By Gene Russell, Manex President & CEO

Reactive management is when team members and leadership respond to crises and issues as they arise. Proactive management is when you anticipate needs and challenges so that you and your team are prepared to overcome them.

We would all like to be proactive managers, planning, and recognizing both problems and opportunities at the appropriate time. While reactive management is not a label we usually want, it is an essential skill set (i.e. problem solving under pressure, embracing uncertainty, and high levels of individual ownership).   Reactive management is great for turnarounds, extremely high growth, recessions, and national pandemics but not for the long term.

No one wants to come in every day and solve only immediate problems and put out fires, although some people on the plant floor seem to get hooked on the rush and immediate rewards of getting it done. They may be the worst critic of your improvement/change plans. One of the warning signs of a reactive business culture is when these folks feel like they can never take a vacation day. Poor priorities, burnout, employee competition and fights instead of collaboration, and lack of resources are often evident.

Sometimes the most important tasks we must do are not urgent at all – and many of our urgent tasks could have been handled before they became emergencies. That is where proactive leadership and culture come in. As leaders, managers, and plant personnel, if we can learn to handle day-to-day tasks and still make time to think about and plan for potential future events, we will become more effective. Prioritizing tasks and situations when they are important (but not urgent) can prevent them from becoming problems.

We work with highly reactive clients putting out fires, solving problems, and getting orders to clients who are screaming at them. We also work with highly proactive clients. These clients develop five-year strategic plans, have workforce development plans, actively seek outside expertise, and cultivate banking relationships. They tend to have unique products and services for a highly demanding client base. These highly proactive clients know how to use ETP to help fund all of these programs and plans. Typically, the proactive client is planning for risk, whereas the reactive client is reacting to risk gone wrong. The third type of client is doing both, but the reactions are known, well-oiled and, over time they are decreasing with effort and involvement. These become Manex case studies for others to read and learn about.

Kaizen is a great starting point in any business, particularly because it includes everyone in the company.

  • Kaizen is a Japanese business philosophy that focuses on gradually improving productivity and making a work environment more efficient.
  • Kaizen supports change from any employee at any time.
  • Kaizen translates to change for the better or continuous improvement.
  • Kaizen’s small changes can involve quality control, just-in-time delivery, standardized work, the use of efficient equipment, and the elimination of waste.
  • The Kaizen methodology underscores that small changes now can have big future impacts. supports.
  • Kaizen is a step-by-step way to eliminate the reactive mindset and address the problems causing the mindset.

Food production companies have a much higher level of societal responsibility – the health and safety of consumers. Food safety can test the best proactive and reactive skills of your team. Naturally, food producers tend to be very focused on current and future issues. It’s best to have a roster of experts that you can augment with your existing team.

Lean and Quality Management Systems, such as ISO 9001, need daily work, quarterly tune-ups, and an annual workshop to stay on top of your game. These need to be budgeted and planned by senior managers or the reactionary culture caused by lack of resources will set in and will provide little room for improvement.

Cybersecurity is one of the larger and growing threats that needs a plan, a budget, and long-term thinking. We all know of horror stories (i.e. plant shutdowns, ransomware, phished wire transfers, and more).

What is your personal path for proactive management?

  • Everyone could benefit from some form of strategic planning. Creating a three-year plan should be easy if you can visualize the next 12 months.
  • Anticipate and visualize your growth. What do you think that looks like? What comes first, marketing, sales team, or capacity planning? I see plenty of firms that can sell far more than they can make without improving anything other than capacity.
  • Better time management. You need time to work on the business rather than only working in the business. Start with a daily, monthly, and quarterly to-do list. Avoid distractions and institute a business and personal 80/20 rule. Focus on the important 20% either delivering value or creating problems that need solving.
  • Read and keep up to date. Go back and read “first time manager” books. What have you forgotten, or ignored? Audible and podcasts can be a great commute and gym time companion.
  • Explore outside advice including an informal “board,” consultants, CPAs, and your banker.
  • Create Google Alerts for any topic important to you or your business. This can include your top 10 clients. Yes, you will get plenty of press releases, but these can be important as well. Follow your clients, your key suppliers, any grants you may want, or any industry you want to follow. These come to your Gmail inbox. It is very convenient, and you can add to or trim these at any time.
  • Follow the industrials on McKinsey for long-term views on manufacturing and specific high-profile industries like semiconductors and medical devices.
  • Follow the workforce development boards, city economic developers, and community colleges in your area.
  • Join the Association of Manufacturers Bay Area (AMBayArea) or the Sacramento Valley Manufacturers Association for many best practices including workforce, executive roundtables, camaraderie, and events. If you’re reading this from outside these areas, find your local association!
    • Manex is partnering with AMBayArea on a Lean Manufacturing Webinar this fall. Check out this event and other resources AMBayArea members can access.
  • Get employee feedback! Develop a Kaizen culture.
  • Develop self-awareness.

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About the Author

Gene Russell, President and CEO, Manex Consulting

At Manex, Gene Russell is a driving force behind the firm’s successful track record helping California manufacturing companies grow and thrive. He has held three successful CEO positions over a 20-year period for businesses that included early-stage, private equity and non-profit. He has served as senior leadership for global Fortune 100 and iconic consumer branded companies. Prior to Manex, Russell led a turnaround at a California midsized manufacturer. His experience in global sourcing and manufacturing over several decades led him to Manex where he brings real-world experiences, and as a result, a personal passion to restore and invigorate domestic USA-based manufacturing.

Connect with Gene on LinkedIn.