Let’s talk: communication in manufacturing
As you’ll already know, manufacturing is all about supply and demand. Unfortunately, the systems we have in place often make this process significantly more complex. From managing a lengthy supply chain to monitoring the key production processes, many steps are involved in manufacturing — and visibility and awareness of each is key.
Of course, a lot of this comes down to communication. It’s of vital importance to all businesses, but especially to manufacturers when each individual step of the process depends on the last and is crucial to the next.
With this in mind, in this blog post, I will be examining the most common communication barriers in manufacturing and offering advice on how to overcome them. Ready? Let’s get started:
Communication issue #1: The employment issue
As my colleague Nicola has discussed in her previous blog post: Annual Manufacturing Report 2017: Key Findings, manufacturing is currently facing an employment conundrum. Just 38% of manufacturers already have the competencies their business needs within their supply chain. With recruitment a priority in order to plug the talent gap, a younger workforce is moving into the manufacturing sphere. This in itself can present a communication issue, if not handled correctly.
Manufacturing is known for having an older, more experienced workforce. When fresh talent joins any company, employers may assume that the new recruits are familiar with specific machinery and processes. However, while the talent gap may have been plugged, a training gap begins to emerge, whereby inadequate training is delivered to new staff members.
Even if your new recruit is well-experienced within the sector, they’re still new to your company and will need to be aware of your policies and processes. Failure to communicate this can lead to things becoming overlooked and inadequacies within the manufacturing chain, and possible frustration from colleagues.
Often, this aspect is overlooked due to time limitations — in a busy manufacturing plant, it’s often difficult to set aside formal training times. However, this is crucial to the success of your business. As well as a formal induction to your business, consider partnering new recruits with an experienced team member during the initial stages of their employment, to offer further support and guidance should they need it.
Communication issue #2: Divided departments
It’s called a supply chain for a reason — each department is intrinsically linked. These links cannot be broken; if they are, your business can face severe communication problems.
One of the most common issues is the disconnect between the supply of raw materials you have and the end product and customer. If you’re unaware of what raw materials you have, you run the risk of having an inadequate supply to meet customer demand. This can often send processes to panic stations, as your team desperately tries to source the materials needed — a tactic that could result in higher costs, as suppliers capitalise on your needs.
Clearly, the smooth-running of the supply chain is a priority for every manufacturer. However, when the supply chain is multi-faceted, aiding communication is trickier than simply encouraging two departments to speak to each other. In fact, it often requires a sophisticated system to give greater visibility of the entire process — that’s where ERP software comes in.
Our own K8 Manufacturing software solution supports sales order processing and stock control, allowing effective management of the raw materials and products you currently have and how much you’ll need to meet customer demand. This 360-degree view is invaluable, especially when you consider how vital the process is to how your business operates.
Communication issue #3: Lost in translation
As your business grows, communication becomes increasingly difficult. At the start, you had full awareness of the problems your business faced, as you experienced them first hand on the production floor.
However, now that the pyramidal form of your business has taken shape, upper management can feel increasingly disconnected from the real issues staff members are facing. Essentially, you can do little to rectify the issue if you’re not fully aware of what it is.
Nobody better understands these issues than the employees who navigate them on a daily basis. If those communication channels are blocked, there’s little chance of them reaching upper management and being rectified.
Instil an environment that welcomes opinion-sharing positively. Ensure employees feel comfortable talking to their line managers and upper management about the problems they face, and don’t be afraid to ask tough questions about leadership and the business more widely — how can we get better? What problems are we facing? What would you like to see change?
Feedback of this nature can be a bitter pill to swallow, but only by enhancing communication channels can you realise the opportunities awaiting you and harness their potential.