Magazine article Management Today

Chartered Management Institute: In My Opinion

Magazine article Management Today

Chartered Management Institute: In My Opinion

Article excerpt

Peter Haslehurst, a CMI Companion and chairman of Luxfer Holdings, on how to secure a strong future for UK manufacturing by learning from 50 years of change.

Management in manufacturing has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, to become more efficient, more considerate of its employees and less bureaucratic. Yet there are still lessons to be learnt and investment to be made if manufacturing is to reclaim pride of place on the global stage.

When I started out in the 1960s, graduates were fortunate to be thrust onto the shop floor, which not only laid the foundation for a lifetime of being comfortable in dealing with shop floor matters but taught them so much about management. In contrast, senior managers seldom visited the shop floor. They regarded themselves as administrators of the people who reported to them. Rather than having a clear executive line of responsibility, all the support functions - personnel, production control, engineering, etc. - had direct responsibility, with the result that the foreman sat in his office with his bowler hat and was not actually responsible for anything. My generation reversed this by establishing a clear executive line from the managing director to the foreman, with guidelines on when to seek advice or assistance from support functions.

It is still important that this executive line is kept short. Even when I was responsible for 100 companies in 26 countries, I became uncomfortable if the machine operator in Australia was more than five levels down from me as CEO in London.

This problem still persists. In the NHS, the foreman (matron) was dismissed altogether, which often resulted in wards being managed by numerous support departments with no clear line of authority.

There is a balance to be struck between creating a slim, efficient organisation and having appropriate managerial structures to support and lead employees to provide excellent service.

In manufacturing, in the 1980s and 1990s, we realised we had to address the top-heavy layers of administration, turning companies that thought they were in a twilight industry into world leaders. Large increases in output volumes drove export revenues and profits which, in turn, supported the increase in the service sector and enabled us to maintain numbers of shop floor personnel. There is much talk currently regarding the 'cuts' and how this is going to reduce front-line capability. It is vital to understand that you can make substantial reductions in staffing and bureaucracy without affecting front-line operations. While we're at it, perhaps we could put the matron back.

While removing unnecessary bureaucracy is important, it should also be remembered that clear systems and processes are vital in manufacturing As a young graduate apprentice in the early 1960s, I worked in a large plating shop in Staffordshire, with a stannous cyanide tinplating vat. I discovered that the life expectancy in the shop was 35. …

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