About Andrew Nicholson

Manufacturing Consultant and Trainer - Lean, Continuous Improvement and Supply Chain

The Number Five Motivator – “My supervisor or someone at work seems to care about me as a person”

We all like to feel that we’re doing something worthwhile, that what we do is important and that we’d be missed if we weren’t there.

But at work it’s sometimes easy to feel that we’re a small cog in a very big machine; that our efforts are insignificant and go unnoticed. Ultimately this might lead us to feel that it’s not worth making an effort, and hence we can become disinterested and demotivated.

One of the challenges for every leader – at all levels in the organisation – is to treat everyone fairly and equally, whilst at the same time treating each person as an individual. It’s helpful to get to know each person, and to find out “what makes them tick”. We don’t expect to delve into every aspect of our employee’s personal lives but it can be helpful if we have an idea of what else is going on in their world, particularly if we can celebrate some successes and help them over the odd bump in the road. Having an idea of – and perhaps recognising in the workplace – key events like Birthdays – can also help. And where we can, taking a long-term view and helping folk to balance the rewards and challenges of work and home increases employees’ sense of security and welfare, which is good for them and good for the organisation.

Acknowledging people every time that you see them is also incredibly simple but very important. Even if it’s a simple nod of the head and a “hello there” or “good morning”. Better still if you get to know everyone’s names. If you’re the senior leader in the organisation, it’s incredibly powerful – and well appreciated – if you can do this. I’ve known examples of business leaders, head teachers and politicians who make a point of learning every one of hundreds – or even thousands – of names. Try it!

The Number Four Motivator – “In the last 7 days I have received recognition or praise for doing good work”

The vast majority of people like to do a job well, and they like to be recognised when they’ve done a good job.

Unfortunately it’s too easy to overlook this important act – we might feel that “they get paid for it so why do they need thanking as well”, or we might not feel comfortable giving praise and recognition.

Here are a few ways to make sure that we recognise people’s efforts effectively:

The recognition has to be appropriate for the individuals concerned. Some people would love to receive an award from the Chief Exec on stage in front of an audience of thousands. Other people would be horrified at the very thought of such a public display. Make sure that the type of recognition will be appreciated by the individual(s) concerned. The same rules apply as for a gift – show that you know the individual and that you know what they would value.

The recognition has to be genuine. You need to understand exactly what the good job was, and why it deserves recognition. And don’t overdo it, or do it automatically. A routine, unthinking “thank you” every day becomes meaningless – like the dreaded “Have a nice day!” that’s churned out automatically.

And finally – particularly when you want to recognise the efforts of a team rather than an individual – get creative and make it fun!

The Number Three Motivator – “At work I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day”

Most of us have experienced the enjoyment of doing easily something that we’re good at. And most of us know how frustrating it can be to keep on trying things that we struggle to do well or to do at all. But from a management point of view, we often want people to be flexible / multi-skilled, and we often want people to learn new skills. So how can we achive these objectives and still keep people motivated? Here are some thoughts:

Allow for the “learning curve”. When we learn we often take a while to get the hang of a new skill, and sometimes we make mistakes along the way. Managers and leaders need to make reasonable allowances for this – provide extra time and try to correct or prevent errors as quickly as possible. We also need to make sure that learners adopt the “One Best Way” and not pick up bad habits from other employees.

Catch people doing things right! Look for opportunities to give positive feedback, rather than only focusing on what needs to be done better. Try to “sandwich” each slice of negative feedback between at least two “slices” of positive feedback.

We often focus on people’s weaknesses / things that they find difficult, and we try to get them to do these things better. But don’t neglect the opportunity to help people improve the things that they’re already good at. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to go from “good” to “outstanding” than it is from “acceptable” to “good”.

Make learning fun – create some friendly competition, publish a league table, recognise and reward improvements, get your most epxerienced folk to run some “this is what effortless skill looks like” demos.

Be honest, keep it fair and lead by example. Balance the easy tasks and the difficult tasks, and spread them out  fairly. Make clear that we all have to do things that we don’t like or that we struggle with, and show people that that’s what you do every day, because even you are not quite perfect yet!

Get control of your stock and reap the rewards

“We’ve got far too much stock, too much cash tied up, yet we’re always running out and we can’t trust the computer stock figures!”

When times are tough you can’t tolerate poor stock control any longer and you need to take action.

