I love walking folks through operational excellence and the benefits it brings. One of the amazing consequences of the program is the communication bridge that is created between operations and corporate. I never cease to be amazed when I get to watch a group of front line personnel present to the VP of Operations an idea that they generated, researched and supported through the data they have collected. It is great to see the VP Ops react when this group speaks clearly to how this improves the company bottom line or aligns with a company goal or value. This, as the say, is worth the price of admission!
An Issue As Old As Time
The gap in communication between leader and follower, executive and staff, corporate and operations is as old as time itself. It is one of the chief issues that drive so much of the business support industry. Management consulting, communication consulting, change management, Lean, Six Sigma, Agile, SAP, LMS's and so many others are indicators as to how significant this issue is.
Moving from Opinion to Measurement
Often the biggest barrier to communication is lack of methodology which leads to lack of trust. I can walk down to the operations floor or go to site and I will have at least a couple of the veteran staff tell me why something is an issue and what needs to be done about it. And they are usually right. The breakdown comes because when those ideas get relayed back up the line it sounds suspiciously like opinion. While decision makers by nature may have a higher tolerance to risk than most they are not going to bet the farm on an opinion even it comes from a veteran staff member. In short they don't speak the same language - numbers!
Risk involves uncertainty and opinions do not address uncertainty. Measurement or data addresses uncertainty. If you know what to measure, why to measure and how that will reduce uncertainty around a decision then you have begun to bridge that communication gap. Let me share a quick example. Cold weather operations in Oil and Gas are problematic because many operations use fluid, chief of which is water. Water, metal pipes and cold weather are a sure mix for disaster. Every O&G company has its "winterizing" processes which for the most part tend to be time consuming and costly. Sites that are not on a 24-hour rotation wind up performing this "winterizing" process at the end of each day. At the start of the next they have to "undo" it. This takes time and is costly.
One particular group I worked with had begun to measure a number of things around "winterizing." Because they now had data which included the time it took to winterize and time to put everything back together the next day, they knew exactly how long this took. They also had an idea of the approximate value of a downtime minute - time spent doing something else instead of pumping or drilling. It had been discussed for sometime that this process could virtually be eliminated by flooding the lines with a methanol water mix but due to lack of data the idea had been dismissed as cost prohibitive. Once they examined the data in terms of lost time and what it cost the company it was discovered that this was not the case at all! There was in fact a cost savings and when that and the time savings were all calculated in the company saw an increase in completions of nearly 10% from that one idea alone! They crew may have known this for some time but until they could speak "numbers" in order to reduce the uncertainty change was not going to happen.
Everyone Wants to Contribute
You may be tempted to believe that this is a unique situation with a motivated crew. The reality is I have seen it happen time and time again. Simply put, people want to contribute to the success of the team you just need to give them the tools to do so. By showing them how what they do contributes to the company's success and showing them how to measure what they do to improve their performance you provide them with those tools. Once they speak "numbers" they have bridged that communication gap with leadership. Performance Leadership - Think About It!