Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Give Power to the People...Who Know the Work the Best

Early in my career, I was assigned to a consulting engagement to help AT&T's manufacturing facility just outside Kansas City. Our team was assigned to help design new assembly area using Lean principles After collecting some data, and interviewing the assemblers, the proposal was presented to the supervisor. Her response: "We can shrink the area even more if we can do..." It was a substantial amount. It was a good lesson with regard to talking to the operators.

As a manager, I disbanded a problem-solving meeting of engineers and two vice-presidents when it was clear that no one had gotten information from the machine operators who live with the idea 24 hours a day, five days a week.

Later, at another manufacturing company, we had a warranty issue. The engineer had identified the cause and several possible solutions--some that could implemented immediately and others that would take some time to establish (e.g. qualifying different component materials). I set up a meeting with the assembly team. We laid out the issue and the options...and then we asked for their questions and feedback. After some discussion, they committed to immediately implementing one of the short-term solutions even though it meant their productivity would suffer. However, they wanted a commitment that the company would implement as quickly as possible one of the long-term options that would relieve them of the extra work.

The legendary Westinghouse Hawthorne Works productivity increase occurred twice...each time when engineers asked assemblers what would help them be more productive. First, increase the lighting. Second, decrease the lighting. The point: productivity goes up if people think you're paying attention to their input and their needs.

At a recent leadership summit, Laszlo Bock, formerly of Google, cited a study in which workers were given some decision-making ability. Those workers nearly doubled their output, reduced costs by 40% and the company profits tripled. This confirms what we've already learned from leadership gurus like Alfie Kohn (who encourages Choice in people's work) and Daniel Pink (who encourages Autonomy in people's work) in order to maintain or improve motivation.

However, this rule doesn't apply to hiring. We all think we're great at it but truthfully we stink. College sophomores were just as likely to select successful employees within 10 seconds of interaction as the hiring professionals. In fact, Google stopped letting managers make the hiring decision. Too many biases to be overcome. It's the same biases that professional scouts suffer from when they ignore the players' stats. It's the same biases that make performance appraisals moot. For example, tall people are perceived as having more leadership qualities. Instead, they had the interviewing teams, including the managers, write up notes on the candidates and then had separate decision-making team actually make the selection based on the notes. Now, it's not perfect. Our memories and observations also have biases. But the decision team probably won't get sucked in because Sally wore an outfit of my favorite color or Ralph looks a lot like my best friend.

Don't give decision-making power for autonomy's sake. Make sure that the decisions can be as objective and rational as possible.

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