Once I took the assignment as executive assistant my relationship with the shop floor changed dramatically. I went from being a direct part of its day-to-day activities to being an interpreter of the data compiled into performance reports about what went on there. In other words, I left the “real world” of the shop floor in a physical sense and became immersed in a virtual representation of it as expressed by data generated and human behavior exhibited throughout a complex system of schedules, inventories, and procedures.

Throughout any given day, these performance reports highlighted deviations from expectations which triggered the director’s need to know what caused them, what would correct them, who was doing what by when to implement the fixes, and when would “normalcy” be restored. Beginning the first day in my new position, the director made it well-known to all that I was an extension of him. This established a new baseline for my authority which was quite different from what I carried as a first line supervisor. My duties included observing and verifying the conditions first hand that surfaced in performance reports, attending status meetings and interviewing people involved in addressing the identified issues, relaying commitments from those responsible for taking corrective actions, and following up as needed to confirm progress.

More importantly, though, my shop floor experience coupled with the director’s positioning of my role in management circles increased my authority to influence systems for production planning and production control at a division level that directly impacted shop floor performance. I could add more detail and context to the data reflected in the performance reports that, in turn, offered perspective to thorny problems and clarified priorities for departments and their functions in addressing them.

Delivering this type of contextualizing service week in and week out increased my trustworthiness among division management that I would use my presence and authority for the common good and not unfairly advantage one group or individual over another. One of the related skills I developed was how to convene management at various levels across the multitude of disciplines associated with production planning and control systems and tell stories about the conditions on the shop floor such that they understood cause and effect between the systems they represented and the real world those systems affected. Subsequently, they actively participated in proposing alternatives, developing new and modifying existing processes, and implementing projects and programs to improve overall operations.

It was on the basis of these collaborative successes that the vice-president for engineering and support services offered me a management position in his division to accelerate the rate of change within these production planning and control systems. While a definite advancement with commensurate increase in authority, taking it meant leaving the “protection” of the director responsible for production with no avenue for return should the move not work out—another fork in the road.