Make Improvement Easy

Nicole had the numbers posted. She was still working side by side with the team, helping on the line, but at least the numbers were posted.

“But, we didn’t make our goal,” Nicole shook her head. “That’s why I was afraid to write the numbers on the white board, before.”

I ignored her body language. “Nicole, I want you to add another number to the board. I want you to post yesterday’s numbers next to the goal numbers. For right now, I just want you to focus your team on improvement over yesterday.”

“Well, that should be easy,” snorted Nicole.

“That’s the point. Make improvement easy. Then focus on it.”

The Weeds Part of “In the Weeds”

Nicole was complaining. Her department was behind. She worked 10-12 hours per day and could never seem to get ahead. She thought her boss should appreciate her efforts and hard work, but instead, she got quite the opposite. He was disappointed in her performance and intended to follow-up on her numbers every two weeks instead of once a month.

“What am I supposed to do?” she said. “I get here an hour early and leave an hour after my team has gone home. It seems, they always pull me into the weeds. I just can’t get anything done.”

“Tell me about the weeds part. How does your team drag you into the weeds?”

“They always need help. I try to work alongside them for most of the day, but then I cannot get my stuff done.”

“Then, stop!” I said. “You are the supervisor. You are there to make sure the work gets done, NOT to work alongside your team. If they have a problem, help them through it, but then get back to your responsibilities. You are supposed to do production counts three times during your shift so you can know if you are ahead or behind. That’s your job. Your team is not meeting its daily production and they don’t even know it.”

Always a “Who”

“Jeremy, when you decide on a project to delegate, how do you decide who to give it to?”

“Well, that used to be easy. Louis was always my guy. He could handle almost anything. My dad used to say, if you need something done, give it to someone who is busy because they will get it done faster than anyone else.”

“How is that working for you?”

“Not so good. Lately, Louis has been, well, not slipping, but, he just isn’t hopping like he was, even six months ago. I am beginning to wonder if he even likes working here anymore.”

“Think about the last delegation you gave to Louis. How much of a challenge was it for him?”

“Well, for Louis it was piece of cake. He should have been able to do it in his sleep with one hand tied behind his back.”

“Jeremy, I want you to think about something. Is it possible that you should have given that delegation to someone else and considered something more challenging for Louis? For delegation to be successful, the team member must see the task as a challenge.”

Capability Plus Skill Set

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
How does someone make the leap from technician to manager? I see it all the time in IT work, and I think it’s why there are so many bad managers out there. Isn’t this the Peter Principle, where people are promoted to their level of incompetence?

Response:
It’s more than a leap. It is a completely different skill set. The technician is an expert in a technical skill. The technician does the production work.

One level of work above is the supervisor. The supervisor does NOT do the production work. The supervisor makes sure the production work gets done; completely, accurately, no missing segments and on time. The tools of the supervisor are checklists and schedules. This is not a subtle concept and most companies don’t get it.

The role of the supervisor is coordination. Success requires two things. First, the person has the capability to make longer timespan decisions and solve more complex problems. Second is the development of a new skill set related to schedule making, checklist making and meetings. The failure is most supervisors are promoted to a role where they are expected to use a skill set they have not developed and the company is not prepared to train.

Getting Your Juice

“What is the hardest part about delegation?” I asked. Matthew winced. The more we talked about delegation, the more he hated it.

“Giving it up,” he said. “I was the best technician in the field. I could handle two more stops than any of the other service trucks. At the end of the day, I put my numbers on the wall, and they were almost always at the top.”

After a moment, he continued, “Now, I have to wait. It is really tough to know whether or not what I do, as a Manager, is really having an impact. Numbers will be down for a service tech and I wonder if it is my fault or is he just having a bad day.”

“You are pretty results-oriented, aren’t you?” I asked.

“I guess so,” Matthew replied.

“It’s more than a guess, Matthew. That is why you really liked being a technician. You got results (your juice) on a daily basis. You could stick your results on the wall and look at them. If you wanted, you could even pull your results off the wall, take them home to show your wife. You are in a different game now. The results are not so tangible. You don’t get your juice every day. The results have to do with growth and development of your team. Welcome to management.”

The Game Changes Over Time

Howard didn’t like the list. The top three tasks I asked him to delegate were three that he enjoyed the most. He defended, saying these tasks kept his technical skills sharp, kept him in the game.

