It is a curious process and I have yet to come to a company where I did not see this happen. It is the phenomena whereby people come to view promotion as an opportunity to move further away from operations. (Yes it applies in corporate settings too.) It starts with something as simple as a promotion that gets me into the data van or into the control room. Or I get to move from a cubicle into an office or from an office into a corner office - you know how this works. I have seen it even go so far as having the President or the President and Executive move onto their own floor. Some of it is status driven and some of it is comfort driven but the net result is still the same; the further up you go the less connected you become from the daily ebb and flow of your group or department.
Sweat the small stuff
I remember when I started out in this work there were all kinds of books out about "not sweating the small stuff and its all small stuff" and so on. Focus on the big things and the little things take care of themselves. Strangely my years in leadership have not born out that premise. In fact, I find it is just the opposite; the moment you let those little things "get away" on you it is only a matter of time before they become a bigger issue. In one case I was brought in to look at issues around operational improvement and why crews seemed to be uninterested in taking ownership over plant operations. As it turned out the crew were quite interested but their leadership was absent. There were shift leaders to be sure but the Superintendents that were responsible for all the daily activities "lived" in offices a few feet away from the control room and "never" and I mean "never" came out to interact with their crews. What looked like disinterest to upper management was actually a case of operations leadership not actually engaging with their crews.
Do you know what your team is doing?
When I get to work with new leaders this is an easy fix. On one crew I began asking the superintendents at different times during the shift if they knew where all their crew were and what they were doing? The new leaders picked up on this immediately and implemented their own personal schedule that made sure they got out to look at things at least two to three times each shift. What they discovered on those "tours" was the state of mind of the crew, issues that different crew were facing and valuable insights that helped them stay ahead of issues and prevent them from becoming problems. They weren't micro-managing and they weren't managing by walking around they were interacting with their crew, asking questions, getting feedback and actually getting to know the crew. They were visible.
Want to know an interesting side effect of this process? That's right, their crews performed better, were more apt to communicate and took a much greater ownership of what they were doing. In reality those tours were a small expenditure of time that reaped huge benefits. The crew felt appreciated and the operations leadership felt much more "on top" of things.
Overcome the "tyranny of the urgent"
Leaders with more experience were a bit harder to get into that habit and it is a tough one to break. There is no vacuum in a schedule and it you don't fill it with meaningful productive activity (do you know what meaningful productive activity is for you and your team?) it will be filled with "administratia." That is the seemingly endless paper chase and activity of filling out forms, doing reports and so on. We are quite adept at filling our day with busy work. I witnessed cases where crews were facing some pretty serious crunch issues with a project and a client and in the middle of that the senior leadership left the site to go pick up a part. I suspect their time would have been better spent staying on site and keeping their crew on task and the client happy.
A small investment of time
The only way to get a sense of how your department, division, company or shift crew are doing is to make time to get out and be with them. It doesn't take much time but it will bring you a harvest of huge rewards. "Don't sweat the small stuff?" It's all small stuff and its important. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
This was actually a hard topic to title. The reason for this is that its not that we don't train people when they move into a new role or that some kind of instruction doesn't happen. Companies are good at ensuring these things take place and that people are prepared for their job. Rather the issue that I want to discuss with you today is centered around the "why" and the "how" of the work people do and your role as a leader in providing that understanding.
Connecting your team with company vision and goals.
It starts with you understanding the company vision and goals and how your team’s competencies contribute to those goals. It begins with you being able to answer the question; what does my department or group do to contribute to the overarching company goals. If you cannot answer that question, then it is going to be very difficult for you to get your group to understand their place either.
Once you have developed an answer to that question then things get really interesting. Ever have a member of your team who could describe the nature of their work and yet somehow never got the job done to your satisfaction? It could be that you did not sit with them to have them to work out the "why" and "how" of the work they do, their competencies. The "what" would be the technical competencies that go with that role like IT, support or operations. But there is so much more such as things like collaboration, communication, problem solving, initiative, building relationships and the list goes on. These are really the "how" of getting things done and they only make sense when you understand "why" these contribute to the company goals.
Nothing is too insignificant
Take for example the role of a baggage handler which could be described as simply making sure the baggage gets onto the right aircraft, off at the right location and in generally the same condition it started the journey in. But we know there is so much more involved. Working as a team, communicating with that team, working against timelines, making sure that every detail is taken care of and so on. This role is probably the most under appreciated part of the industry yet regardless of how much you enjoy the flight, the aircrew or the quality of the aircraft if your bags don't get there with you and in one piece, that is what you will remember.
