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!
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