Figure 5. A process for managing problems without inducing fear in individual contributors.
Thursday, January 3, 2013
This lecture introduces a better way to manage than blaming people for the manager’s problems.
An effective manager follows the process outlined in Figure 5 when problems occur. First the manager avoids blaming people, i.e. expressing negativity, and instead questions whether the system needs to be changed. Even if the problem arose due to a mistake of a worker the manager should question whether the system can be changed so that the same mistake won’t happen again or so that the workers job is easier and less prone to result in mistakes. Typically, the problem is associated with a process owned by a subordinate so the manager should seek help and information from the subordinate. The details and tools associated with process improvement are covered later but it is always better to have the process owner involved in changing the process than having a manager do the work. Effective process improvement focuses on the process, not the people, and bases decisions on data rather than gut feel or intuition if at all possible.
Every manager has problems and there is a right and wrong way to react to them. The wrong way is to see people as the cause of the problems and expressing negativity. The right way is to treat problems as the food for improvements; cost reductions and productivity increases. If you are reacting the wrong way then the corrective actions are first, practice and reinforce for others “not expressing negativity”, and second, involve your people in process improvement. If your organization is already involved in a quality improvement program, such as Six Sigma, then you should know how to involve your people in process improvement. If not then work on the first step for now and we will get to process improvement training later.
To understand why blaming people is wrong and improving processes is right we need to review what is called the “85/15 rule”. This is one of those rules that have resulted from the experience of many managers over a long time and is a fundamental basis for process improvement efforts. This rule says that 85% of problems are due to the system, not the people in the system. Therefore managers that blame people for problems are wrong 85% of the time. This induces fear and lowers the organization’s effectiveness. Managers that blame the system and attempt to improve the system are right 85% of the time; an excellent “batting average” in problem solving for managers. Remember that the system is the manager’s responsibility even though workers may own the process involved. Only after there is a fully trained, empowered and experienced workforce can the manager relinquish some responsibility for improving the system.
A way to test how well you are progressing in handling problems is to evaluate your degree of enlightenment as a manager when problems arise. The higher you are on the following list the higher your enlightenment is in reacting to problems.
• Changes system (high enlightenment)
• Blames no one
• Blames himself or herself
• Blames other(s) (low enlightenment)
The flow chart in figure 5 below shows that if a manager reacts properly the reaction creates a positive feedback, making it easier to handle future problems.
The process described in Figure 5 results in happier workers because they don’t get blamed for problems and managers demonstrate that they care enough to get involved and help fix the system. This builds respect for managers, commitment to organizations and improves motivation of workers.
1. Review problems faced in your organization over the past few months
2. Try to recall if you expressed any form of negativity. Think of specific incidents where:
a. You blamed people for a problem that may have been a system problem
b. You blamed the boss
c. You blamed yourself
3. Write down a better way you could have handled each incident
4. Now review the corrections to your action plan that you made after Lecture 13. Does your plan include changing your approach to problem solving in a way that raises your problem solving batting average and does not induce fear in your organization. If so proceed with implementing the changes you have added to your plan.
If your analysis says you have habits that may be inducing fear you should change your behavior. This is about the most difficult thing for anyone to do (change behavior). Changing what we do is easy in comparison to changing how we behave. First, we must be honest with ourselves and want to change. Then we must know how to change. The key at this point is to avoid inducing fear, which undermines the organizations effectiveness and our effectiveness as a manager.
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