I recently had the opportunity to help a client hire a new operations leader – and the job went to the person who was "geekiest" about manufacturing. An interesting qualification but a critical one.
The company had a unique approach to interviewing and assessing the finalist candidates that included beginning the day with having the candidates take the first half hour to talk to the assembled senior management team about whatever the candidate wanted to tell them. The rest of the day followed more traditional lines – a series of interviews with various people who asked them more traditional questions. Most candidates devoted that half hour to what you would expect – a review of their resume and life history, expressions of commitment to their families, a lot of talk about their personal interests, and so forth.
The person who got the job was a guy who tried to do the same but was constituionally incapable of sticking to his script. Time after time when his self-description touched on manufacturing he would stray down some manufacturing rabbit trail with a passion he could not control. Turns out that is exactly what the company wanted in their operations leader – someone for whom manufacturing was not just a career but a passion.
It was their head of marketing who called it out. Her criticism of the first candidate of the series who came in for the interview was that he didn't get "all geeky about it". She wanted someone running the factory who sailed right over her head with his knowledge and enthusiasm.
The good manufacturing consultants I know are that way. They do what they do because they love everything about manufacturing. I know I'm that way. The real motivator for me is that I get to go into a lot of factories and meet a lot of manufacturing people. Hanging around factories and talking about manufacturing is as good as it gets for me.
My best boss was a real geek -not much in the way od social skills, naive and completely uninterested in office politics – obsessed with the operations and everything about them. Dean Ruwe from Copeland where I had my first real exposure to lean was a manufacturing geek – a bit more polished but just as obsessed with diving into every new idea and exploring every nuance of production. When I think about the companies I know that are really outstanding, every one of them has one or more people in positions of serious influence who would fit that marketing leader's criteria – they 'get all geeky about it' whenever they have the opportunity.
Most companies have operations folks who are technically competent, solid resumes with good experience, but they do their jobs with professional detachment. The good ones are not capable of such detachment. They do what they do because they love it. Their spouses have accepted the fact that the geeks will come home at the end of the day and talk abut manufacturing. The geeks will leave trails of books and articles behind them at work and at home,and somehow manage to find like-minded geeks at parties, in airports and in just about any other social setting.
The business world has fully accepted the inevitability of geeks in IT and accounting. It needs to do the same in manufacturing. Geeks are life-long learners, passionate explorers of ideas, Quixotic in their unreachable quest for technical perfection, and most energized when debating the arcane points of their trade with other geeks. As such, they transcend people with strong, but static, credentials. It is increasingly apparent to me that finding the geeks in the organization, hiring new ones, and promoting and supporting the geeks is a critical element of transforming the organization from being technically strong to being extraordinary.