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5 Things Manufacturing Can Learn from Its Military Employees

By: Adrienne Selko, Industry Week


Brian Richmond is a problem solver at heart. And throughout his career, first in the Navy and now in manufacturing, he believes improving processes is his mission.


Leaving a career where he was responsible for all systems working properly on a submarine, he took on different roles at manufacturing companies always implementing what he learned in the Navy. Currently, he helps companies that use Augury’s AI-driven Machine Health solutions, which include Colgate, Hershey’s and Heineken, to define project scope and ensure their success His role is to help eliminate downtime, reduce maintenance costs and maximize productivity for critical machines in industrial and commercial companies using AI tools.


IndustryWeek talked to him about strategies that manufacturing companies can adapt from the military to improve processes.


Break Silos… We are a Team

The military and the manufacturing sector are similar in that both need to meet certain goals and to achieve that everyone must be working toward the same goal.


“In my experience, there are more silos in manufacturing than I found in the military,” says Richmond. One reason for this is that the military does a good job at getting buy-in before projects were undertaken. Often in manufacturing, things are generally rolled out from the top down. Therefore, there is a tendency to see the projects belonging to a certain person, such as a vice president, and when that person leaves the initiative will go away. “Manufacturing needs to do a better job in explaining why projects are going to make a difference at every level of the organization,” explains Richmond.


“Managers need to define the value of the change for the entire organization. In the military, we go down the path together.”


Speak up

Looking at manufacturing’s history for the past 100 years, things have been managed pretty much the same, says Richmond. The “old guard” was taught to not question how things were done. But that’s not true of the military.


“What helped me from my military training is one of the military pillars is making sure you speak out when there is a problem,” says Richmond. “In manufacturing, people don’t like to speak out but instead just go with what is considered the normal way to do things. Our sector needs to be able to speak up and say there is a better way to do this and challenge the normal processes.”


Rework Talent Management Process

It all starts with the interview process and the culture of the organization. Richmond tells the story of a great candidate, a veteran,who didn’t get the job and when he asked the hiring manager why he was told the candidate didn’t ask enough questions. “In the military, we are taught to ask questions only after processing information and in some cases that can be three days later as we think about the root cause, how things really work and how we can improve things,” says Richmond.


Veterans also come from an environment where a job is precisely laid out. Personnel knew what the job requirements were of the job, what tasks had to be completed and even more importantly, says Richmond, what they had to do to set themselves apart from their colleagues. “We don’t have enough of those conversations in manufacturing,” he says. “We don’t talk about how employees can set themselves apart. We do yearly evaluations that are based on what is happening currently but not really looking toward the future.”


Another issue is time frames. “For example, I had to be a certain rank for two and a half years before advancing, but nothing stopped me from being selected early to move up. In manufacturing, we look at years of experience rather than looking at what an individual can bring to the table. That mindset has to be turned around.”


Change Culture

Change is always difficult, but in the military, it’s a core value. To explain Richmond cites a culture that can exist in manufacturing which held that the person with all the knowledge had job security. “However, that’s old thinking and cross-training is what will help the industry in the long run,” Richmond says.


Changing the leadership culture is important. “While the sector has made great strides in continuous improvement, often we initiate a project and then change directions. This change is due to a lack of leadership on the project, and it fails because no one owned it or knew what to do it. “


Be All that You Can Be

While this is really the slogan of the US Army, it applies at its core to all branches of the military.

“In the military, if you operate a machine, you fix it,” Richmond points out. “In manufacturing, there is a gap between those who run the machines and those who maintain it. And each tends the blame the other for a breakdown. In manufacturing, operators need to be able to provide a basic level of care for their machines. And that means you must take ownership of what you want fixed, and that includes getting buy-in for what you want to do. Everyone works together.”


Part of the motivation for taking on responsibility comes from the reward you get for that behavior says Richmond. “What has been the reward of the person that goes beyond regular work hours compared to those who work only their 8 hours shift?” asks.” There is no difference. So why would someone want to go above and beyond? But when you are surrounded by people all going beyond their specific job duties it changes the attitude. We need to support this attitude,” says Richmond.


Supporting this behavior, in the military, comes from being recognized for your efforts. Your evaluations note your efforts. “When you have a person that is driven and wants to get to the root cause of the problem, and you shut them down too many times, for whatever reason, they lose their motivation and either stop putting in the effort or leave your company,” Richmond states. "But rewarding their efforts can lead to important cultural changes in the organization."


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