Everybody wants to be more productive. A video from the Express & Star, the biggest selling regional evening newspaper in Britain, explains how small manufacturers are focusing on this challenge.
Here’s some highlights from their report:
83% of respondents to the latest Manufacturing Barometer – produced for the Business Growth Service – have indicated that they need to improve productivity in the next six months if they are to achieve their growth plans.
Interestingly, nearly all firms (95%) expect to maintain or increase their investment on machinery, premises and new technology, highlighting a commitment to continuous improvement.
The clip and the associated article from the Express & Star contain more information:
It’s no surprise that most organizations report wanting to “continuously improve,” but many readers may be shocked to hear that there are many small manufacturers in the UK. According to international magazine The Manufacturer:
Manufacturing contributes £6.7tr to the global economy. Contrary to common belief, UK manufacturing is strong with the UK currently the 11th largest manufacturing nation in the world. Manufacturing makes up 11% of UK GVA and 54% of UK exports and directly employs 2.6 million people.
And it’s not just overseas. Here in the United States, the National Association of Manufacturers reports that:
[Last year, American] manufacturers contributed $2.09 trillion to the economy. This figure has steadily risen since 2009 when manufacturers contributed $1.73 trillion. The sector accounts for 12.0 percent of GDP.
So what can small manufacturers do to increase productivity? At first, the same thing every company should do in order to be more efficient.
1. Listen to Employees. No, Really Listen.
If anyone is going to see where you have inefficiencies in your business, it’s people on the front lines. Great organizations like Richard Branson’s family of Virgin companies actively seek feedback from everyday employees. And as we’ve noted before, managers are often the worst at figuring out what’s wrong. The closer you are to the work, the more likely you are to see problems first.
It may be challenging to get employees to make suggestions, especially if they are not used to doing so. Also, your workers are busy doing their jobs, which means that they will be behind if they spend time talking about what could be better. Make sure you reduce their immediate responsibility whenever you’re seeking feedback, just like you would if the employee was going to training. That way they are more likely to be honest and thorough in identifying any potential deficiencies in the operation.
2. Measure Everything, and Keep Measuring What Matters
The old expression remains true: you cannot manage what you do not measure. Too many manufacturing firms and too many companies in general do not have strict regimens for collecting and analyzing data. It’s better to take more information and decide what to discard than it is not to take enough. After all, you can’t make an improvement if you don’t know where you’ve been.
Getting this information doesn’t necessarily require advanced, automated systems. A spreadsheet or even a clipboard with a few notes can put you well ahead of where you are today. Start documenting whatever you can and set aside time to figure out what it means. Repeat until you find areas to improve!
3. Seek Outside Advice
Sure, we’re a consulting company and we do this all the time. But you can also get advice from other people who are not part of your company. A great first place to start: your vendors. They are probably visiting other companies like yours (perhaps even your competitors) and can give you ideas. And remember, you are their customer. That’s why they are going to want to try and help.
You can also ask for ideas from job candidates who are taking a tour through your operation. It might seem unthinkable that a person who is visiting your business for the first time can spot possible enhancements, but the nature of psychology is that we tend to be unable to see opportunities after having been staring at them for too long. Get advice from the outside, and take it to heart!
Small businesses, whether or not they are in the manufacturing space, need to find ways to become more productive year over year. This drives down costs, increases customer satisfaction, and helps ensure that they can survive. But more importantly, companies that are more efficient are more engaging for their employees. The less we have to do that we’ve always done, the more we get to do something new and exciting. Anytime there is the opportunity for positive change, that means people can grow. And that’s something every organization should work to offer to its stakeholders.