"Why" connects to the bigger picture
Or we can look at baggage handling as a key part of the company effort to ensure top of class customer experience and satisfaction (an overarching company goal). The "why" of what someone does as a baggage handler becomes clear - customer experience - not just moving bags. Now all those activities become unified under that goal. Things such as teamwork, communication, relationship building and taking initiative begin to make sense. It is why I love it when the handlers for a particular airline wave when a plane backs out to taxi - they get it.
You create the linkage to company goals
People may want to do the right things and may be competent to do the work but it is up to you as a leader to make sure they understand the linkage between what they do and the company's overarching goals. When they come to understand the "why" then the "how" will make more sense and they will want to partner with you in that endeavor. Don't assume that everyone on your team "knows' their job, make sure they do. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Micro - Manage: to try to control or manage all the small parts of (something, such as an activity) in a way that is usually not wanted or that causes problems. (Merriam Webster Dictionary)
What does good supervision look like?
When I introduce the concept of Active Supervision one of the first objections I get from leadership at all levels is that it sounds like micromanagement. This used to surprise me but having worked with so many groups I have come to understand where a lot of the confusion comes from. For some folks the confusion is founded on a genuine concern regarding not "hovering" over staff during the performance of a task. Others struggle with not wanting to communicate any sense of inadequacy to staff which is often a bi-product of micromanagement. And by far the biggest issue faced by leaders is a level of discomfort with the whole issue of supervision in general. Which is to say that being uncertain about what good supervision looks like they back away from it lest they find themselves micromanaging.
In our efforts to NOT micromanage we err too far the other way!
These are normal reactions and are a reflection of the fact that people and in this case leaders, want to do a good job and care about their teams. They want to believe in their teams and their capacity to perform the work set before them and don't want to communicate any sense of a lack of confidence. Micromanagement has a negative connotation and in trying to avoid being labeled a micromanager most of us tend to err too far the other direction and supervision suffers as a result.
Be consistent with giving direction.
So let's look at what is fair game with regard to supervision. First and most importantly people want clear and consistent direction. Your job as a leader is to make sure that you understand the goals and objectives for your team and ensure that they know what those are and what they need to be doing to accomplish those goals. Often we tend to treat giving direction like the joke about the old married couple who when the wife complained that her husband never told her he loved her his response was "I told you I loved you when we got married and if that changes I will let you know." Providing direction is something that must be done regularly and consistently in order to be sure that you are communicating well. As the saying goes; communicate, communicate and when you are done that communicate some more.
A good example of this was an LNG plant I worked with. Upper management was concerned with the lack of detail around daily shift reports. They wanted more detail around safety, preventative maintenance, operations and downtime issues. I took this information and began informal meetings with plant operations crews to glean from them what they felt would be good information to put in a daily shift report. Turns out I got a list of items that was almost identical to the list the management had given to me. They created templates, made sure these items were addressed each shift and in very short order daily reports and the detail in them soared. What was really instructive in this process was a discussion I had with a shift supervisor when he asked what had prompted this process. When I told him the management had been concerned about the lack of detail he looked at me and said "Why didn't they just ask?"
Its okay to communicate what you want.
Directions may have been given at some point in the past but those had been forgotten and things had fallen by the wayside. So it is with your team. Provide regular and detailed directions - it is okay to communicate what you want as a leader.
People want to know what is expected of them and how they are doing.
The second aspect to understand with supervision is that people actually want to know how they are doing and where they stand with you. The more you communicate what you require of each of your team the more opportunity you have to recognize them for the good work they are doing or correct for those things that are not yet in alignment with your objectives. Regular checking in on those things can actually be very healthy and people will appreciate it. I have said this many times but when I ask people how they know they have had a good day and they respond that no-one yelled at them I know that more communication and supervision is required.
What you ask about - communicates importance.
It is okay to let your people know what you need from them and sometimes even how you need things done (set process for example) and then check in on them on a regular basis for recognition and feedback. This is not micro-management it is actually a key part of continuous improvement and driving performance. Checking in, discussions at meetings, getting folks to track something are all ways of communicating that what you want is important. Don't be afraid to provide direction and don't be afraid to take time to make sure that is being carried out. Active Supervision will give you a chance to get to know your team and stay on top of potential issues before they become problems.
Expecting vs Injecting
Active Supervision is making sure the job gets done and your team is getting the feedback they need to make that happen. Micro-management often involves injecting yourself into the process and no one wins in that scenario. Performance Leadership - Think About It.
Ever notice how we are all prone to fads? Whether its clothes or music or beards (for those that can pull that off) we see fads come and go. The same is true for business and in particular leadership. There have been all kinds of fads and they come and go but what about the things that work? How do we know if there wasn't something there that when stripped down to its core was really something that is a "best practice" behavior?
Let’s take the issue of metrics for example. In my work with Continuous Improvement and Operational Excellence metrics are core to those processes. Yet more often than not we use our metrics as lagging indicators and never really explore how to use them as leading indicators that can drive performance improvement. Admittedly metrics by their nature are lagging indicators in that you measure something that has happened - the number of widgets made, the time line for an order to be filled and so on. In these cases, the effectiveness of the metric will depend on how much of a "lag" you allow for. For example, safety metrics that are reported quarterly or yearly will have a diminished effect on changing safety behaviors whereas safety metrics discussed at daily shift meetings will have an immediate effect on safety behavior. Simply collecting metrics will not drive performance and will not promote operational excellence. How fast you use them and communicate them will and that is where accountability comes in.
Before I go into this concept in detail let me be clear about what I mean when I refer to accountability. In the traditional sense (real world) accountability was about who would be left "holding the bag" when something went sideways. Usually it was some poor person in middle management or if they were deft enough it was foisted upon someone in operations. As the joke went when something like that happened, you found the accountable person and you "hung em high to teach them a lesson." That is the old application of accountability.
TRANSFORMATIVE VS PUNITIVE
When I refer to accountability it is framed within the context of a work environment that allows for mistakes and uses them as stepping stones to improvement. It is centered around the idea that there is transparency in the process and the goal is to identify issues and deal with them as quickly as possible. In this scenario accountability is not punitive but transformative. We move from looking for someone to blame to looking for solutions to the issue that confronts us.
WHO OWNS THE METRIC?
Let's use a quick example from the airline industry. Baggage handlers are a key element of the industry and there are many metrics that can be employed in assessing performance. Total time to load, turn around time for transfers, dropped luggage, customer complaints, lost luggage and so on. These are all useful metrics and they are all lagging indicators and all the best dashboard reports in the world will not change that. Accountability will. When a manager or leader reports on a metric guess who "owns" that metric? You are right, they do. When a baggage handler reports on a metric like number of drops for example, who owns it? Again you are right, the baggage handler.
SHIFTING FROM REPORTING TO DRIVING PERFORMANCE
Here is where accountability can be used to take a lagging indicator like a metric around dropped bags and transform it into a leading indicator and a performance driver. If I require my baggage handlers to report to me every day on the number of bags they dropped during a load or unload what behavior am I going to drive? You are right again - they are going to focus on making sure they don't drop bags. Now I am using a metric to drive performance. How do you think that works if they only have to report this to me once a month? Once a week? Once per shift? Which do you think is going to be most effective? Right again, the closer to the activity you require the communication the more impact it will have on behavior.
STEP ON THE GAS
Metrics are extremely useful but they will never drive improvement or performance until they are hitched to personal accountability. Get your team to identify their own metrics as they relate to the larger goal of the department and get them to track and report them. Then stand back and watch the transformation. Only then will you have the gas to drive performance. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I want to start things off with a discussion around the idea of active supervision. This should not be confused with "management by walking around." And active supervision should not be confused with the "other" type of management supervision - passive supervision - or what we have come to know as "fire fighting." In fact as you develop the skill of active supervision you will find yourself doing very little fire fighting.
Firefighting in management is dealing with issues "after" they have become issues. It is not proactive but reactive and strangely enough it is the kind of activity that gets rewarded by those further up the line and it carries a heavy dose of immediate positive feedback for the manager doing the fire fighting as well. Why is this?
For the person doing the fire fighting there is that rush of positive feedback in that you have dealt with a problem and solved it; saving the day. You feel useful, engaged and it is one of those times when as a manager you feel as if you actually got something accomplished. Your superiors too will give you kudos and a pat on the back. We all know of that person on the leadership team who is rising up the corporate ladder because they have become excellent fire fighters. It feels good to be that "go to" person.
Sooner or later firefighters get burned!
Admittedly part of your role as a leader is to remove obstacles for your team so that they can succeed but that is not the same as fire fighting. When you evolve into being a fire fighter you continually dance on the fine edge of failure and eventually fatigue and burn out - pardon the pun. You will discover quickly that you will not be able to be there to catch all of the issues or problems and you will begin to notice that fewer people on your team take on responsibility for addressing challenges and more and more of those issues get handed off to you. Sound familiar?
So what is the difference between passive supervision and active supervision? Active supervision involves the communication of expectations and goals to your team. (Do you know what those are?) Following up on results and resolving issues with employees and process. In some respect it is akin to the difference between a leading indicator vs a lagging indicator. Fire fighting is a lagging indicator and you are dealing with something after it has happened. Active supervision requires a greater level of presence in some respect but only as means for you to ensure you are out in front of issues "before" they become issues. It is more like fire prevention than fire fighting.
What's your 90/10 look like?
By far the biggest part of this is communication. You need to know what you want from each member of your team, communicate that to them and you need to follow up to ensure you are getting the results from each of them that you require. As a good friend of mine once said you need to "inspect the expect." I share the following statistic with leaders and it resonates with all of them. You will will spend 90% of your time dealing with 10% of your team who are the problems (we sometimes call this micromanaging). Active supervision equips you to devote more of your time with the other 90% of your team who are doing their job and who will do a better job because you are now spending time with them.
To be fair there will always be a need for some fire fighting as problems may arise from time to time. The question is this; as a leader how much of your time should be spent fire fighting vs active supervision? Which leader is doing their job well; the one constantly putting out fires or the one who has their team working well and smoothly? That's what active supervision can do for you. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I find this aspect of Continuous Improvement to be the richest and most challenging of them all. Rich because those who do this well provide us with a wealth of insights and best practices that continue to grow this field. Challenging because when a Continuous Improvement program fails it will inevitably find part of its causality in a failure of leadership.
Leadership is Crucial
Your role as a leader is absolutely crucial when it comes to implementing a culture of continuous improvement. While the journey to that place will indeed put you to the test, and it will be hard, the realization of that goal will vault you to entirely new levels of influence and understanding. The key understanding will be this; you have far more influence than you realize and your reaction to each and every challenge around continuous improvement will be watched and weighed by everyone on your team. Once you understand the depth of that influence there is no going back as a leader. You cannot simply say "I don't care how this looks or doesn't look" because you will know the impact of a decision or choice and will not be able to ignore it.
Let's explore a few ways that you can exercise your influence as a leader to promote the adoption of a continuous improvement culture on your team. First and most importantly, participate. There is a strange understanding in many places that the further up the leadership ladder you go the less you have to involve yourself in the programs implemented with your team or company. Nothing could be further from the truth. People are highly sensitive (remember that BS meter?) to the "do as I say, not as I do" approach to leadership. One of the first questions I get asked is "Will the leadership be doing this as well?" An absence of leadership participation in continuous improvement will lengthen its adoption.
Participate, get in there and go through the process and training with your team. Let them see you doing it and give them the privilege of rubbing shoulders with you in the process. Never underestimate the value of a "shared experience" in building a strong team and process.
The next thing you can practice is to activate. Getting involved in the program is actually the first step in activation. Your team sees you getting involved and they will be more comfortable getting involved as well. In addition, use your role to promote ideas and processes that your team will come up with as you work toward your continuous improvement culture. Build activation into your scheduled processes or meetings. Be the person putting continuous improvement on the agenda at meetings or bring it up in one on one discussions. All of these things will influence your team to implement and get excited about their part in the program.
Third you need to be an advocate. There are going to be hits and misses as you implement your continuous improvement culture. You need to advocate for your team on both accounts. Advocate for their ideas and plans and advocate for them when things didn't go just right or went down right sideways. In one case a supervisor felt that a principle of continuous improvement was being violated when one of his crew took responsibility for a failure in a meeting and was removed from the site. He vigorously advocated that this sent the wrong message around openness and really went to bat for that crew member. It did not change the result but the value of that leader went through the roof with his crew. That one act activated their continuous improvement culture like nothing else they had done.
Lastly, celebrate! Don't just celebrate the final product, celebrate the multiple little victories that came along the way. In creating a host of metrics and kpi's you will in fact be creating a set of opportunities to celebrate with individuals and with the team. Looks for those trends. Look for those ideas and innovations that will come and never miss an opportunity to celebrate. Remember too, every celebration doesn't have to be a party. Sometimes a simple "well done" is all it takes.
You are the fulcrum of your continuous improvement program and you exert far more influence than you realize. Remember participate, activate, advocate and celebrate. Build these into your daily continuous improvement routines and watch how it will transform your team and your leadership. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Talk the Talk but don't Walk the Walk.
