Women Leaders in Manufacturing and Performance-Improvement Initiatives

Just this past week, Shannon Karels and Kathy Miller published a very important book that describes the transformation they led to converting operations from traditional manufacturing to a Lean enterprise. It is entitled Steel Toes and Stilettos: A True Story of Women Manufacturing Leaders and Lean Transformation Success, and their story provides a powerful case study of women supporting each other in the workplace to drive positive culture and significantly improve business results by leading with authenticity and inclusivity.

When I recently spoke with Shannon and Kathy, I asked them: "What is the best advice you could give future female leaders in manufacturing overseeing performance-improvement initiatives?" Here is their complete answer:

Stay true to yourself and have confidence in your ability to get results.  You have stepped into this world of manufacturing, and you are up for the challenge.  Manufacturing, at the end of the day, is about people and processes.  While you are focused on improving those processes through the well-documented improvement tools, it is advisable that you make your personal assessment of the realities of the situation.  Do not rely solely on what other people are telling you – use the data and your instincts to help guide the organization toward a better future state.  

The relationships you make along the way are invaluable, particularly with those whose daily lives are spent doing the work you seek to improve.  Each and every person you meet matters and has important contributions to make.  If you develop relationships based on trust and respect, others will work with you and not against you, particularly if you have a vision that you believe in and can articulate, especially to those who have not experienced such a future state.

Do not get discouraged if record-breaking results are not immediate.  Creating sustainable improvements requires many infrastructure and cultural changes.  However, if you are dedicated to making the lives of those with whom you interact better through improved ways of working, you will find that over time the improvement initiatives will start to build upon earlier successes and the business will experience an accelerated rate of positive change.  

Celebrate successes along the way – it makes the journey enjoyable and meaningful.   

Face challenges, no matter where they come from with tenacity, determination, and a little grit.  Be willing to learn continuously and use your unique talents and strengths in solving problems and overcoming obstacles.  

But all in all, stay true to yourself through the process.  And while you will regularly wear those steel toes proudly, you can still show off those fancy heels anytime you want (as long as it’s safe to do so!).

What do you think of Shannon and Kathy's advice? We would surely like to hear perspectives from other high-performing female leaders out there who are leading transformative performance initiatives and thriving in fast-paced business environments.