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Supervisor Development : Managing Priorities

In this day and age, we hear words like predictive analytics, innovation, and nimble supply chain. Industry is developing, using technology, into becoming proactive to the needs of the market. We want to give our ever-changing customers the most choices at the highest value. The market is more competitive now than ever. Margins continue to shrink as smaller organizations are absorbed by larger players to enable synergies in their networks. Social media is a primary indicator for what we think the customer wants and when they want it Those requests change on a weekly/monthly basis. All of these things create what we visualize as being The Funnel. The Funnel is comprised of thoughts, ideas, initiatives, projects, SKU proliferation, human resource changes, and changes to normal operating procedure. So, how do we develop a sustainable and predictable process? Who do we rely on to drive the foundation of what we do every day? Through all the ebbs and flows of the market the one thing that hasn’t changed is the role of the supervisor.

The role of the supervisor is one of execution.  As we have been told since we were little kids is “stuff” rolls downhill.  In the case of the supervisor, they are usually the ones sitting at the bottom of the hill.   What does today’s supervisor look like? They are the person who walks into the facility every day and places The Funnel over their head and heads to the shop floor or, in many cases, to their office to start a day of emails, meetings, and administrative. The supervisor is tasked to take everything that comes through the pipeline, process it, and execute it to perfection. Today’s supervisor is usually yesterday’s good operator or employee. In most cases, we have failed to give them the ability, tools, or training to learn how to manage everything in The Funnel. The message we send is that everything in The Funnel is equally important and the time frame to execute is immediate. We rarely get them involved in the plan and only look at them as the doer. As we have seen in many organizations, the tasks on a supervisor not only cause continuous turnover but misses in critical business strategies. In some operations, a miss in executing to the demands of The Funnel could lead to food safety issues, customer issues, and potentially human safety hazards.

So how do we help supervisors manage The Funnel?  From a theoretical standpoint, we must make a commitment. Making the commitment to supporting supervisors is critical. In talking to many leaders, I have come to realize that we acknowledge the issue, but few have done much more than develop/ facilitate a computer-based training module on items such as working well with others, resolving conflict, or interviewing skills. We need to help them identify the things in The Funnel and allow them to prioritize, resource and, at times, push back. If we don’t, the churn will continue and overall business performance and execution to the overall strategies will end up in disappointment and frustration.  If we don’t help the supervisor manage The Funnel every change comes across as a flavor of the month or a “corporate” driven change.

It sounds simple but more difficult than you think.  How much time should they be on the floor? How much time do you want them to spend off the floor doing some type of administration?  How long do you want them in meetings? Who do you want them to be interacting with on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? When they are on the floor, how much time do you want them being active vs passive in their supervision? It’s a simple rule of thumb to use the 80-20 principle for the time they should spend on the floor or close to the process. This should all be part of their Leader Standard Work. One of the biggest obstacles and frustrations that a supervisor faces is being hamstrung into things that keep them off the floor (i.e., The Funnel). Once you have settled on some level of Standard Work begin to identify what reality looks like.  I have seen supervisors spend nearly 80-90% of their day off the floor. What are they doing? Are they managing The Funnel?!  As you compare how the supervisor is spending their time against the Standard Work you will quickly identify a few things.  You will recognize that there is a misalignment to what they believe their role is.  You will recognize that they are task masters and not supervisors. You will recognize that they have been trained to be reactive and not proactive. As stated, previously, this is where the commitment of the organization comes in.  Supervisors are “the rock” to driving sustainable and predictable operational practices on a day-to-day basis. Identify non-value activities and either take them off their plate or eliminate them completely. Use the structure of the Leader Standard Work to coach the supervisor daily.   When you first focus on the expectation of “time spent” you can start to mitigate the impacts of The Funnel.

After we develop Leader Standard Work we need to take a hard look at the things that are being asked of supervisors that are outside of Standard Work. Again, make the commitment to the supervisor to identify and help them prioritize. We have come across the person that has a task that needs to be completed or an answer to a question that takes too much time with little value to the greater good. It is not uncommon that the supervisor believes it is their task to respond to every email or question. In essence, they are adding to The Funnel. On a regular basis you should be having your supervisors identify the things in The Funnel and how they are managing them, prioritizing them. When you use a SIC (Short Interval Control) methodology with your supervisors you can help them manage their day and prioritize the things that are in The Funnel. During this interaction with your supervisors focus on those “constants” or “must-haves” in their Leader Standard Work. Topics such as through-put, product quality, asset care and shop floor morale and most of all safety are probably the topics that we want them to focus on. This takes a lot of time but when you commit the time to work with the supervisors and manage these activities or requests, they will learn not only what is important to you but what is important to the organization and its performance. In the end they will look at their Leader Standard Work as a snapshot of what a good day looks like and feels like.

At As One Consulting, we help organizations do just this. We coach supervisors and leaders on how to manage The Funnel through the use of Leader Standard Work.   We coach them on prioritizing and maximizing their time on the floor. We help design and implement management systems that make supervisors more effective in their roles. The Management Operating System (MOS) provides organizations with the RIGHT data at the RIGHT time with the RIGHT people. Our shopfloor methodology supports supervisors and leaders to understand the key metrics and connect them to the activities on the floor. The MOS also maximizes meetings to optimize the time that a supervisor spends on the floor.

All in all, The Funnel will never go away but learning how to manage it will allow us to be more focused, better informed, and execute to higher level of business performance.