Farnborough Air Show

Leadership program raises workrate and bottom line

 - July 16, 2010, 1:10 AM

Let’s face it: the aerospace and defense industries do not have good track records when it comes to keeping new product developments on-time and on-budget. And, like many other industries, they suffer from the habitual problems of inefficiencies throughout the sales, production and customer-support chains. Throw in the added pressures of squeezed income levels and rising costs and you have the makings of a major management headache.

Does that mean it’s time to turn to the management gurus? Many remain skeptical about the sort of self-help programs delivered by management school mavens, but according to Jamil Rashid, managing director of UK-based consultancy JARA, his trademarked Structured Leadership programs are different in that they make a lasting impact on companies and their people.

Rashid is a Master Engineer with management experience in both the aerospace and automotive sectors. Before forming JARA in 2003, he worked as a Master Engineer consultant to the Society of British Aerospace Companies and his fellow consultants have similar backgrounds.

According to JARA, there is nothing theoretical about the results that Structured Leadership has achieved at international aerospace and defense firms of all shapes and sizes. In one instance, the changes engendered by the program resulted in a 50-percent reduction in the budget for new product development and a
30-percent improvement in the achievement of “customer milestones” in the program. In another case, production output was boosted by a third, with the order backlog reduced by over 80 percent and on-time deliveries increased from 60 to 80 percent. At another company, a loss-making product line was returned to profitability and line stoppages were decreased by 25 percent, yielding savings of $4 million.

In other instances, Structured Leadership has been used to reinvigorate sales forces to the extent that sales closure rates improved by a factor of two and the number of leads in the sales pipeline increased fivefold. JARA worked with another company’s human resources department to tackle a high turnover rate of staff and generated $200,000 in savings by eliminating avoidable recruitment.

So what is the structure in Structured Leadership? According to Rashid, there are four core characteristics and, by practicing the following principles and techniques in all aspects of their work and at all levels of their company, managers can become structured leaders.

First comes the vision stage of the program in which managers “align” their teams so they stay focused on the company strategy. “Align means getting people to do things that implement strategy and stopping them from doing things that don’t,” Rashid told AIN. “We help leaders to create a framework of rules. We help them to create a framework and we help them to stick to it.”

A Master of Control
Next comes the “structured involvement” phase, which is effectively hands-on therapy for managerial control freaks. “Leaders find it hard to give people control because they feel they are losing control when they do–not because they don’t want their people to have control, but because they are frightened those people will mess it up and the managers will not achieve what they wanted,” explained Rashid. “So, instead, they try to control everything. But we show them how to stay in control without needing to be involved in everything and every decision.”

JARA’s belief is that if people have more control they put more effort into their work. In practice, this aspect of Structured Leadership involves getting teams of employees to define strategic objectives and to create solutions to problems that stand in the way of achieving those objectives.

The third element is measurement, whereby JARA helps companies to make the connection between what they do and what they achieve (or don’t achieve). “We are trying to get people to look at their own opportunities for improvement through an inward-looking measurement system,” Rashid explained. “Our enemy isn’t our customers, it’s us. We examine why we don’t meet goals. We focus on what we can do. As a manager and a leader it is easy to blame things on the outside world.” JARA believes it helps company managers to create an environment in which it is easier for their staff to identify and be honest about problems, which ultimately makes the workplace less stressful.

Finally, there is planning in which managers are helped both to develop and to adhere to highly visible, consistent and detailed plans for each project at all levels of an organization. “A lot of good strategies go nowhere because individuals lack focus on how they will achieve a goal, what they must do to reach it,” added Rashid. “People get distracted by day-to-day issues that steer them off course. We help them to constantly and easily test if the day-to-day opportunities they see are going to add value to the end goal or steer them off course.”

Rashid maintains that Structured Leadership is fundamentally different from other management techniques and best practice programs. “It operates at a very different level. We do some training but it has to be through on-the-job mentoring because people tend not to learn well otherwise,” he explained. “People need to see that something actually helps with their jobs. We can build good new habits. We have a system to help the individuals create a system rather than us simply handing one over. The problem lies in companies picking up a system and applying it without understanding why such a system was put into place in another company.”

Effective Meetings
One practical example of how Structured Leadership can change a company on a day-to-day basis is that it includes effective planning of meetings. The goal of effective planning is to ensure that “action items” generated by meetings are actually necessary, which in Rashid’s view is far from the norm in many firms where staff leave meetings assigned with pointless tasks that sap energy and purpose from what should be the goal of executing a clear strategy.

Today’s tough economic climate has prompted many companies to reassess how they do things and how to become more efficient. But assuming the good times will be back someday, is there a danger that these new approaches will not be lasting lessons that lead to embedded changes? “What will happen if those companies do not use Structured Leadership principles is that when things get better those good habits will disappear and companies may fall back into old habits,” Rashid concluded.

Considering some of the high-profile aerospace program delays in recent history, some might say they can be attributed in good measure to companies making unrealistic commitments and literally setting themselves up for failure. But for Rashid, a more significant factor is generally poor planning at the start of a program and an inadequate managerial review process. “The understanding of why things have slipped may not be there,” he reflected. “It could be that they are not reviewing often enough, leaving it too long to understand what has gone wrong.”