On 17th May 2023 the Manufacturers’ Alliance held its annual conference at the AJ Bell Stadium in Manchester, celebrating 10 years in business with the theme… breaking through the boundaries of possibility. The day was a blend of inspiring speakers from the manufacturing industry, and discussion groups for everyone in attendance to share ideas and learn from each other.
The Core Messages and Themes from the Day
Some of the tangible messages that emerged from the conference focused very much on what it takes to be a modern and progressive leader in the manufacturing industry. Achieving high levels of performance and excelling as a leader feels like it is going through a shift. Some fundamentals will never change, but there appears to be a movement that is shifting towards a more balanced approach to our future business cultures.
A More Wholesome Strategic Balance. Being people and community focused, and looking after the future of the planet were strong themes across the whole day. Two frameworks (B Corporation & Triple Bottom Line) were presented as a means of auditing your own business against this more balanced approach. Both similarly presenting a case for business being a force for good, with a purpose and looking after its people, as well as making a profit.
Look After Your People. An engaged and motivated culture, and looking after the people within your organisation was seen as fundamental to achieving success with growth and change efforts. Treating everyone as an individual and understanding what brilliant would look like for them, was the reminder for everyone in the room. Similarly, understanding why people find certain tasks and expectations hard, was something that needs a human touch and getting up close to understand people’s needs.
Get the Right People on the Bus in the Right Seats. You need to be clear with the people you are leading, where you are going, and what is expected of them. And where there are gaps, provide the training and development needed. Not everyone will be a great fit and not everyone will want to make the changes to grow and develop with you. The role of the leader is to set the vision, provide people with enough autonomy and motivation to achieve it, and stay close enough to offer the support when needed. And when needed, remove the people from the team that are not a fit.
Face Your Fears. All of the conference speakers had this in common. They had all been on a journey with their manufacturing businesses where they had faced personal fears and discomfort. But it didn’t stop them. They all had their own ways of progressing and motivating themselves, but they got on and did what they needed to do. With one of the speakers posing the question to the whole room, “what would you do if you had no fear?” What a great question.
The Power of Vulnerability. Something else all of the speakers had in common was their capacity to be vulnerable. Not only on the day with their style of speaking, but in how they approached leading their teams. Some of the examples shared were:
- Sharing the mistakes they were making themselves during management meetings.
- Saying they don’t know a lot.
- Involving non-management team members to attend strategy days.
- Dealing with people issues head on.
- Taking feedback that they’re an asshole from someone, accepting it, and changing themselves.
- Changing all the board to non-family members in their family business.
- Shifting from shareholder led to an employee led business.
- Being open about putting their business before their family.
- Sharing what it is really like putting their business into administration.
- Accepting that the people issues in the business are their responsibility.
- Being open and facing confidence issues head on.
- Doing things they are uncomfortable with and accepting failure as a learning opportunity.
To be a modern manufacturing leader, you need to move with the times. Adopting a philosophy or methodology and sticking with it for the long haul is high risk for you as a leader, and for the business. Change is the constant, therefore we need to evolve. Great leaders understand this and make the effort to understand the world around them and support their people in navigating their businesses towards future success.
Business could and should be a force for good. Society and the world around us needs to see positive change. And that change needs leaders who are prepared to step up, and embrace a journey that balances making a difference in the world, looking after it’s people, and generating a healthy profit. The journey will need courage and will be uncomfortable at times, but the rewards will provide fulfillment for the people we employ today, and for many generations in the future.
If you are looking for some further reading to help you progress your own leadership journey, we have produced a few articles recently that you may find useful: