Continuous Improvement Manager

Mark works as a continuous improvement manager in Hull, UK. Here he talks about championing the underdog, daring to be different and why manufacturing is all about the people.

When I joined RB 17 years ago, the business recognised I had it in me to do more – even though I didn’t see it myself at the time. Before working for RB I worked in the plastics industry for 13 years. I started at RB on the production line and was desperate to progress. I was fortunate that managers believed in me and I was encouraged to take on new roles. Now I’m in a position to help others myself. I love to see an underdog and try to turn things around for them. RB has a great culture – we encourage everyone to aim high. That’s been the biggest challenge I’ve taken on – inspiring others to succeed. From what I’ve learnt here, you can achieve anything at RB. 

RB not only recognises work-life balance, it encourages it – it comes down to mutual trust. I’ve worked in some tough roles over the years, not least as area team leader responsible for the day-to-day running of production lines. RB gives you a lot of autonomy to get on with the job and that makes all the difference. In my role I can work from home, I can go to the gym when it suits and then put in extra hours in the evening. It’s very flexible and that makes you feel you’re worth something. 

There’s a big link between people’s mindset and their performance. My job is all about improving efficiency, quality and safety – it’s a results-driven role. Ultimately, we are about making money and some of that comes down to having state-of-the-art machinery. But it’s more complex than that, and it’s not always recognised that people are the most valuable asset. You don’t just press a button and let the production line run itself. It comes down to individual mindsets. The link is very complex, and a bit woolly to communicate, but it’s my job to keep production, and people, progressing. 

When you open your kitchen or bathroom cupboard, most of the products you see may well have been made by my team. They work really hard to get stock on the shelves, but being part of a manufacturing team can feel a bit remote. Many of those doing the hard work don’t have access to emails or company reports. Sometimes they feel excluded – that’s something I’m trying to change. 

I’m known on site as being the guy who communicates. I’ve taken it upon myself to go beyond my role. I’ve learnt how to make videos and design posters that show, for instance, how the brain works – our thinking and our logic. Anything that makes people working here feel good is worth sharing. One thing I did was create a montage along our factory wall that depicts Hull, the history of the city and the incredible people who hail from here – such as pilot Amy Johnson. It’s had great feedback from staff. It’s really important to me that RB connects with its local communities. 

I’m not afraid to be the “lone nut” in order to achieve change. We had a manufacturing technician who stood out as being a real talent – fixing issues fast and running his line better than anyone else. But it was hard to nail exactly how he achieved such great results. Then I got the idea to video him in action. I watched a YouTube tutorial on how to make and edit videos and trailed him for a few weeks as he fixed problems while giving a running commentary. These videos now comprise a tutorial reference library for staff and new starters. They’ve become a go-to tool for skills sharing and have resulted in fast and significant gains in line efficiency. Action cameras are now the norm on site. Talking about change doesn’t always cut it – sometimes you have to catch it in action. 

Site lead and operations manager Niall O’Brien is my inspiration. He cares so much about the people he works with and he wants to make Hull stand out as a flagship site. He’s not afraid to do what’s right, even if it’s difficult. And he’s not driven by a need for recognition – he’s selfless and inspires other people to be honest and truthful. It’s clear that the success we’re seeing has been driven by his approach. 

My wife Sarah also works for RB – as an emerging science technology consumerisation senior manager. She travels a lot and as our daughters have now grown up and moved away, I’m also open to travelling with the business. We try not to talk too much about work when we’re at home, but we still do – as you can imagine. 

I’m here for the long-term. I want to continue to be someone who promotes change, inspires, coaches and motivates others. Not only by continously improving processes and procedures, but through daring to be different. I’m good at challenging the norm. Part of my role involves being a mentor to new graduates. I really enjoy working with them and supporting them. If people on site have a problem, they often come to see me first – and that’s flattering. 

During the 17 years I’ve worked here I’ve been constantly surprised by the way RB has continued to evolve as a company.  It doesn’t matter what background or race you’re from, everyone feels like family. There’s a fantastic openness to change and a culture of progression. You don’t stay in one place. Employees are valued and that’s what has kept me here so long. Our current climate of diversity is brilliant.