#42 How to help a supervisor at the frontline, with Hugh Alley.


Welcome to Episode 42 of the enterprise excellence podcast. It is such a pleasure to have Mr Hugh Alley with us today, whose passion is helping people become better leaders. He is the author of the new book, "becoming the supervisor, achieving your company's mission and building your team". I'm so looking forward to this conversation on achieving excellence through such an important leadership position.

Proudly brought to you in association with S A Partners, a world-leading business transformation consultancy.


Early on - from toxic plant to sharing the success of cultural improvement.

Hugh worked in a toxic plant of 600 people. He watched the general managers screaming at the supervisors and watched the supervisors shouting and screaming at their crews. The crews yelling and screaming right back, and it was dysfunctional. As you can imagine, that company did not farewell. Hugh was the assistant to the President as they shut the company down. And putting 600 people out of work was just heartbreaking. And he never wanted to do that again. As he reflected on it afterwards, it was so clear that those frontline leadership skills were missing.

And then, about 15 years ago, a buddy asked him to come and be his operations manager. Hugh took the job, and as he walked into the main factory, his spidey sense went up. And it was not as severe, but it was that same toxic kind of situation. He had to do something, and this burning platform motivated Hugh to set up his industrial engineering consulting firm.

Hugh was working with many small manufacturers around British Columbia. And then one of his clients said, "I like what you're doing. Will you come and work for me?" And suddenly, Hugh was the supervisor of 65 people, without having had any experience as a supervisor before. He felt overwhelmed and learned on the job, as most frontline leaders do. Hugh then worked for a more prominent consulting firm for about eight years and then a friend's operations company for four years. He had such great success in turning the place around with the culture and seeing performance improvement. Hugh knew that there was something to share. He struck out on his own and started training using the 'training within industry' concept or core training.

Hugh's Inspiration

John was Hugh's President at the company that did so disastrously so early in his career. Due to his integrity, wit, and focus, Hugh would do any deal with him on a handshake. Tracy Defoe introduced Hugh to the 'training within industry' style and pulled him into that world. She has been super helpful and a pleasure to work with.

Why did Hugh write a book on the supervisor?

Hugh believes that skilled frontline leaders, supervisors, team leaders, foreman, etc., are at the pointy end of the stick. They have managers poking at them, they have to get production up, and they're stuck trying to build a relationship with their crews. Many of these people have come into their role, almost accidentally. They got thrust into it. Hugh knew Derek, a welder, who told him, "I just didn't step backwards fast enough", and that's how he got the promotion. He needed some help and guidance because he did not learn how to manage people in welding school.

Hugh looked around for something that could help supervisors, and there was nothing available. The available material targeted senior management and the CEO type roles. Hugh wanted to create something easy for supervisors to read but still have enough good content that they could take away and put to use straight away.

"Becoming the Supervisor, Achieving your Company's Mission and Building your Team"

Hugh's book works on two levels:

Level 1 - what does the supervisor need to learn?

Level 2 - how does the manager of a supervisor bring them along?

Level 1 - what does the supervisor need to learn?

A fine supervisor has five skills that they should do passively to make the lives of their people better and help achieve the mission of your company.

  1. Instruction: Being able to teach someone a new skill.

  2. Leading: Addressing the situation when somebody's not performing the way the company needs it.

  3. Improvement: Making some improvements in the way that work gets done in your area.

  4. Priorities: Knowing what your team members should do first.

  5. Listening: You need to be able to listen to understand others.

Level 1.1 Instruction: How do you train new skills to front line workers faster and reduce scrap?

This level comes from the job instruction module in the 'training within industry' framework. Even if this skill is not done particularly well, as long as it's done, mostly okay, it makes things better. So, knowing how to separate the essential steps, the key points, and the reasons makes a big difference.

Your necessary steps are numbered, and they're like the skeleton. And then you build on th