Busting the Myth of Self-Direction

To the casual observer walking by Kaser’s campus on a weekday, our operations look like a buzzing hive of freight trucks, forklifts, and carts. The intensity level ranges from “moderate flurry” to “fog of war,” but one thing remains constant: from 7 AM to 4 PM, Kaser is like an anthill. 

On an individual level, it’s all as carefully orchestrated as it can be. Each team member has their own responsibilities. There are divisions of labor, there are to-do lists, and there are protocols in place for handling the various unscheduled events that tend to arise in our industry (rework, customer service concerns, malfunctioning equipment, etc). 

These lists, protocols, and divisions did not grow organically from the ground up. Managers, I’m here to tell you that entirely self-directed teams are a myth, and that your management experience will become much more rewarding the minute you decide to take responsibility for day-to-day operations. 

As a manager, you have a certain amount of distance from the daily grind. This distance does not mean that your responsibility to the hustle and bustle has evaporated; only that it has shifted.

You now have an obligation to your team that you did not have before: you are the one thinking ahead. You are the one anticipating needs. You are the one preparing for every eventuality. This is not something your team can do on its own – they’re busy with their craft. They’re technicians. They possess a set of skills that, in a perfect world, they would be able to apply, day in and day out, with zero interruption.

Managers, it’s our job to remove interruptions.

We should be putting everything in our employees’ strike zones. I need my team to blast, pretreat, coat, and package large numbers of large parts, with reliably-excellent quality. That’s what they’re best at. Any peripheral tasks – shipping, receiving, scheduling, checking that we have blast media on hand, making sure there’s enough bottled water for everyone to stay hydrated during the work day, etc – fall on me. I handle them so that my team doesn’t have to, because I want them devoting every minute of their day to doing what they do best.

If I am not removing logistical barriers that could keep my powder coating team out of the powder coating booth, I am doing it wrong.  And if you are not using your management role to actively set your team up for success, you’re doing it wrong, too.

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