Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Focus and Leverage Part 133

Yesterday I arrived back at a consulting engagement with an MRO contractor that I have been consulting for in the past.  Since I hadn’t been here in a while, this trip was to see just how they are sustaining the wonderful improvements that were put in place over the course of 3-4 months.  This contractor had established an all hourly core team of Mechanics, Avionics Techs, Supply Personnel, Flight Line people, etc. a true cross-section of the work force.  I had explained how important it was to form this group and actively listen to their improvement ideas and potential solutions for improving the availability of aircraft for this DOD organization.  Active listening is the practice by which the management of the organization not only listens to ideas and solutions, but implements them as long as they are compliant with company and customer requirements.  This particular contractor had been struggling to deliver “x” number of aircraft to their customer every day.  They had been using enormous amounts of mandatory overtime in an attempt to meet their contractual requirements and it simply wasn’t working.  The mandatory overtime, as well as the past management practice of “command and control” had created a serious morale problem.

In very short order (i.e. about 4 weeks into this engagement) after implementing active listening, everything changed quite dramatically.  This contractor went from chronically missing their aircraft availability to levels that not only met requirements, but was recognized by their customer as a quantum leap above how they had been performing.  In addition, this contractor was also able to move from mandatory overtime to voluntary overtime and in fact had reduced their overtime in the neighborhood of 50%!  In so doing, the workforce morale improved dramatically!  So how is it that by using active listening that results like this can happen so quickly?  The answer to that question comes from a book entitled The One Minute Manager written by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson first released way back in 1981.  I remember reading this book and the message I took away from it was this…..People who feel good about themselves, produce good results.  These authors wanted their readers to help people reach their full potential by catching them doing something right.

Since then, I have used the teachings of this book to my advantage by creating an environment where people have the opportunity to feel good about themselves.  This is the reason behind the formation of the all hourly core team to present and implement their great ideas and solutions for problems that have existed for years.  Problems and barriers that get in the way of success!  These teams always deliver great results if their ideas and solutions are implemented as presented and not variations of their ideas.  These core teams are made up of the true subject matter experts (SMEs) within a company.  The people charged with producing products, delivering a service, designing new products, etc.  They are SME’s because they live in the processes and experience the negative impact of ill-fated policies and procedures that have been in effect for years.

I had the pleasure yesterday of sitting in on a core team meeting and I have to tell you that it was a very pleasurable experience.  Because management had taken the concept of active listening to heart, this core team had confidence that their ideas and solutions to problems would not only be heard, but would be implemented intact.  Because of this confidence in the management team, the ideas brought forward were bold and beautiful.  It was apparent to me that if the core team was a cross-section of the work force, then there was no longer a morale problem in this organization.  They were indeed producing good results because they were feeling good about themselves and that was the message of Blanchard and Johnson over 30 years ago.

I would be remiss if I told you that the concept of active listening was the only ingredient we injected into this company, because it wasn’t.  Early on I spent one meeting with the core team teaching them about the concept of focus and leverage.  I taught them about the simplicity of identifying the system constraint and then focusing their efforts only there.  Once this team identified the system constraint and focused their thoughts and improvement efforts on it, wonderful things happened almost immediately.  So if your company is floundering, late on deliveries, having quality issues, wasting time on overtime, etc. try these simple concepts and you’ll see the difference.  Focus and leverage plus active listening is a combination that always works for me.

Bob Sproull

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