Grasp control, and find the power to change

Every manufacturer has the same goal of creating a productive plant – and each faces the same hurdles to achieve it.


Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant EngineeringIf it’s true that you can only manage what you can measure, it must also be true that you can only change what you can control. Measurement is finite; it is length and width, time and distance, heat and speed. Control is a much more abstract concept. Change is more difficult because control is more elusive. Yet the ability to grasp full control of your operation gives you the power to change.

So much of what happens in a modern manufacturing plant is absolutely controllable. Yet so much of the time spent discussing the various issues facing American manufacturing are based on things we just cannot control on a daily basis. Trade laws, energy prices, and Mother Nature are outside of your control. You cannot affect political discourse, global monetary policy, or whether your top supplier has had a disruption in service because of any of the above issues.

If you cannot control any of this, the good news is that they are also outside the control of your competitors.

So what’s left? Everything within the four walls of your plant. Everything that happens there, from energy consumption to maintenance strategy, from worker morale to worker safety, is all your responsibility, and it can all be changed. If you have control, congratulations–I’ll welcome your Top Plant nomination next year. And if there are still elusive areas where control has slipped away, this is a good time to get a firmer grasp on the rudder.

Gaining control is not a singular effort by a single plant manager, however. You have to gain the support of your staff and your top management. It’s nearly impossible to improve maintenance, for example, without the commitment of the line workers and the understanding of the front office about how such an effort will save money and improve productivity. The same equations of measurement and management and control and change apply in every department of your organization. The metrics may be different, but everyone is bound by the same basic laws.

And your competitors, whether in Boston, Berlin, Bangalore, or Bahrain, all face the same struggles. Their national rules on safety are different. Their tax structures may be more or less favorable. Their logistics, supply chains, and energy systems are all affected by terrain, transportation sophistication, and capital investment. Inside the four walls of these plants, however, it’s a very similar world. Every manufacturer has the same goal of creating a productive plant–and each faces the same hurdles to achieve it.

You, of course, have a slight edge in achieving these goals. You’re holding it.

This month we shared how one manufacturer grasped control of the manufacturing operation and grew it in the middle of a historic recession. Perhaps the most important part of NACCO Materials Handling Group’s recognition as the 2011 Top Plant recipient is that they seized control of their operation and changed it to meet the needs of their internal and external customers.

NACCO, a manufacturer of lift trucks, increased staff by 40% to fill needs in their growing business, and at the same time increased training for employees. New employees now receive 80 hours of training before being put into production. If you multiply that training by more than 200 new employees, you can see the commitment to training, and to people.

In your efforts to identify areas that need improvement, perhaps the most important point to be made is about people. People should not be controlled; they should be managed. Operational control is about making sure the parameters of your plant are understood. Management is about empowering the people to work effectively within those parameters. That includes, as NACCO showed us this month, giving them the training needed to get individually better at their jobs. This contributes to the entire operation getting better.

Improvement is change. Bettering your manufacturing plant each day, week, and month points you on the path to greater productivity, and greater operational excellence.

I believe it creates one greater benefit as well. When you control what happens inside the four walls of your operation by managing your processes and people effectively, you make all of those issues outside of your four walls irrelevant. That kind of control leads not just to change, but to success.

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