“Look, Howard, you are a Manager. You are now the coach who cannot step on to the field without getting a penalty flag. Five years ago, it was important for you to keep your skills sharp, to be the expert, to be faster. Your role has changed. The most important thing you can do now is to develop your team, make them faster, sharper. They are your new technical experts. Five years ago, it was important for you to be successful. Now, it is important for you to make your team members successful. If you fail at that, you fail as a Manager.”

One Crab in the Basket

“All my team wants to do is complain. I know things aren’t perfect, but we still have to get the work done. They shoot down every idea I have,” Chet shook his head.

“Have you ever been crabbing?” I asked. “Crabbing, you know, where you trap crabs, pull them out of the water and throw them into a basket?”

Chet looked at me a bit sideways. “What’s that got to do with my team?”

“Here’s the thing, Chet. If you only have one crab in the basket, you have to really pay attention, because the crab will crawl out of that basket lickety-split. The trick is to catch more crabs quickly. With a bunch of crabs, when one starts to crawl out, the other crabs attach to the legs and pull him back into the basket. You would think they would all try to crawl out, but that’s not what happens. Sometimes, teams are the same way.

“Before you describe a possible solution, go around the table and have each team member describe the major benefits if we are successful at solving the problem. If you can get them to focus on the benefits, they are less likely to focus on the crab (you) trying to crawl out of the basket.”

Idea Connection

“Why can’t I get more participation in my meetings?” Janet asked.

I nodded. “Some say that it is the fear of disagreeing with the boss, but I find it is a more universal fear. It is the fear of floating an idea that carries the possibility of rejection.”

I let that sink in a moment. “As a Manager, if you want to promote deeper, richer, more truthful conversations in your team, try this. As ideas are contributed, create a follow-up comment that expands the idea, creates an insight to that idea or connects the idea to a higher purpose, goal or solution. Breathe life into every contribution.”

Two weeks later, I overheard one of Janet’s team members talking at the water cooler. “Our meetings have really gotten better. Janet makes all of our ideas sound so smart.”

Ideas really are smart when you can connect them to a purpose, a goal or a solution.

Meetings De-Railed

“I’m tired of my team, whining and complaining in meetings. Then, they look at me, like I have to come up with the solution,” Janet shook her head.

“How are you going to fix that?” I asked.

“Not sure, every meeting seems to get de-railed.”

“Then why don’t you de-rail the meeting. Before the whining begins, re-state the purpose for the meeting (the problem to be solved), and ask everyone to write down two possible solutions. Only give them 45 seconds, they don’t need a long time.

This accomplishes two things:
1. It points everyone in the direction of a solution before the conversation has a chance to get de-railed.
2. It communicates that it is the responsibility of every team member to contribute in the solving of a problem.”

Never Run a Press Before

Cindy’s assignment was simple. As a successful supervisor in another division, she was transferred to a line unit that was having trouble keeping up. After her first meeting, she wasn’t so sure she was up to the task.

From the back of the room, “So, tell us about your background. Have you ever run one of these presses before?”

She admitted that she had not. “So, how do you expect to be our supervisor when you don’t know the first thing about how we do the job?” She had never been challenged so directly. Worse, it was a perfectly valid question.

Now Cindy was in my office. “Here is the central issue,” I asked, “how can you bring value to their problem solving and decision making?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know how to run the press, but does that really matter? How do you bring value to their problem solving and decision making? How do they know when they are doing a good job? How do they know when they are doing a poor job?”

“Funny, I know the ops manager was complaining that they did not meet the production quota last month. But those numbers were never broken down on a daily basis so the line never had a clue whether they were ahead or behind. The last two days of the month, somebody came out and yelled at them to pick up the pace, but it was too little, too late.”

“So, you can bring value to the work by giving the floor feedback on daily production runs, perhaps accelerating things a bit, but avoiding a hysterical crunch at the end of the month.”

One month later, Cindy’s crew was ahead by 150 units, yet had worked no overtime, even taken the press down for a half day of preventive maintenance. Every morning, Cindy had a two minute huddle meeting and posted the day’s production goal. At ten and two she posted updates with a final count at 3:30 when the line shut down. Though she had never touched the press, she was bringing value to the problem solving and decision making of her production crew. The skills to be a successful supervisor are quite different than the technical skills of the crew.