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The Ideal Shift Manager

Shift Managers often have the most difficult management job, yet they typically have had the least amount of management training. Often they are people who have come from the factory floor, outstanding Operators who have been noticed and promoted. They typically have more people directly reporting to them than do middle or higher managers, as well as a changing pool of casuals. They are the first port of call when anything goes wrong and can spend a large proportion of their time putting out fires. If you asked them to describe a typical day or shift, they are likely to tell you that anything can happen. They may believe their role is to “keep things running smoothly” but attempt to achieve this by running from one issue to the next. When there are no issues, Shift Managers may feel justified in taking a well-deserved breather. Then the cycle continues.

Obviously, this is no way to manage. What would we expect from the ideal Shift Manager? It is a given that Shift Managers know their equipment and processes thoroughly. Since most have come from the floor, this is not usually an issue. Production Managers in food processing plants say they want Shift Managers who can manage people. They want people who have their finger on the pulse, who know exactly what is happening on their shift at all times. They want people who can develop their people and delegate responsibilities. They want accurate reporting. They want people with an eye for continuous improvement, who fix problems rather than get around problems and are always looking for smarter ways to do things.

What should be a typical routine for a Shift Manager? The first thing to do on a shift is to gather information. The ideal Shift Manager will check the Production Plan and find out where it is up to. They will talk to the outgoing Shift Manager and find out any issues from the previous shift. They will look at what needs to happen on their own shift and begin to plan for it. Planning involves checking manning levels and making arrangements to adjust if required, or if necessary, adjusting the workload to fit the available manpower. It involves liaising with maintenance/reliability personnel if there is going to be a changeover or if there are any equipment issues, liaising with stores to confirm availability of raw and packaging materials, and liaising with Production Planning to confirm expectations. Initial information-gathering may be done in the office, but early on the ideal Shift Manager will be walking the floor.

Most production problems will snowball to the end of the line, so an indicator on how well production is running can be found by viewing the end of the line. If product is reaching the end and is running at full capability, then chances are all is well up the line. The ideal Shift Manager will check output rates and open packets to check quality, then walk on up the line with eyes wide open along the way.

The ideal Shift Manager is responsible for safety, quality and environment. But how does that translate into day to day tasks?

For safety, it involves ensuring everyone on their shift is following safe practices. It means that when they walk the floor they notice and immediately correct any unsafe practices. The ideal Shift Manager will never walk past any rubbish or spills left on the floor. They will never walk past a forklift parked inside the Production Area or a rubbish bin left in the walkway. They will never walk past a water leak from a freezer or a spill of oil from a fryer. They will never walk past someone lifting incorrectly or not wearing their PPE correctly. The ideal Shift Manager will ensure issues are attended to immediately and counsel the people who are responsible or who worked nearby without fixing the issue. The ideal Shift Manager will ensure the safety committee meets regularly and that their suggestions are followed up. They will ensure incidents are recorded and investigated immediately, not next time the people involved are on shift.

For quality and food safety, it involves personally regularly checking quality along the line, and periodically being involved in taste testing. It involves ensuring checks are being performed and recorded and are within spec at all times. It involves helping with quality issues and having a good understanding of the variables affecting quality. The ideal Shift Manager will monitor the cold chain and notice, and take corrective action, when too much product is recycled around the system because the line speed is not adjusted to robot picking speed, or robot programming requires optimization. They will notice damaged or failing equipment and schedule it for attention by maintenance.

Managing environmental control involves monitoring cleaning practices. Is all dried product shoveled, swept or vacuumed before water is used? Is waste correctly separated into the right bins? Does minimal product residue go down the drains? Is effluent monitoring meeting specs?

Towards the end of a shift, the ideal Shift Manager will prepare for a handover. They will do their best to have issues resolved and everything in order. They will complete reporting and reflect on what went well and what they can improve. They will give a detailed handover and share learning with their Shift counterparts.

The ideal Shift Manager will coach and develop staff. They will know the capabilities of their people and they will continuously develop them according to a plan. When planning a shift, they will look for ways to give people opportunities for learning. They will be comfortable delegating because they will delegate to people they have developed and can trust. The ideal Shift Manager will create a culture of cooperation across departments, encouraging people to help each other. They will need to be very organized, disciplined and calm in very busy environments, able to prioritize and systematically work their way through issues.

So where do you find the ideal Shift Manager? Probably on your shift. They are unlikely to have all of the qualities right now, but if you plan ahead and develop them, they may have them by the time you need a new Shift Manager. The most important thing is that Shift Managers understand their responsibilities and what is expected of them, and understand the day to day behaviours that will meet these expectations. Basic requirements are that they have integrity, they treat people with respect, they are good communicators, and they are people who get things done. The rest you can develop in them.