Managing a team comes in many different forms and requires a lot of different skills, check your ego at the door and rethink how you’re promoting responsibility in your organization.
Several weeks ago, I had two experiences that reminded me of the nature of responsibility; and management’s role in promoting and sustaining a responsible workplace.
First, a student of mine sent me the following email, “Coach, there is next to no sense of responsibility here. Nothing happens when dates are missed, goals are ignored, etc… I may be going bonkers. Can we talk?” We talked.
Second, I was at the 10 am production meeting of yet another client when Dave, the day shift production coordinator made the following report to Mark, the plant manager. “Mark, the critical shipment to Quality Industries went out first thing on schedule. Raul and his crew got it 100% completed. It has been picked up. But Mark, you need to know that Raul had to work 32 hours of overtime.” At which Mark replied, “What is wrong with Raul? Didn’t he read the notice from the home office we got just this week that costs are over budget and for the rest of the year there will be no hiring, no expedited freight and especially no overtime? What is wrong with that guy? Can you get me his home number?” Dave responded, “I knew this would be an issue, so I asked Raul what happened. He told me that 4 of his crew, who carpool together, got into an accident on the way to work, a serious one. None of our guys were hurt, but the other driver was drunk and two of his passengers were taken away by ambulance. The guys said they would be a couple hours late, at least, and probably miss the entire shift, while the police investigated it. So, Raul held over 4 people from swing shift.” Mark replied, “Well let me advise the boss; there will be hell to pay by someone.” Dave interceded and said, “Hold on Mark, before you make that call, you’ll want to know this overtime was not just regular overtime but double time and a quarter. He only had a few minutes to decide and had tried to call you; but said no one picked up. It was 10:50pm.” Mark exploded “Holy shit, how am I supposed to explain that? This may cost Raul his job.”
At this point I interceded and asked Mark, “What would you have told Raul to do?” Mark completely dodged my question and went on a rant about overtime, budgets and all kinds of things… not once addressing the dilemma Raul faced on graveyard shift. I asked him again “What would you have told Raul to do?” Once again, he deflected the question and said, “Bad news is best delivered quickly, I’d hate for the boss to see that in his morning briefing.”
Later, I had occasion to speak with Raul. It did not take long into the conversation for this to come up. By now Raul was doubly irritated as he had heard that Mark, in the monthly metrics review with management, while explaining the overtime metric, referred to Raul as the Overtime King. Raul said, “Next time I’ll just follow the most recent directive, no matter how stupid it might be.”
Just how well do you think this firm “promoted responsibility in this workforce”?
The anatomy of the problem
On the surface, most people would analyze this and say there is a communications problem or a problem of conflicting goals. Be careful.
Before you decide on that as some root cause, go deeper and ask a few questions. Why did Mark not stand up for Raul? Why did no one speak to Raul? Why was Mark allowed to ridicule Raul? Contained in this story, are several clues as to what the real problem is. In its simplest form it is bad management and bad leadership. Now before you get too critical of this group, ask yourself: Do we have problems with conflicting goals? Do we have a management style where people are judged before all the facts are known? Do we have communications issues? Do we tell people when they have done a good job? Do we reward initiative? Do we place workers, supervisors or managers on an island with no, or inadequate, assistance? Do we foster an environment where people can be ridiculed for mistakes, for doing their best, or for just doing?
If you perform a cold, hard, honest, dispassionate and introspective analysis you will find these issues in your facility. Maybe more, maybe less, but they are there. And wherever you find these issues they should be rooted out and repaired. They, and others, are responsibility killers.
Go back to Raul, for a moment. He did the right thing. He took care of the most important aspect of manufacturing and that is to satisfy your customer. To do that he had to be resourceful, he had to show initiative, he had to be courageous and most of all he had to be responsible. He more than exhibited the “ability to respond.”
But what do you think he will do next time?
So, what’s the problem?
A significant part of the basic problem is that many management teams do not understand the nature of responsibility. Most can’t explain the behavioral difference between accountability and responsibility… even though the difference is inherent in the words. Ask them, How do you teach responsibility? Some will hem and haw. Others will tell you they hire responsible people…and you know what? They are correct. But the killer question is, “How do you sustain this responsibility in your organization?”
More information on responsibility
In the 1950s and 60s Maslow, Herzberg and McGregor all wrote extensively on expanding the human potential in the workplace. They found that some of the paradigms of management, most of which still persist today, were fundamentally wrong:
Contrary to the management belief at the time, Herzberg found that responsibiltiy was a strong motivator in the workplace and “people sought it rather than avoided it.” He found that people came to work motivated.
McGregor came to the same conclusions about the worker. However, he found that management had an entirely different idea and felt that workers often shunned responsibility and management needed to exercise fear to keep the workers motivated. Regarding management by fear, he totally discredited it and said:
“The average human being learns, under proper conditions, not only to accept but to seek our responsibility” and
“The limits on human collaboration in the organizational setting are not limits of human nature but rather they are limits on management’s ingenuity in discovering how to realize the potential represented by its human resources.”
At Quality Consultants we say, “It’s all about management…the rest is just details”
Sustaining the responsibility
At my firm we are bullish on responsibility. We want to make sure our clients understand the nature of responsibility: that it is a natural motivator – they do not create it; they can only nurture it, or they can destroy it. Once we come to agreement on that, we then teach them how to sustain and nurture the responsibility they so dearly want and so desperately need. There are six focus areas, that if “managed with ingenuity” will not only nurture but also sustain your worker’s ability to respond. These are, to:
One. Create and publicize a consistent set of values so the entire organization knows not only the objectives, but your intentions as well. Only by knowing your intentions can workers make the necessary trade-offs when faced with a dilemma.
Two. Make the relevant information transparent. Only with good data that is readily available can workers make good decisions.
Three. The workers at all levels, must be trained in the needed skills so they are capable.
Four. The needed resources must be available.
Five. The system must have a clear delegation of authority to explain who has the power to do what as well as a system that is willing to tolerate “errors of initiative”.
Six. Finally, the organization must have a management team that models the proper behavior and consistently “walks the talk”.
As we think about the situation of Raul, which many of us experience all too frequently, stop to ask yourself, “Of this list of six, how many were supplied by Raul’s management?”
When I spoke to Raul, he thought he had made the correct decision and he thought he had all six. However, in the fog of battle, reality came up and smacked him in the face and he found he did not have the physical nor emotional support of his management. They, not only, did not recognize his initiative and his courage, they either criticized it… or ignored it.
So, regarding Raul and his management, I have two questions.
Do you think that this management team promoted responsibility?
Would you expect them to reflect on this, as you and I have?
One final thought. Having worked in industry for quite some time, for situations such as Raul’s, and not just on the topic of responsibility, I find a common theme. That is, in times of crisis stress and pressure, management will attempt to micro-manage themselves out of problems they had so carefully macro-managed themselves into…and it seldom works.
Lonnie Wilson is the author of Sustaining Workforce Engagement: How To Ensure Your Employees Are Healthy, Happy, And Productive (CLICK HERE to get your copy) and founder of Quality Consultants where clients include firms in manufacturing as well as the fields of education, healthcare and other service sectors. Quality Consultants serves small firms as well as Fortune 500 firms in North, South, Central America, and China.
Did you enjoy this post? If so, I highly encourage you to take about 30 seconds to become a regular subscriber to this blog. It’s free, fun, practical, and only a few emails a week (I promise!). SIGN UP HERE to get the thoughtLEADERS blog conveniently delivered right to your inbox!