Digitalization. Smart manufacturing. Robotics. In order to be competitive, manufacturing operations focus heavily on automation systems but tend to undervalue the people side of the operation. To be competitive, operations need both. Leaders need to create an environment where employees understand and are not afraid of making continuous improvements with high-risk robotics. HR Anticipators not only create future-focused success profiles and use competency and dispositional assessments to make accurate selection decisions, but they also equip leaders to create a high-performance, engaged environment for innovation. HR Anticipators develop interaction and coaching skills that make engagement the common language and standard operating procedure, creating an agile workforce that can better leverage technology advances.

HR professionals who are in too much of an “administrative” mode and focused on completing HR transactions are often too reactive, are more at risk of having the production strategy outstrip the talent strategy, and therefore risk achieving world-class results. Given all this, can you afford not to leverage HR as anticipators and partners?

View all five of the Plant Leadership Series Infographics.

Jill George, Ph.D., is DDI's Manufacturing Practice Leader.

Posted: 10 Jul, 2015,
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