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3 Transferable Skills Small Manufacturing Business Owners Gain From On-The-Floor Experience

small_business_owner_skillsAre you the forthcoming owner of your family’s manufacturing business? If so, you’re not alone. Most small- to medium-sized manufacturing businesses are family owned and operated, known for transferring leadership from one generation to the next.

Small business owners and operators must understand how to keep a facility up and running. Over the years, you’ve likely spent time working on the shop floor in a variety of roles, gaining competency in core production areas.

As a small business leader, it’s important to take what you’ve learned working in the business and transfer those skills to successfully work on the business. Doing so will continue your legacy and provide security to those who depend on you. Here’s how.

1. Critical Thinking

Critical thinking and problem solving plays a powerful role in manufacturing. Take downtime, for example. Unplanned downtime due to equipment malfunctions can derail a company’s ability to deliver on time and to specifications.

In your former role on the manufacturing floor, remedying a situation like downtime was likely a top priority. As the business owner, it’s important you think beyond those ramifications and leave the day-to-day solutions to line operators and production managers.

Instead, apply your critical thinking skills to solve larger questions around a specific issue like:

  • How can we reinvent our operations to lower downtime?
  • How does downtime affect deliverability and profits?
  • Are fewer customers placing orders due to slow production schedules as a result of downtime?
  • What happens if our larger customers stop placing orders because they’re unhappy with our turnaround times?

Now that you’ve stepped away from the plant floor, your efforts are focused on developing business strategies to ensure alignment with short-term and long-term objectives. Part of this involves critical thinking to diagnose problems and implement solutions that are much larger than day-to-day machine issues.

2. Strong Communication 

Communication is a valuable skill regardless of the industry, especially in manufacturing. You’ve seen poor communication create major obstacles on the shop floor, as industrial tasks are complex and a process can falter without the right channels in place.

Your employees are thinking about the nuts and bolts of daily shop-floor communication. As the business owner, it’s your role to effectively communicate your company’s mission and vision to internal and external stakeholders.

A clear mission statement helps manufacturing companies run more efficiently because it keeps everyone on the same page and working towards the same goal. In order to achieve this, stakeholders (think: your plant manager, operations manager, line operators, etc.) need to align with your company’s mission, as well as its vision for the future. If stakeholders are disconnected and disengaged, it’s sure to cause a lack of direction across the company.

As the owner, it’s your job to lead and manage people. Your team will look to you to keep them informed at all times, so try to keep abreast of all the moving pieces. Avoid becoming an absentee leader—just because you aren’t physically present on the plant floor anymore doesn’t mean you can’t offer feedback and guidance.

When priorities shift or challenges arise, your strong communication and collaboration skills create a unified problem-solving approach.

3. Time Management 

In order to stay competitive, manufacturing businesses often work on tight production deadlines, where a certain number of parts and products need to be produced, assembled, and shipped each day. If your company misses deadlines, you have diminished the overall productivity and profitability of your plant.

As you step back and work on the business, if you find time is being wasted, address it. Be available for periodic (weekly, monthly, quarterly) check-ins with managers or department heads to identify problem areas. Remember: Don’t get pulled into every single issue that arises—you need to manage your own time, too.

When making decisions about where to focus your time as a company, you should always be cognizant of your business’ goals and how each action is aimed at bringing you closer to achieving those objectives. With your strong time management skills, your company can provide a higher quality of work.

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