“A willingness to think boldly, a hunger to innovate, and a preparedness to be guided by hard facts and data and not prejudice or received wisdom,” is among Alastair Campbell’s advice to readers in his book, ‘Winners and How They Succeed’, which charts the successes of global leaders, from business and politics to sports.
Looking back at the EEF National Conference, where Campbell was a guest speaker at the dinner, it’s easy to see how this mindset has sector-specific relevance. It’s easy for manufacturers to be focused on what needs doing today, and it’s a challenge to find time to think about the future. But if we don’t set aside that time, the future has a habit of catching up with us.
Manufacturers can be risk-averse, and often that aversion comes from the top of a company, from its board and management (as found in a recent EEF report). Unfortunately, that means that even when there are innovators in a business, they aren’t always supported in the most helpful of ways.
A leaf out of Branson’s book
Campbell discusses how Sir Richard Branson pioneered an airline during the recession of the early 1990s. Although Branson says friends and colleagues described him as “mad”, there were opportunities to be found buying from airlines that were struggling to sell. Branson had in mind air travel that was a step up from most, with in-flight entertainment that was unheard of at the time.
Branson describes his approach as calculated as much as bold. He clearly defined his goals and sought advice about the industry. He had no experience of commercial aviation at the time, but had a network of contacts who did.
If we are to successfully manage the onset of the fourth industrial revolution in manufacturing, we also need to be visionary and calculated. The UK lags behind other leading manufacturing countries in our attitudes towards innovation, with almost a third of manufacturing companies describing themselves as conservative.
But there is certainly the depth of expertise available to help the UK’s manufacturers achieve more.
Some aspects of the fourth industrial revolution apply to all manufacturers. Digital connectivity through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), alongside secure digital infrastructure will enable manufacturers to analyse the data gathered about their production processes better than ever before.
The hope is that supply chains will be more efficient, and smarter production will lead to better yields and production times.
The need to set goals
While manufacturers are increasingly aware of the need to invest in their businesses to keep up, the sector needs a strong strategy to get there.
Striving for a goal is admirable, but Campbell points out that there is more to it than simply having ambitions. “A business plan is not a strategy; it is one of the means of securing a strategy.”
Campbell explains that we often lack clarity of thought when it comes to the difference between ambitions, strategy and tactics.
If a manufacturer wants to improve a customer’s experience as an overall goal, the strategy might include analysing customer experience and setting a budget for improving it. The tactics would be how that strategy operates on a day-to-day basis.
From establishing day-to-day goals to defining longer-term strategies for the next decade, if we succeed in modernising UK manufacturing, we can be global leaders. The EEF manufacturing conference is a great place to share ideas, not just about our individual goals, but those of the country as a whole.