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How to Lead Manufacturers Through the Digital Transition

By Special Guest
Alberto Martinez, CEO of Lantek
August 23, 2017

Many manufacturers are struggling to transition their companies to Industry 4.0. The new era of manufacturing is focused on technology and data. This requires wholesale changes in the employees’ skill sets and processes.

More importantly, it requires a change in mindset. When transforming from traditional to digital, having the right mindset makes it easier and more effective to develop new skills, build new relationships and harness new opportunities. Company leaders need their workers to understand and buy into the new connected factory philosophy and the benefits it brings. This requires specific steps to implement the changes and to make them last.

Define Long Term Plans
Many companies plan for the short term, but this transformation to a digital mindset needs a plan that is at least five years out. To reach the digital culture to advance their initiatives, executives need to express the end goal and lay out the steps to achieve it. By presenting what success looks like with the new business practices, workers can better understand why the transition is necessary.

Heavy emphasis should also be given to how these changes will allow the company will better meet its customers’ needs. This gives employees a frame of reference to understand how the new processes will affect the customers, who are ultimately the key to their success.

Lead by Example
Leaders need to be out in front to execute the change. They need to demonstrate the behavior they expect. Motivating and inspiring workers will keep them on the new path. Exuding the confidence that they are doing the right things will help employees feel more confident as well.

It’s important that leaders welcome questions and suggestions to make workers feel heard and like they’re a part of the change. Give the workers credit when implementing one of their ideas. They’re more likely to buy in if they feel like they’re contributing and can influence the transformations.

The company also needs to celebrate early successes. Set up small goals that show the changes are effective. Recognize those who are helping to keep other employees on track.

Train and Hire for New Skills
Manufacturers need to be digitizing processes from forecasting and planning to production. This includes using the key technologies available with the Industrial Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and Big Data. This requires workers that have a new set of skills to deal with data, coding, software development, etc.

To get there more quickly, companies will need a mix of new and experienced managers. There are some different characteristics between experienced managers (learning the digital tools) and new managers who are digital natives (born into the digital world).

Experienced managers
Current managers have manufacturing experience that new managers likely don’t. Their characteristics include:

  • Broad-based skills.
  • Savvier in reading and influencing others.
  • Rely more on lateral influence.
  • More social and empathetic.

For these workers, the company should invest heavily in building digital skills in their organizations. This includes providing as much training as they can to get them up to speed. Outside education and/or online courses may be necessary. They should offer reimbursement, if possible. The companies that do this make better progress with their smart factory initiatives.

New Managers
Companies may need to hire new managers to cover skills that current workers don’t have. These digital natives share the following traits:

  • Deep expertise.
  • Singular focus.
  • Motivated by structure.
  • Seek roles requiring depth, clear objectives and higher degrees of detail.

To appeal to candidates, company leaders need to build and promote the culture of the company as an attractive place for the digital natives to come work. There is a lot of competition for these skills and they will be in high demand.

Encourage Communication
Including employees in the journey right from the start is essential to foster collaboration, manage concerns and deliver the change needed. Communication is the cornerstone to making this happen. With visibility into the factories across the world, information sharing will help to get your entire operation working at its best. Online tools make sharing knowledge and tips easier than ever.

Collaborate to come up with better solutions that work for multiple departments and factories. Expand project teams to include departments and workers that are affected in ways management may not have understood before.

It’s hard for companies to change. It’s even harder to make the changes last. With something as large as the digital transition, company leaders need to have the right processes in place to succeed. By applying the points above, your company will be well on its way to getting your employees to buy in and make it work.

Alberto Martinez is CEO of Lantek, a leading company in the development, commercialization and integration of management software solutions (CAD/CAM, MES, ERP, Advanced Manufacturing) for the global sheet metal industry. Martinez teaches mechanical engineering and Business Administration to Masters students at Industrial Engineers University of Bilbao and Deusto University of Bilbao.




Edited by Ken Briodagh
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