Here’s what to do:

Get to grips with the data. Look at your usage rates and calculate how many days, weeks or months’ worth of stock you have of each item. Sort the items in order. Where you have low stocks, check your stock figures and ensure you’ve got supplies lined up – these might be next week’s shortages! Where you have high stocks, are these slow-moving or obsolete items? If so, identify them, segregate them, count them, seal them and work out how to dispose of them (re-use, re-work, send back to supplier, sell off, scrap, etc).

Implement a system of Cycle Counting (also known as Perpetual Inventory or PI). Rank the items by Usage Value (Usage x Cost) and categorise the Top 10% as A items, the next 20% as B items and the remaining 70% as C items. Count the A items most frequently (say every month), the B items less often (say every three months) and the C items the least often (say once every year). Each week count the required number of A, B and C items. Compare the actual count for each item with the stock record and identify as “misses” any items where the variance is outside a reasonable counting tolerance. Those that are within tolerance are “Hits”. Calculate your Inventory Record Accuracy (IRA) by dividing the number of line items that are Hits by the total number of line items counted, and multiply by 100%. Investigate the root causes of any errors, put in place preventive actions and improvements and watch your stock accuracy improve (aim for 98%+). Over time you’ll achieve what you thought was impossible – accurate stcok figures you can trust, lower stock levels, less cash tied up, and fewer shortages!

For practical help in getting your stock under control contact Andrew Nicholson at www.ImproveMyFactory.com

The Number Two Motivator – “I have the tools and equipment I need to do my job right”

People want to do the job right and they expect to be provided with the right equipment so that they can do just that.

Sadly this is still a real wake-up call for some manufacturing owners and managers. Here’s my advice:

Tools that aren’t easy to handle and clothing or PPE that’s uncomfortable become a real problem after a 8- , 10- or 12-hour shift. If you’re serious about quality and serious about treating employees well, invest in good quality gear – go for good value not just the cheapest. Would you want to wear those cheap nasty safety shoes day after day, week after week?

BYOT (Bring Your Own Tools). Get with it folks – this is the 21st Century not the 19th! Do you really expect your people to buy and bring their own tools to work? How do you control the quality? What if a tool fails and injures someone? What about sharing tools? What about 5S shadow boards? What about theft and “borrowing”? In my view, employers need to supply all of the right kit to do the right job to the right standard. Period.

The Number One Motivator – “I know what is expected of me at work”

Expectations detemine outcomes, Expectations motivate us, Expectations keep us on track. So it’s no secret that the best organisations – and the most effective Leaders – are all over this.

So here are some simple tips – aimed here mainly at manufacturers.

Long-term: make sure everyone clearly undertands the common goals of the organisation and why you do what you do. Is there an answer to “Why am I here” and “What’s in it for me”?

Medium-term: spell out the three most important goals this year, this quarter. Back them up with SMART objectives for each and every team member (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Timescaled).

Short-term: provide simple visual “target and actual” measures in each workplace. Every team member needs to see for themselves what’s required and how well they are doing. At the end of each shift / day / week every team member should know – without waiting to be told – how well they’ve done, and what they need to focus on next time.

What really motivates them (and us!) – part 1

“Bosses get the workers they deserve, and workers get the bosses they deserve!”. I first heard this at the age of 18 and it’s stuck with me ever since.

Far too often I hear “They’re only interested in money”, “You can’t motivate that lot”, “I / We / Managers / Directors are motivated by challenges, doing a good job, a sense of achievement… but that lot are only motivated by money – that’s all they’re here for!”

The reality is that most of us in the workplace are motivated by the same things, A huge amount of research has been carried out in the field of motivation but for me one of the most useful approaches – based on many years of research with thousands of employees – are the Top 12 Motivators.

“First Break all the Rules” is a great book that describes these Top 12 and I’d recommend it to anyone in a Leadership role. Let’s look first at Number 1 – the Top Motivator for most people:

“I know what’s expected of me at work”

This seems so simple and abvious that many folk I work with don’t actually believe it! But think about it for a moment. How desperate it can be when you really don’t know what you’re aiming to achieve. If your organisation and your boss don’t explain the “what and why” of your role, you don’t have anything to aim for and you feel directionless, lost, and not important.

So the first task of a Leader in any organisation is really simple – make it very clear to each and every person exactly what is expected of them, and why. It really is that simple!

