People mover or Prius? Japanese reliability or European chic? Green or fun? These are just some of the choices confronting the average consumer when it comes to purchasing a car. And while we may baulk at the choice, information and imagery overload that is the car marketing world today, we haven’t even scratched beneath the high-gloss surfaces to consider what is happening behind the scenes.
For a number of years now, we have been reading about the challenges facing the car component industry in Australia-the demise or offshoring of some businesses due to the gargantuan manufacturing industry in China and its low cost base.
Step in the Automotive Supplier Excellence Australia body and we see a move towards sustainability for the car component industry as well as professionalisation in processes, leadership and management. ASEA was established in 2007with the aim of helping the automotive industry achieve world-class capability and competency levels through creating an independent, best-in-class benchmarking process and targeted supplier assistance initiatives.
Since its establishment, ASEA has already gathered together a string of impressive achievements that compare favourably on a world scale. These include fewer re-works and rejects of products, better use of floor space, and better stock turns and inventory levels. These might sound operationally focused, but they translate to greater viability and improved financial health for the industry.
But what about the people side of the business? After all, production lines are still led by people and human beings are not automatons. This is a point not lost by ASEA and is the reason why leadership and management training is a key component of programs offered.
DeakinPrime, the corporate education arm of Deakin University, was called upon to respond to this need and in a way that urgent manufacturing priorities were not disrupted. In collaboration with ASEA and client organisations, a series of workshops incorporating change management, leadership, performance management and other key areas were developed. Particular attention was given to the demanding and tight schedules that managers in these environments are shouldered with so workshops were interspliced with targeted, small-group coaching sessions.
Importantly, measurements were made of perceptions and states before and after workshops to get a sense of the effectiveness of the learning. One client, multinational tyre and rubber specialist Continental, required its senior executive team to undergo an Executive Alignment session to ensure that the leadership message would be consistent at all levels of the organisation and high engagement at all tiers. The workshop then commenced at senior management level, with managers of different departments undertaking the sessions.
One participant, Steve Papagergiou, commented on the benefits of spending time away from the office: ‘It was good because it is always quite busy here. There are always things that need to be done and you don't get many opportunities to sit aside and discuss management and leadership with peers … getting away from your normal work environment and being challenged, being presented different themes by people who have done the analysis into different techniques, were very good.’
‘Take-aways’ that could be implemented tomorrow were an important part of the grab bag of learnings-Steve reflected on his ability to better identify different personalities within the department and inspiring them in different ways. Armed with this knowledge, he believes he can now approach situations in an even more enlightened fashion.
Another participant, Andrew Huett, commented on the practical activities that were incorporated into the program. The use of games was instructive, particularly in the team component sessions-Andrew commented on an activity where participants needed to move a ‘nuclear power station’ from one side of the room to the other using set rules and methods. The imagined high stakes environment meant one false move could have disastrous consequences. The group played the game several times with different outcomes and learnings. Andrew commented that good team work and good communication were crucial ingredients of a successful outcome.
When thinking about what has been practical and useful about the ASEA and DeakinPrime programs, Andrew summed it up by saying, ‘I think more on a top level. It’s quite easy to get dragged down into everyday work and everyday life where everything is chaos-it's normal for any organisation! But I can now think about why this is different and how can I do this better. I remind myself about this on a daily basis.’