Leaders wanted

It’s not enough for a precaster to talk about cultivating production workers into management; there are also a few key steps that need to be taken to ensure the clearest path possible has been paved for the transition to happen in a seamless manner. Chase says increasing and improving communication across the entire workforce is a good first step for any manufacturer. “Listen to your people and you’ll start to understand them better,” Chase says. “You’ll not only learn what makes them tick, but you’ll also be able to come to good promotional paths for them.”

Gonzalez says precasters should also learn to recognize employees who truly have leadership characteristics. “Knowledge can be acquired,” he says, “but leadership has to be earned.” So what are the characteristics that a precaster should be seeking? The Society for Human Resource Management outlines the following leadership skills and behaviors that contribute to superior performance:

Leading the organization:

  • Managing change
  • Solving problems and making decisions
  • Managing politics and influencing others
  • Taking risks and innovating
  • Setting vision and strategy
  • Managing the work
  • Enhancing business skills and knowledge
  • Understanding and navigating the organization

Leading the self:

  • Demonstrating ethics and integrity
  • Displaying drive and purpose
  • Exhibiting leadership stature
  • Increasing his or her capacity to learn
  • Managing himself or herself
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Developing adaptability

Leading others:

  • Communicating effectively
  • Developing others
  • Valuing diversity and difference
  • Building and maintaining relationships
  • Managing effective teams and work groups

“Management should be aware of the people who possess the character, responsibility, accountability, and motivation to step forward,” Gonzalez says. “It’s really about knowing who the leader is and who is not.”

Once those individuals have been identified, the next step is to set up a system that will be used to evaluate candidates in an objective and fair way. Gonzalez says this can be done based on observations, past history, behavior patterns, or other factors. “The best method is to create a matrix and then list the desired traits and knowledge required for the job,” Gonzalez says. “Then, rate the candidates on it.” (See the sidebar “The Management Matrix.”)

Managing uncertainty

Gonzalez admits that one of the biggest challenges during the manager selection and rating exercise is that the precaster really doesn’t know with certainty whether he has picked the right candidate. “If the answer is no, then management is left with the unpleasant task of deciding if the person should go back to his previous job,” Gonzalez explains. “This could have a counter-effect among employees and with the individual worker.” One way to circumvent this issue is by being clear upfront with the candidate and letting him know what the alternatives will be if the transition doesn’t work out within a certain period of time.

Another obstacle to overcome is the transition period itself. “It should be a gradual change in which the individual is able to obtain new skills – but not have them forced upon him,” says Gonzalez, who sees the use of titles like “assistant manager” as effective ways to gradually transition production workers into leadership roles.

Finally, he says having clear job descriptions and expectations spelled out upfront can help ensure a smooth transition period for both the individual and the company. “A well-prepared job description is an important requirement that lets the candidate know what his or her line of authority and accountability is,” Gonzalez says.

And don’t forget that an effective shop floor-to-management promotion takes time and patience. “There’s no silver bullet, and it doesn’t happen overnight,” Chase says. “In fact, sometimes it takes a two-steps-forward and one-step-back effort to get it going in the right direction.” In the end, Chase says precast manufacturers that put the time and energy into cultivating managers from the production ranks will benefit.

“It could take a few months to a year to develop an excellent plant laborer into a manager,” Chase says, “but the payoff will be significant when you wind up with an excellent new team manager who is well-versed in some of the company’s most critical operational areas.”

This article originally appeared in Precast Inc., July/August, 2013, published by the National Precast Concrete Association. For an archive of similar articles and other precast concrete industry news, please visit http://precast.org/publications.