Identifying barriers to improvement is typically one of those "touchy" areas that can produce some rather vigorous discussion. This is usually because companies either don't understand the things that drive improvement and have embarked on ill thought out programs or because a team or company mandate around improvement does not align with the company culture. They talk the talk but don't walk the walk. In either case these things are usually not deliberate but still hard to swallow when you realize that your actions and programs may have had the opposite effect you were looking for. Let’s look at a couple of examples that I am sure many of you will be familiar with.
The Best Of Intentions
Safety has undergone a dramatic and much needed overhaul across almost every industry sector in the last couple of decades. Many great advances have been made in this area and for anyone who has been around to see the transition it is pretty impressive. Yet I run into many barriers that counter-act those well meaning intentions in the work that I have done with companies. The Safety Bonus is my favorite.
Great idea right? Hey if the crew operates safely each day or week or month (fill in the blank) they get a well deserved bonus. Safety is one of those programs that requires a continuous improvement mindset yet more often than not the concept of safety bonuses is a barrier to improvement rather than a driver of it.
In one company the safety bonus in fact drove reporting of safety incidents down. No one wanted to be the person who had a safety incident that would result in the crew losing their bonus for that day. Rather than having a rich data base of events from which to drive innovation and improvement very few events were reported and safety tended to be a hit or miss thing - pardon the pun. The company figured this out and began to implement a host of regulations around the policy in an attempt to plug the holes they kept finding. Soon they had a program which had started with the best of intentions but yet failed to deliver the performance they were looking looking for.
You Can't "Fake" Genuine
Right up there with safety programs is the whole "openness and accountability" program. Openness and accountability are key elements of continuous improvement but these programs often struggle or fail to take root on a team or in a company because the "talk and walk" don't match. For example, its pretty hard to get staff to be open and accountable for performance in a "one strike" setting or in a setting that does not invite vulnerability. There may be no such thing as a stupid question but believe me there are a million ways to respond to questions that will ensure that questioner never raises their hand again. Ridicule, feigned interest with no follow up, platitudes, impatience or just plain indifference are all excellent ways to put up great big barriers to improvement.
Openness and accountability are not just catch phrases they are an invitation to your team or staff to become vulnerable and get involved in working with you in achieving the bottom line. It is an invitation to have them engage because you deem them as valuable. If you are not 100% behind an initiative of this kind then please try something else. The most finely tuned sense in the workforce is the BS meter. Continuous improvement and change management often hit roadblocks because staff have been burned by this kind of "program" in the past, are highly skeptical and for good reason.
These are a couple of my favorite barriers to improvement but there are many out there. Your job is to make sure you know the lay of the land, analyze the potential pitfalls and barriers and remove them. Start with a mirror and move outward from there. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Has the needle moved on employee engagement?
Some of you may have read the recent article in which a Gallup researcher indicated that employee engagement has not been impacted at all in spite of all the efforts to drive that behavior. I believe that there are a number of factors that impact this including the one that I spoke to in my last post around participation. Closely connected and a natural outcome of participation is the generation of ideas and the understanding of their value to a company and a team.
Idea Generation is Gold
One of the key things that will evolve out of driving staff to determine measures and collect metrics around their performance is the development of opportunities lists. These are known by many things; suggestion boxes, employee input and so on but what they really represent is your employees moving from measuring and communicating to innovating or if you want idea generation. That idea generation is the gold that you want to continue to drive as a leader.
The Numbers Don't Lie
"But I already do that," you may protest and perhaps you do. The data on this issue would not indicate in your favor. An EIA (Employee Involvement Association) study on the level of employee participation around idea generation came up with some interesting results. In a quick comparison for example, an average employee in Japan will submit 32 ideas per year and in North America that number is 0.17 ideas per employee! Let that sink in for a moment.
Ideas have a value.
What’s more is that the study found that the net savings per idea in North America worked out to around $7102 and in Japan to around $129. Don't pat yourself on the back just yet. At 32 ideas per year vs 0.17 there were more ideas to go around! When we factor in these numbers on a per employee basis it works out to $3612 per idea in Japan vs $398 in North America. To add insult to injury is that of the relatively few ideas that are generated on average in North American companies only 33% are adopted while in Japan that rate of adoptions is 87%.
Why Do We Lag Behind?
Why so different? Perhaps we look at idea generation much less positively or we have never taken the time to understand the value of an idea. I suspect that given our propensity to be competitive we usually dismiss most idea's (or discourage them) because they are not the "home-runs" we are looking for. We want the quick fix and the million-dollar idea while our counterparts in other parts of the world are more than content with ideas that create even modest savings.
