When Employees Say All the Right Things…and do the wrong things

It’s Wednesday morning and you are on your way out to the factory to see how the latest improvements are sustaining. You have been thinking about this since last Friday at lunch when the Kaizen Team had their report-out. You just couldn’t believe the impact they had on productivity, throughput, floor space, work in process, and overall organization. You wanted to be out there first thing Monday but as the Plant Manager, you had to attend a quarterly strategy meeting.

As you walk up the new work cell, you are surprised to see it has six people instead of four as the team reported. You are also disappointed to see that some the WIP is back in the area. As you look a little closer and start asking questions you find that many of the improvements that were made last week have disappeared. You are disappointed to say the least. You see Phil, the department supervisor, and make your way over to speak with him. He can see the disappointment on your face and looks a little nervous as you start to speak.

Phil, things look a little different than I thought they would after Friday’s report-out.”

Phil looks down, then back up as you prepare for the typical litany of excuses. “I know, we’re having a little trouble getting buy-in from a few team members so we threw a couple of people and some WIP in there to calm them down. Things got a lot better after we did that.”

Sound familiar? Phil did what many Managers in his shoes do every day, avoid the conflict. But why? Phil knows the impact of his actions and he knows his manager will be disappointed. In our experience, Phil avoids the conflict because he doesn’t know how to deal with it effectively.

Leaders have a choice when conflict arises. They can avoid and neglect, try to manage behavior, or they can impact thinking. Because most managers don’t know how to impact thinking they are really left with the worst of two evils, avoid the conflict or try to control behavior.

Avoiding conflict

When we avoid conflict we obviously give up results, but when we look a little closer at the impact, the damage is far greater. Managers who avoid impact lose credibility and respect of high performers and, in time, will push them away. Years of avoidance will ultimately produce a team of poor performers who get set the rules and create a culture of complacency, apathy, and incompetence.

Managing behavior

Most managers who choose not to avoid conflict will try to manage behavior. While this is certainly better than avoidance, it is a lot of work for little return. Managing behavior requires tremendous oversight and policing, causing managers to view themselves as babysitters vs. leaders. While the respect for managers in this environment is somewhat higher, the performance will be mediocre at best.

Impact thinking

The most effective managers are leaders who influence people by impacting thinking. These leaders know that the way to bring out the best in people is to align their thinking with the goal by making sure everyone understands the impact of their choices. This is a skill that leaders learn from training, practice, observation, and coaching from other leaders.

If you are tired of playing whack-a-mole management and would like to learn more, please contact us through our website at leanpartners.com to learn how you can be an effective coach.