Brexit – immediate actions for UK Manufacturing Leadership

Manufacturing clients that we’ve been working with at a strategic level already have well-rehearsed plans in place for Brexit. For those who are still reeling with shock here are some of the short-term actions that Manufacturing Leaders might consider – the “Six R’s”:

Reassure: the first essential role of Leadership in turbulent times. Ramp up the communication, make yourself available, get out and about in the workplace. Let people know that despite recent rhetoric no-one’s job will be lost this month or next. In particular, reassure migrant workers that they are valued and wanted and will continue to be so.

Resilience – time to update your business risk assessments and make sure that you have robust plans in place and contingencies for the things that won’t go to plan! In particular, consider broader supply chain risks (see below).

Rates 1 – Exchange Rates: the pound will be weaker for a while so ramp up the exports and continue to use Lean to in-source materials and components. De-risk the Supply Chain and take manufacture and control in-house.

Rates 2 – Interest Rates: we simply don’t know if interest rates will go higher or lower so shorten your payback periods slightly but keep on investing. Short-term turbulence often leads to cheaper asset prices so look out for bargains – don’t put off that acquistion but instead go flat out and bargain for a lower price.

Routine: now is the time to reinforce Standard Work, One Best Way and all of the “boring but important” daily disciplines that make for successful long-term business.

Remember: turbulence doesn’t change the world but it makes for bigger opportunities and bigger threats – update your SWOT review, spot the opportunities and act decisively.

Courage mon brave!

New Team Leader? Want to be liked? Get yourself a dog!

One of the hardest career steps that many of us take is the very first – becoming a Team Leader or First Line Manager. One day we’re happily part of the team, next day we’re leading it.

Without the right training and support it can be a tough place to be. Because we lack knowledge, skills and direction we often veer off into one of two directions – “Nasty” or “Nice”:

NICE: Some of us are keen to remain friends with the team members so we try a little too hard, maybe not put too much pressure on getting things done, maybe turn a blind eye to some of those things that we were doing yesterday.

Result: team members may like us but we’re seen as an easy touch, maybe a “pushover”. Some folk take advantage of us so we lose respect and it becomes harder to get the job done.

NASTY: Some of us go the other way – “I’m the boss now – no more mister / ms nice guy!” We stamp out all of those little perks, cheats and short-cuts that we were doing yesterday.

Result: team members see us as unreasonable, a “dictator”. Some folk actively work against us so we lose respect and it becomes harder to get the job done.

For me, one of the hardest lessons to learn – and one that I tell every new Team Leader or Manager – is this: “Don’t expect to be liked!”. Hence my second piece of advice – “If you want to be liked, get yourself a dog!”

What you can – and should – expect is to earn the respect of those that you work with. To become a good Team Leader you need to understand what’s going on here, and what to do about it.

Let’s look at two aspects of how we manage the team –

  1. Challenge – how much do we expect from team members?
  2. Support – how much help do we give them?

In the first example. we’re all support and no challenge so we’re an easy touch.

In the second example we’re all challenge and no support so we’re a dictator.

But we don’t have to choose between the two – it’s not an “either / or” choice.

What we need to do is both – always challenge people to be the best that they can be, and at the same time help them achieve their goals.

Result: better outcomes, happy team and well-respected, effective Team Leader! … and your dog will still love you just the same 🙂

Andrew Nicholson is Managing Director of ImproveMyFactory.com, and regularly coaches Team Leaders and Lean Leaders to achieve more than they thought possible.

VACANCY FILLED Head of Operations (Director Designate) – West Yorkshire – competitive package


A UK leader in volume tube-bending, our client Olicana Products is seeking an experienced Head of Operations to help achieve its ambitious growth strategy.

The successful applicant will report directly to the company’s Managing Director and will be responsible for all Production and related Operations at the Ilkley factory.

This new role requires excellent Leadership and communication skills, a commitment to Operational Excellence and the intellectual and strategic ability to progress to the role of Director within three years.

Successful applicants will be of graduate calibre, with at least ten years of career progression in world class, fast-moving manufacturing business(es), and the package offered will not be a barrier for the right candidate.

The role would suit both locally based applicants and those seeking to relocate to this beautiful area of West Yorkshire.

Please email CV and covering letter to Recruitment@ManufacturingTimes.co.uk with your name in the Subject field. All applications are treated in the strictest confidence.