We got this question last week, that sparked some wonderful debate in the
Quantum lean community. “What percentage of time should I spend on the
process V.S. the people”.
All too often people are looking for a black and white formula to apply to a
problem, and it’s seldom the case, particularly when it comes to a factory full of
people. There is a strong tie to company values, resources and management
style. If you have unlimited resources and time on your hands, perhaps you will
spend more quality time with someone struggling. If you are on a burning
platform, you may have to make a speedy decision.
How easy is it to have had something catastrophic go wrong cause and you look
up at the person responsible for that task and think… “you idiot”.
In that moment there are a few things we tend to forget. First and foremost, I
guarantee we have all been that “idiot” before. After all, making mistakes is how
we learn best. So if you have plenty of worldly knowledge:, it’s almost a certainty
you’ve made plenty of mistakes.
The second thing in the heat of the moment that’s hard to keep in mind is the
problem has already unfolded, therefore you’re looking at the whole situation in
hindsight, and we all know hindsight is 20/20. It’s orders of magnitude easier to
say you should’ve just done this then. But we weren’t there. Recall a famous
battle in which Abraham Lincoln ordered his troops to cross the Potomac river
and attack. The enemy was all but defeated, we had them outnumbered and this
attack would’ve ended the war. His commander did not attack, defying a direct
order from the president himself. Was Abraham Lincoln disappointed? Yes. But
his reaction was this “I was not there to see the battlefield, I was not there to see
the blood or to witness any of the suffering”.
The lesson is: it’s hard to know why someone made a decision that may have not
been the right one or get the results you were hoping for. But you were not there
when that decision was being made.
Which segues perfectly into another forgotten consideration. Training, If you
couldn’t be there, which is largely why we rely on other people to make
decisions, what training did they have to prepare them to avoid the bad thing?
Have they shadowed you through similar decisions and watched you
disseminate the right answer out of all of the possibilities? If not, perhaps you
want to cut them some slack before you blow your top.
And last but not least, probably should be first, what was the standard? Are there
standard work instructions or documents posted/available? A good rule of thumb
is: if there’s no standard, there should be no surprise when it goes wrong.
Now that as the leader you have accepted this mistake is probably mostly your
fault at some level. And if you can’t see this, I question you as a leader.
But is there another side to this coin? Exceptions to the rule?
In my experience, and from what I have learned, I’ll go out on a limb and say yes.
At some point you might run into a few possibilities. First, perhaps you have all of
the standard work in place and the person is just not following it. This very
subject came up on the Quantum Lean thread last week. I would like to quote
Jon Bultje one of the owners at Windmill Cabinet shop in
Chatham, ON. Jon is a suburb lean leader, and this is what
he had to say.
“Does that person not following the process, follow any other
processes correctly? Do they follow your company values?
Do they get along with everyone else in your company? I
find that 99% of the time, someone not following the process
that anyone else can follow, is the same person that doesn’t
follow our values etc. If 9/10 people can follow the process
correctly, chances are the process is good. At the end of the
day, if your company believes in growing people, the people
focus is obviously quite high. But, no one will grow without
first wanted to grow for themselves”.
I couldn’t have said it any better myself. There will come a time in all our
leadership careers where we just have to come to terms with someone being the
wrong person for the job. Doesn’t mean they are stupid, just means they are in
the wrong spot. Albert Einstein was quoted “Everyone is a genius, but if you
judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it’s
stupid”. So rather than “fire” people, we prefer to say “set them free”, now they
are no longer burdened by our woodworking factory and can chase their dreams.
(Or … 80% of the time go on unemployment, which we pay for in the end
The last consideration, and I say last on purpose. Because it should absolutely
be your last resort, mostly because it’s not the right thing to do. By the book, you
should stop the process, fix the mistake, start the process again watching to see
if the defect continues. I suggest if you can do this, always do it, this practise will
yield you the best results.
However, in my 30+ years of being in manufacturing, things aren’t always text
book perfect, reality clashes with theory. There are times when you just have to
do what you gotta do to survive and keep things moving forward. I have been in
the situation where we have a process established, and this can be documented
or tribal knowledge, but there is a standard. Despite an individuals best effort
they can’t get their head around it. I still blame the process first. Could it be
better, yes. However, I don’t have the time or resources to improve it right now,
and I apologize to the employee for having to participate in our “could be better”
process. But right now, I need someone who can manage it the way it is.
WARNING: do not lean on this one, and always strive to simplify the process. If I
reflect on my own factory, today it is orders of magnitude easier to to produce a
quality product than 3 or 4 years ago.
Strive to be process focused, think of Toyota, they say “we build extraordinary
cars with ordinary people”. What they are leaving out is, “because we have
developed extraordinary processes”.
I will leave you with this final thought. 95% of your people problems, are actually
If you would like any help, we’re just a phone call away. You’re not alone.