3 Important Things You Want in Your Manufacturing Operations Manager

American factories and plants are bringing more production back home as supply chain snarls continue to generate an intercontinental traffic jam in the movement of goods.

And more domestic production equals more work.

The catch? CNN says manufacturing is a line of work that can’t find enough workers. “Desperate” was the word the news outlet used in its headline.

That includes the men and women who lead workers on the plant floor.

Being a production and manufacturing manager is a role that requires an array of skills, including planning, coordination and control of manufacturing processes—all to ensure products are made efficiently and to a high standard.

They are the grease that makes your manufacturing company’s well-oiled machine run well.

How well?

That’s up to you and how you go about finding your next manufacturing production manager.

To help, Tom Conroy, managing director of GattiHR Industrial, offers three critical things to look for in your industrial plant manager. All suggestions share a theme: Your industrial manager needs a strong business mind, not just manufacturing experience.

Does Your Manager Know How the Other Departments Operate?

Conroy says it’s very important that manufacturing managers have a thorough understanding of how their organization works and is allowed to see the larger picture of how business is run outside pure operations or production metrics.

In many companies, plant managers are solely focused—with blinders up—on the KPIs within the four walls of their plant, and the projection of their career too often takes them up the corporate ladder within a single department. They’ll start at one position—let’s say, in many instances, at mechanical engineer—then move to another position, like manufacturing supervisor, overseeing a production line throughout various shifts.

“Unfortunately, they’re appointed managers without first understanding all the challenges confronting the other parts of the business—the commercial side, the sales side, marketing, even procurement,” he said. “They have not yet had the opportunity to work firsthand within these other business functions, and this can cause conflict with other departments that depend on a holistic business strategy to ensure everything runs smoothly upstream and down.”

The good news is these managers are more than sharp enough to dip their toes in other departments and quickly soak in a wealth of knowledge. They just need a chance to do it.

Numerous large manufacturers have taken significant steps to address this well-rounded experience shortfall, enrolling new hires, especially younger ones, in rotational programs that give workers extra experience in all business sectors. This strategy benefits not only the career trajectory of the employee but also the manufacturer, giving them a deeper talent pool that thoroughly understands firsthand how each division of the company operates.

Which Managerial Talents Are Not Trainable?

Several years ago, Conroy said he had a prominent industrial client in the middle of the country who made a specific chemical.

Thus, when a vacancy opened, they immediately wanted a manager with extensive experience making that chemical.

And not just any chemical, but the same kind of chemical they made.

You can imagine how much that shrunk their potential candidate pool, hindering the client’s ability to fill the critical position quickly and efficiently.

Instead, Conroy suggested an alternate method.

“Don’t focus too narrowly on specific requirements that limit your access to the talent universe,” he said. “Instead, look for talent with a wider-angled lens.”

In other words, hiring managers should be open to important transferable skills.

“There are several chemical engineers and other managers with similar backgrounds who understand heat treating, water purification, and compression processes who can go into a different chemical facility and improve it,” Conroy said. “Of the 20 or so abilities the client wanted in its next hire, 15 were trainable skills.”

Conroy added: “Your best potential candidate may not have the specific industrial experience you want, but if they have a higher degree of learning, he or she will be able to come in, pick up on critical subjects fast and drive changes that are required.”

Conroy suggests asking the following questions about your next manufacturing manager candidate to ensure he or she is the well-rounded managerial hire he’s talking about:

  • How well do they communicate?
  • Are they positive?
  • Are they good people leaders?
  • Are they continuous learners?
  • Are they curious?
  • Are they humbling enough to be servant leaders when they need to be?

Oh, and one last question.

Is Your Manager a Creative, Flexible Thinker?

Sometimes organizations get stuck in a rut. “This is how we’ve always done it.”

It happens in all professions, including in manufacturing throughout a plant—engineers, technicians, inspectors, even quality control inspectors.

“The engineering mindset—really, the mindset of many in the manufacturing supply chain—tends to be very process-oriented and regimented because that’s the process orientation and regimen they’ve built their business and careers on,” Conroy says. “That’s understandable. It works.”

But could it work better?

“A lot of times, industrial managers forget about the continuous improvement side of the business, about how to improve a process, how to be more creative,” Conroy said.

Try this: Look outside your specific sector.

“If you bring in leaders from outside your industry, they in turn will bring in ideas and best practices from those sectors,” Conroy said. “Closed-off incestuous industries have fallen further behind on key elements such as technology, processes and workplace culture compared to competitors who have brought in talent from other areas of the business world.”

Where to start?

“Look for someone with a creative mindset,” Conroy said. “Someone with a creative mindset will always ask, ‘Why?’ You want to be asked that question.”

Otherwise, if you bring in someone that has always done work the same way you have—in the same line of work, no less—they might not have the creative thought process or improvement mindset your plant needs to innovate.

“They’ll just go with the flow,” Conroy said. “But if you bring in inquisitive people, they’ll do everything you need a manager to do—learn other departments, see how all the parts of a company operate and  look for improvements in internal processes.”