Power to the People, All the People



While focusing on the process, we need to make sure we engage the people.  We have to get the people who do and manage the processes day in and day out involved in any activities to change the way they do things.  This includes involving people not just vertically, but also horizontally in the organization.  Even though the change might be taking place in operations, the impact of the change could affect departments that provide information to operations and those that receive information from operations, e.g. Sales and Finance.  Otherwise we are asking for disaster.


Lots of companies already think they are doing this.  When they are implementing a new technology or change initiative, they go to the people, and ask for their input. They get their feedback. They know what they value.   They might even show them what the final product looks like before implementing.  They launch the new technology and then wonder why it doesn’t deliver the results promised.   Shocking!  Reasons for this are multiple.  Either we did pay close enough attention to the people doing the process, or we did not engage the people impacted by the process.  How many times to we continue our old ways because Fran in Accounting needs a report formatted just so?


Or, and this can be even more devastating, we skip a level.  A company truly engages the people – the front line folks, whether they be assembly line workers in a manufacturing plant, or unit nurses in a hospital; the people who are truly adding value to the customer.  The executive team is also fully on board.  But, they leave out the middle managers.


Several years ago a manufacturing organization I worked for as a young industrial engineer decided they were going implement the “team concept” in the plant.  After much negotiation, the union agreed, and a contract to change the work rules, using teams was put in place.  A massive training effort followed.  Every member of the hourly workforce went through several hours of training.  The front-line supervisors also had extensive training in how to work in this new environment.  Senior leaders from management and the union went through training on how to work and negotiate with each other in this “new order.”  But, as usually happens in this industry, the calendar catches up, and product must be produced to make money. So the training, and the funding for training started to dry up.  Now you might ask, “But what about the middle managers, the ones who manage the front line supervisors; when are they going to be trained?”  The answer, “They will just have to learn on the fly – we don’t have the time or money.”


Well, actually, things started off just fine.  The first few months went really well.  In an environment like this, conflicts will always occur, and they did.  Not to worry though, because when conflicts occur, that’s where the middle managers step in – to save the day!  Well, that they didn’t do.  Not fully understanding the new work rules (they were never trained), and with senior management telling them to let the team work things out, they didn’t know what to do, so they reverted to their old behaviors; they basically managed by the “traditional” contract.  The trickle-down effect of this was enormous.  The front-line supervisor, feeling intense pressure from their manager, started to manage in the old way; this of course, left the hourly workers feeling abandoned and betrayed.   Morale plummeted, as did productivity.  By the time senior leaders of the union and management figured out what was going on, it was too late.  Management blamed the union, and the union blamed management.  What the organization finally settled into was a shadow of the original intent.  Although it was better, it was not even close to worth the time, money, and energy put into the effort.    Millions of dollars spent, and not a lot to show for it.  They left out the middle managers in the training, and it showed in the results.


The moral of the story is simple:  make sure we involve ALL the people at all levels in the organization.  Get them engaged in reviewing their existing processes and in creating the new processes.  Keep them informed throughout the project.  Also, remember to constantly follow-up to make sure you are still on the right path.  And, lastly, don’t forget the supervisors and managers who lead the front-line people.  You may think they are too busy, or you don’t have time to involve them.  If you do, you will not be as successful as you could be.


Let me know your thoughts!




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