I was getting major push-back from Emily. She appreciated the logic, but, still, there was an internal struggle.
“My guys on the line have been putting these units together for years. They have the experience. They are competent at the assembly,” she said.
“Then what are you dissatisfied with?” I asked.
“Well, we still get too many rejects and they always fall short in unit count at the end of the day,” she replied. “But they know how to do their job.”
“Then, what do they say the problem is?”
“Well, first, they say the daily target is too high. Some say the line runs too fast. Some say it runs too slow. It’s too noisy. For some it’s too hot, others, it’s too cold. You want more? I got excuses as long as my arm.”
“So, they say the cause of the problem is always an external factor, never because of their incompetence?”
“Oh, absolutely. Don’t even go there,” she cried.
“Then, let me go farther and substitute a word for incompetence. Much failure is caused by stupidity.” I stopped. “We don’t talk much about stupidity in the workplace. The reason we don’t talk much about stupidity, as the cause of failure, is that, as managers, we don’t know how to fix stupidity. So we try to fix all kinds of other things. We speed up the line, we slow down the line, we change the temperature. But we never address the real problem, stupidity.” I could see Emily’s eyes grow wide.
“Emily, I use the word stupidity because you get the point in a nanosecond. Now, put the word back, think about incompetence. Much failure in the workplace is caused by incompetence. But we, as managers, don’t know how to fix incompetence, so we try all kinds of other things. We never address the real problem, incompetence.”