Shut-Up and Listen: Factors for better performance.

By Joshua Long

How many times have we sat in a conference room, discussing an area within our organization that is failing to meet our expectations?  Whatever the issue, improving inventory accuracy, production capacity or even on-time delivery, improvements can not begin to be realized and sustained until management engages and encourages those employees performing the value-added work with-in our manufacturing processes to each take an empowered role, to be a part of the improvements.

A trend on Amercian manufacturing floors today is to create walls that block/remove those actually performing the work from having any real impact or motivation to take ownership in making their jobs better and as a result making the product and organization as a whole better.

For example: On just about any manufacturing floor, scrap is a measurement weighed heavily as a success metric. No matter if you measure defective parts or good parts, the end result is an expectation on those producing the parts to continually strive to produce quality (on specification) parts, however, how much real control do they have?

If we are producing a widget and the operators on the floor have zero control or feedback into their tooling, equipment, raw materials, and even the hours which they work, they are being held accountable to meet a metric, with marginal control over the variables impacting their ability to do so.

Often we incentivise making good parts and even offer punishment for making bad parts, yet my experience tells me that an operator on an average manufacturing process has less than 30% of control over the outcome of their work. (If you do not agree with this, I will be sharing another blog post to drive this point home soon.)

There is a quote, I think it’s by Dan Pink’s, that says

“3 factors lead to better performance: autonomy, mastery, and purpose”

  1. Autonomy, meaning to brace the individual as a person and acknowledge their contributions.  We understand employees are resources,  but calling them a resource can be deeming. These human beings have a life in and out of work. We want to be treated with respect, the same respect given from the President of the company down. Respect can come in large and small forms, it could be as little as allowing them to organize their working environment to best fit their needs and comforts.

2. Mastery, meaning to allow the individual to develop a sense of pride in their work, that only comes from mastering the skills of their trade and craft. Encourage them to develop those skills with on-going training, mentoring, and bringing them into the decision-making processes impacting their ability to master their trade.

3. Purpose, meaning to understand the “why” for them being at work and doing the work. Most of us are there for more than a paycheck. We understand that making a living is necessary, but finding a purpose in it gives us the passion for doing it. Share with your employees where and how the products impact the lives of those who use them. More importantly, share specifically how they are involvement in the process impacts the customers too.

One way leadership can improve the outcome of a manufacturing process is by engaging those who actually perform the work and do it much earlier in the design of a product or process. We should also allow our operators to become masters of their work and to find purpose in it.

We can start today, by asking our the individuals on our team one simple question.

“What do you think?”

Next, we just shut up and listen!

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