The reality is that even a small idea can have a big impact. In one Japanese company the average return per idea was around $50 but when multiplied by the thousands of ideas submitted it accounted for almost $10 million in net profit in a single year. (Aubrey Daniels, - Bringing out the best in people.)
Continuous Improvement won't take off until metrics begin to inform innovation and generate ideas.
You need your strategic goals, you need your operational goals and you need your individual goals and the metrics and kpi's that go with each of these. But Continuous Improvement won't take off until those metrics begin to inform innovation and generate ideas. Like panning for gold, often what you find are small nuggets or even gold dust but over time it adds up. The lesson here is never underestimate the value of a small idea. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
I can almost hear the collective rolling of the eyes! Of course we want our people to participate! Of course we are looking for a high level of employee engagement! It almost seems like one of those mom and apple pie statements that everyone would instantly agree with. And yet....?
Do we really invite participation?
I am not disagreeing with you, I believe that those are indeed the sentiments of the vast majority of people in leadership roles, those who are trying to create a continuous improvement culture on their teams. Still...? Let me share one of Andy Andrews stories to give you an idea of where I am coming from. Five seagulls are standing on a pier and one of them decides to fly away. How many seagulls are left on the pier? If you answered 4 you are wrong. You see until the seagull actually flies away he hasn't moved at all. Intending (or agreeing with a premise) is not the same as doing or acting upon it. Starting to get the idea?
We know that continuous improvement is iterative, that is it is constantly going through the cycle of goal setting, measuring, communicating, innovating and evaluating. When you are first trying to build that culture you have to be very aware that once your team has the goal and have started measuring their own metrics and kpi's, getting them to move to communication and innovation will require giving them permission to participate. This will be particularly true if this move to continuous improvement is taking place in a setting where employee participation was not traditionally encouraged. It is also one of the areas that is most prone to failure. A wrong comment, a snicker from a team member or an idea being dismissed without discussion and dialogue will cement with your team that calls for participation are not real. Getting them to open up after that will be a much harder and much longer task. You must be very deliberate and careful to create the kind of milieu that will nurture the participation you want.
How do you ask for participation?
How do you "give permission" to participate? Well, in a nutshell, you ask. Ask not just once but ask frequently. You may have a feedback loop built into your pre-shift or post-shift meetings. You may have a suggestion box or board where ideas are collected and then discussed with the team at the next meeting or it may be as simple as just walking up to a team member and asking for feedback. Asking for participation, putting it on every meeting agenda and sincerely engaging your crew in that discussion is how you give permission.
I have seen this at its inception and it is painful but if you persist you will get the participation you want and the innovation that comes with that. I recall one oil and gas company that I walked through this process and they decided to have each team member report on their metrics and performance at each pre-shift meeting. They were to report on how things went the previous shift, what went right, what went wrong and what they were going to do to address those issues on the current shift. You can imagine how threatening this would be for crew who had never been exposed to this approach. I timed the first few of these meetings and I think the longest one was just under two minutes! But then early in the process at one meeting a crew member shared an issue they were stumped with how to deal with. The assistant lead hand spoke up at that point and shared that he had experienced that issue as well and came up with a couple of suggestions that might work. It was amazing! The whole meeting opened up with team members offering experience and suggestions to each other. This opening happened because someone in leadership jumped in to acknowledge that participation and reward it. Meetings went from two minutes to almost 45 minutes literally overnight and it was deemed so important that crews came in early to make sure they could do the meetings properly.
Soon they were doing post-engagement meetings and developing opportunities lists that were populated with items gleaned from those original shift meetings. Each week the opportunities list would be posted along with which ideas had been implemented. At that point if you had tried to stop the participation it would have been near impossible.
Participation does not just happen. We would like to think that it is something organic to every organization but the reality is that this is simply not so. Don't feel awkward or be afraid to structure participation into your daily interactions with your team. After all they are looking to you for permission to participate. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
KPI's & Metrics
The discussions around metrics and key performance indicators (kpi's) are often lively and everyone has an opinion regarding what a metric is and what a kpi is. In the age of big data, we are finding more and more that having a multitude of metrics actually starts to provide a context around performance even if they are not kpi's in and of themselves. More important in my estimation is the relationship of the kpi developed at the upper levels of company leadership and how that informs what kind of metric that a front line worker will have.
Key performance indicators are those things that a company use to assess their performance. They are typically found at three distinct levels; strategic or overarching, operational leadership which feed up into the strategic kpi's and daily operations which are owned by the front line operations crews on an individual basis. At the front line operations level you can expect to see many kpi's because they will be specific to the unique role that each staff member has.
