- Posted by J. Nirdosh Reddy
- On February 1, 2017
- Company Culture
One of the 6 guiding principles for prospering in the 21st century is: Manage with facts, not opinions. As we all know, that is easier said than done. Managing with facts is one of the most important areas of transformation. The way you and your people react to problems makes all the difference between winning or losing in this competitive environment.
Data from outside and inside the organization
It appears that we know more about what is happening with our products outside our organization than what is happening with our processes and employees inside our organization. Customers buy or not buy, return goods and complain, so we know how the customers are perceiving us; but, employees tend to sweep the problems under the rug, if they can, so we are ill-informed about why our processes and people are performing the way they are.
Is data viewed as a friend or a foe?
Before you can manage with facts, you need facts. Facts are not always pleasant – facts will be good as well as bad. Let us explore why it is difficult to get facts.
What happens to pleasant data? – It rises immediately to the highest levels of the organization.
What about unpleasant data?
- It is likely to be swept under the rug, if possible. If not, it will be invisible, or held back, as long as possible in the hope that the next round of reports would be favorable.
- The problems would be worked on under the cloak of darkness.
- One rationale given for holding back – ‘it is my job to fix the problem, so why bother my boss with this information; I can always tell him after the problem is fixed.’
Does this ever happen at your workplace?
Behaviors of employees influenced by leadership styles of bosses
Why do employees behave this way?
- It is a direct consequence of the leadership styles of their bosses.
- In the conventional leadership style, as discussed in my post on leadership styles, the prevailing notion is ‘people produce output, therefore, manage people to manage output’. When people bring bad news to our attention, we:
- Ask, who did it? Blame and punish somebody. Ridicule people
- Make sure that people are paying attention to their jobs
- Sometimes, shoot the messenger
Over a period of time, people learn not to tell what the boss does not want to hear and to bury the problems. So, if we want to know really what happened, we resort to ‘digging for facts’.
Did you ever think about why we have to ‘dig for facts’? – Because, they are buried!
Under such an environment, it would be almost impossible to get appropriate and accurate data. Any wonder why unpleasant data does not rise to the top and why it is difficult to manage with facts.
How do we change this behavior?
Remove the fear of data!
We need to view data as a friend, not a foe. Facts are not always pleasant – there will be good news as well as bad news. It requires organizational maturity to face facts. You learn from both, especially from the bad news, if you approach the data with a proper attitude and perspective.
Remember the second guiding principle ‘Results come from processes’. “When things go wrong, first ask what in the process broke down, not who did it”. Supervisors and managers need to demonstrate that they do believe that bulk of the causes for the problems they are experiencing (over 90%) are in the way things are done (processes and systems) and that the purpose of data collection is to improve existing processes.
Involve employees in improvements – Move from controlling to involving employees
When you ask your employees as to where the processes are breaking down, and ask for suggestions on how to improve the business process, you will be amazed how many valuable suggestions you would get.
At one of our clients, there was a semiconductor fabrication process with over 25 steps. At an early stage, say step 4, the operator, Joe, had difficulty loading wafer material in a dish into the furnace. If the dish was not fully level, the diffusion process wouldn’t be uniform, and the defect in the wafer would only be detected at step 22, fairly close to the end of the line.
Joe told his supervisor, John, that that process step was difficult and that some dishes were not fully level. The reaction from the supervisor was “Joe, I told you how to do it. I will show you one more time. Pay attention. Be careful next time”.
What do you think – if you are the operator, would you tell the boss if that problem recurred. Most likely not. You look the other way. If somebody asks you as to why you didn’t report, you would say “I didn’t see it”.
After attending my workshop on Becoming Globally Competitive, the CEO told all the employees that they are embracing the 6 guiding principles and invited all the operators to participate in the transformation of the work culture.
A few weeks later, Joe noticed that the wafer dish problem recurred. Hesitatingly, he approached his supervisor and told him “John, the problem happened again. I did everything as you taught me”. This time, John didn’t scream at Joe. He said to Joe “let’s see where the process is breaking down”. Sure enough, as they started looking into the details of the process steps, they could see where the process was vulnerable. Joe, who lives with the machine, made a couple of suggestions and within a week, some improvements were made.
The yield improvement showed up at stage 22; people at that stage were surprised and excited; and wondered what happened. They had no knowledge that Joe and John made improvements at stage 4.
Financial people were happy but had no clue as to what happened. Consider the financial impact. If the problem happened at step 4, the wafer is already defective at this step; there is no value addition from steps 5 through 21; resources are wasted; capacity is lost; costs soar.
John, the supervisor, was hesitant to report the changes, because, he was afraid that instead of appreciating their effort, ‘other managers’ would ask “why didn’t you do this before?”
The moral of the story:
Make a transition from controlling people to involving them. Refrain from saying “why didn’t you do this before?” Celebrate successes, no matter how small and you will be on an unstoppable and exciting journey.