How Innovative Leadership Is Helping an Imaging and Robotics Manufacturer Take On Its Toughest Test

An imaging and robotics manufacturer, supported by Made Smarter, has embraced a new approach to leadership during the coronavirus crisis.

Forced to close or reduce operations in factories and offices, owners and senior managers involved in the North West digital technology adoption pilot faced their toughest test as they figured out how to restart, reassure their uncertain workforce and customers, and recover.

Agile leadership, flexibility, transparency, open communications and being receptive to learning from others have proved vital new tools to navigate the future.

Createc, based in Cockermouth, is a specialist in developing advanced technologies in robotics and computer imaging for nuclear decommissioning, transport and energy infrastructure, defence and security sectors.

It has revealed that changing their approach to the new needs of their workforce and business is helping them navigate the impact of the pandemic.

Dave Clark, Operations Director at Createc, discovered the importance of being more flexible with individuals.

He is part of the second cohort on the Made Smarter Leadership Programme, an eight month programme in conjunction with Lancaster University which had to switch online with virtual tutorials to give leaders a strategic view to support the adoption of hi-tech and digitally-based manufacturing techniques into their own production processes.

Clark said: “People management and ensuring that the workforce understood our purpose for any proposed changes has been an important learning from the Leadership Programme.

“While the pandemic highlighted the value of the team that you build around you, it has also revealed how vital it is to focus on individual circumstances.

“Our employees have faced many challenges outside of work. Casual engagements face-to-face in an office are important to make it easier to spot when someone needs help but working in a virtual space means you have to force conversations to get to the core of the issue. The result is that I have learnt to be more agile and nuanced about the way I approach individuals with different needs.”

Clark also found transparency through regular and open communications was a critical factor.

“Because of the uncertainty, the leadership team wanted to become more visible and explain the decisions we were taking,” he said. “We shared summaries of our management meetings so people could understand our rationale for the decisions we were taking. We also used those briefings to celebrate the good things going on in the business.”

Createc was also able to capitalise on the use of video conferencing to demonstrate its latest products when an event at its plant for 20 international visitors was cancelled.

“Instead of postponing we staged a virtual demo using video conferencing which was watched by 50 people all over the world,” he said. “Being forced to adapt resulted in a greater reach and produced assets we can repurpose for marketing material. It has changed the way we approach future demonstrations.”

Donna Edwards, programme director for Made Smarter, said: “From the start of the pandemic Made Smarter has been in regular contact with leaders across the region offering support and advice. Our conversations revealed some striking changes in the traditional norms, attitudes and behaviours that guide leaders.

“They have demonstrated agility and adapted to an unprecedented and emerging situation to ensure people and plants have remained functional. New flexible approaches have helped individuals and teams cope with the intense challenges to their daily and working lives. In many cases they have used the pain to change longstanding practices and find better ways of doing things. At the heart of this need for change is technology, which has proved invaluable in allowing manufacturers to work remotely to maintain operations and communications and prompted SMEs to accelerate and broaden their adoption of digital tools.” 

Registration for the next Leadership Programme starting in October is now open.

For more information or to apply for your place visit www.lancaster.ac.uk/lums/madesmarter or alternatively: email madesmarter@lancaster.ac.uk or call 01524 593 881.

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