It's How You Make The Connection
Strategic kpi's must be set at the corporate level and implemented at the operational leadership level but I am going to submit that in order for these to be the most effective front line operations kpi's must be set by the individual operators. The result is an interesting "top down/bottom up" dynamic that can really transform continuous improvement and here is where the role of metrics can be crucial.
A metric is simply something that is counted and tracked. Depending on the industry and product, metrics can be any infinite number of things from counting minutes per call in a call center to how many orders get returned in a restaurant to measuring shots on goal in a hockey game. A metric by itself does not necessarily measure performance but in combination with other metrics can certainly suggest a strong causality. For example a metric may be tracking the minutes per call in a call centre but it may feed into a kpi around total number of clients served on any given day. Once that causality is explored with front line crews then true kpi's can be established and tracked.
Guiding Your Team Around Metrics
Key to this is operations leadership's discreet guidance of crews in first looking for what metrics to count and allowing those to evolve into meaningful kpi's for that staff member. The likelihood of personnel adopting a set of kpi's is directly related to whether they perceive "they" have developed them. To put it another way, a staff member is far more likely to drive performance toward a kpi that they have developed because they will "own" it. There is an added benefit as well in that as leadership walk staff through this process, staff will see much more clearly how what they do contributes to overall company performance. Powerful is a company in which everyone from the operations crews up to the president all own the companies performance!
The Alcoa Example
Getting crews to start looking for and collecting metrics are a key first step in the evolution to creating powerful kpi's. In October, 1987 Paul O'Neill the CEO of Alcoa Aluminum announced a new metric that he wanted his company to focus on, safety. In his words "safety trumps profits" and he set about to change the safety culture of the company. You may ask "What does this metric have to do with continuous improvement and performance?" My response is nothing and yet everything. As the company focused on this safety metric an interesting thing began to happen. When they explored all the metrics around safety they began to uncover other metrics around production methods that produced lower grade aluminum and a host of other activities that they realized were counter productive. As operations explored these various metrics and began to see causality new key performance indicators evolved. Within the first year of implementing this program around safety company profits reached record levels!
Key too in this process is that these kpi's were developed by the staff and they owned them. Metrics are different from key performance indicators to be sure but never forget the role that looking for and tracking metrics can have in creating genuinely relevant and powerful kpi's. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
Systems & People
When we talk about continuous improvement typically we have it fall into two categories; systems dynamics and people dynamics. Systems dynamics is the approach that looks at all the things that happen in a company and is based on the premise that continuous improvement can be achieved through the application of science and data around a company’s processes. It is the approach that someone with an engineering background is most comfortable with. For them it is show me an issue and the data and I will create a process to correct it.
How Does An Engineer Bake a Cake?
This was highlighted for me at one LNG plant that I did some work with. There had been a few safety incidents with golf carts. (These carts were used to get around the rather large facility) The management team was an eminently qualified group of engineers and the first response was to do a risk assessment and come up with a process change to address the perceived issue. Seat belts were made mandatory. Then there was a second incident and a second after action investigation was done and the result was that governors where put on the carts to further limit their speed. You get the idea.
It's The People
This approach is valid and certainly those were sound safety systems to implement. What no-one bothered to explore was the fact that all of these incidents happened with one individual. Every time this person had a safety event with a cart a new system was put into place.
At the operational end of this process the front line leadership and crew got together and assigned a mentor to this individual and forbid him from driving the carts until the mentor was comfortable that he was ready to do so. With a little coaching, they also made cart safety a highlight for the shift start meetings. Each shift someone was called on to discuss one aspect of cart safety. Those daily discussions provided a wealth of insight and innovation for the crews around this issue. That person got better and so did everyone else. This is a people dynamics approach.
Both are valid and necessary tools for continuous improvement but I am going to go reveal my bias in that I believe that in exploring continuous improvement you have to start with the people dynamic. In fact, I am certain that starting with a people centered approach will actually enhance the process dynamic of continuous improvement.
Old Habits Die Hard
Let me share another example. In an oil and gas company I had been coaching the front line leadership and crews around implementing continuous improvement. As they started to run with it they had developed a pretty detailed agenda for post engagement reviews. They used these to assess what had gone well, what had not and what could be done to address those issues in the next engagement. All of this had developed from the bottom up and the crews and their leaders were quite pumped about it.
