So often we talk on this site about things that could be better managed, or policies which have gone wrong. Yesterday I visited a factory in England which was so well run. So today I want to talk about how well we can make things in Britain, and to ask what was so good about what I saw.
The one word which kept coming into my mind as I watched and listened to my hosts was honesty. They called it transparency. The Plant Manager said his office was a glass box near the production lines. It meant he walked through the production area to get to his office, so all the team could see him and he could talk to them on his way in. They could see him at work, and he was accessible to them if problems arose. He shared the restaurant and other facilities with all other employees. He is accountable hourly for what he does and what the whole team achieves. The output and quality achievements were set out clearly with named responsiblities. That set the standard. Everything that matters is measured. Everything has an agreed minimum standard. Everything that goes wrong is managed. Someone is responsible for everything that matters.
The culture was not defensive about mistakes. Complete honesty requires a can do, will fix approach. They don’t have time for recriminations – they identify the problem, analyse its origins, fix it and then fix it permanently to ensure they cannot make that mistake in future. You cannot manage unless you measure. You cannot manage unless you have a full flow of information about all the important sources of success.
Each year they expect a 6% improvement in efficiency and build that into their plans. They recycle everything they can, they create a clean and pleasant working environment, treat their employees with respect and pay well for good performance. Their absentee rate is low and staff morale visibly good. They automate many processes and use technology to handle parts and finished product.
In the British establishment some seem to think honesty is the currency of fools. They are concerned if people are too honest. They think it abrupt,”too direct”, insensitive or downright stupid. Yet wherever I have seen and studied excellence, as I did yesterday, I find honesty and superior performance are usually in a stable relationship. There were many public sector managers I would like to have heard what I heard yesterday. The gap between the best and the worst managements is getting ever bigger.
As some of you rightly tell me, there are good managers in the public sector and bad managers in the private sector, as well as the other way round. The point I am making is the extent of the ambition amongst the best. No-one in this factory thought cutting costs by 6% next year was incompatible with cutting error, raising quality, recycling more or having better staff conditions and relations. They showed that you need all these things to be moving together. If you have fewer errors you waste less. If you solve problems your production line can go faster. If you produce more you can pay more.
If instead you think you need more resource to do anything better, that your performance is good in the circumstances, that errors are unavoidable given your staffing levels, and that systems and processes cannot be improved, then you will underperform. If you refuse to measure your performance, or refuse to discuss the figures you have in an intelligent and objective way, you will not be able to manage well.