At the same time at the corporate level of that company someone heard about what the crews were doing with these after action reviews and decided that this could be formalized into a process. Running along the exact same thinking that was now driving their crews they implemented a new process of doing after action reviews.
I remember when the memo came out and there was almost instant resistance to it. Why? To put it simply, even though both the front line crews and the corporate leadership were actually one the same page the instant the crews had a sense that something was being "imposed" upon them from above they resisted. This was regardless of the fact that it was essentially using their approach to what they were already doing!
With a little coaching of their leaders we were able to show the crews that this was in fact something they had developed! Buy in was not an issue after they came to that realization. And with a little encouragement it wasn't long before crews were coming up with further process improvements that aligned with plans that corporate had already been entertaining. As well they came up with new and better approaches to some of the issues. It was a win/win for everyone.
Don't Leave Out The People Part
I can't tell you how many times I have seen companies struggle to implement continuous improvement through the imposition of a process dynamic approach because they had underestimated the importance of the people dynamic. Both are necessary but you may find yourself taking the long way around to that solution if you fail to put your people dynamic first. Performance Leadership - Think About It!
The Leaders Hippocratic Oath
This last absolute is really the culmination of all the others and sometimes is also the most misunderstood. Like the Hippocratic Oath leadership at its core is founded on the principle that the people who make up your team or organization have worth and need to be treated as such. That understanding drives us to provide vision, direction, get buy in, provide reinforcement for the good performance that they deliver, give them an opportunity to grow into leaders in their own right and ensure that they understand the meaning and scope of their work. All those things communicate worth.
Honesty is the ONLY policy
What are some of those things that we do as leaders that are actually harmful to our people? Let’s start with honesty. When we are dishonest with our people about the things that impact them or about their performance we do harm. I am not talking about high level strategic initiatives that require a level of confidentiality in order to maintain a competitive advantage. I am talking about those day to day things that someone does that either causes you or the team irritation and yet no one wants to speak to it because no one likes conflict. Or it could be performance related or just something as simple as "fit" where someone seems to be having trouble fitting in with the group. If we are honest about it, we avoid those conversations and hope that it will fix itself. In case you missed it, not telling someone about an issue that you are aware of is as dishonest as lying about it.
Here is something to consider; from an objective level what is more painful, watching someone struggle with either performance or fit and ultimately fail or sitting down with that person to come up with a plan that honestly addresses the issues. That’s not to say that failure may still happen but at least they had a chance to make it work and they knew you had their back.
Trust is the Currency of Productivity
Here is the other nuance that we often don’t think about when dealing with staff. When you do or don’t step up to address "those" staff issues you send a very clear message to the other staff on your team. Is that message a confidence booster or a morale deflator? In a recent survey 45% of respondents cited trust of their leaders as a major factor regarding productivity. You may think you are only avoiding an "issue" but in reality you may well be creating a host of others – be frank, be honest and always from a perspective of sincerely wanting what’s best for that person.
Want Accountable - Be Accountable
Another way we can harm our staff is the proverbial “throwing them under the bus!” I wish I could say this does not happen often but we all know that would not be true. Sadly, it is also the surest sign of a weak leader. We all want our teams to function with a high level of accountability but how many times has someone been rewarded for that with a rap on the knuckles or worse. The hardest thing to learn as a leader is to admit when you have erred and “own” it. Placing the blame on an underling only inhibits productivity. Its pretty hard to throw yourself into something wholeheartedly when you are constantly wondering whose head will roll if something goes wrong. As we are fond of saying in the “patch” “Nobody moves, no-one gets hurt.” And of course, nothing gets done.
Even when something goes wrong that clearly belongs to someone in your team you should be the first in with an assessment and remedy and be working to mediate between your staff and your leadership. The bottom line is this; in most cases their failure is really your failure.
What Do You Permit?
I am sure that there are as many ways to do harm to staff as there are policy manuals on the planet. Let me leave you with one last idea on this. Don’t harm your team with what you permit. This may sound strange but we have all done it. When someone gossips about a fellow team member, when someone continually shaves more and more time off each working day with breaks, when someone consistently breaks a safety policy around eye protection or when someone is constantly grousing about company projects or leadership and you permit it, you are harming them and your team. When you don’t address these types of behaviors they become unwritten policy. How many times have your kids said to you “but daddy (or mommy) didn’t say anything the last time?”
Your team, no matter how big or small, is your team. Nurture them and be their catalyst for success. You have more influence and power as a leader than you realize, be sure to use it for good and not for harm. Performance Leadership - Think About It!