sábado, 16 de abril de 2016

Workers who work hard are the best ones. Is that so?

Dr. Edwards Deming was an exceptional person. I first heard about him in late 90´s when I was in University. I found and I still find his thoughts and teachings, way forward his time. A Lean thinker and an Innovator. Unfortunately most companies, and professionals, event College professors, acknowledge his famous 14 points, along with his PDSA cycle (PDCA) cycle. What is often missed, is his extraordinary philosophy that lead to a country out of the ashes. I think his Red Bead Experiment his a great proof on what he taught about managers, systems and the way work was done back on his days (and probably today).

His controversial thoughts on Individual Performance Review aren´t as well known or understood as other aspects of his legacy and they might be the most important lessons from all his work.  They are as relevant today as they were 20 or 30 years ago.

The quote:

We need to work smarter not harder.

Sadly, today in 2016, there are a few managers that still think that, a worker who sweat, runs, and finishes exhausted at the end of her/his shift, are the best ones. Those who try to work, run, move, sweat less, but still meet her/his targets are the bad apples that will contaminate others, into seeking working less. I don´t blame those managers, cause I used to think the same way. Years back, around 2005 I used to think that way. 

I remember that at one production meeting, I said:

We need to tell them  (the workers) what to do, they just need to do it.

How wrong I was. I see clearly now, but at that time this was a common thought for me. And even for others. I remember that when saying that infamous phrase others nodded with their heads, approving my statement.

But fast forward to 2016, this kind of thought is still really common everywhere. As another proof, I saw a LinkedIn job post that caught my attention. It was from a trendy company. At the end of the job´s details there where enlisted all benefits this position was offering. One caught my eye, saying.  Unlimited vacation days: Work hard and take time when you need it. Even though the benefit sounded great, immediately saw the wrong word on that phrase. Work smart and take time when you need it would have been a better statement.

There is no mystery that we all want to be comfortable at work. There are so many articles and studies with scientific evidence that tells you that, when a worker has the right conditions, his performance will increase automatically. You can read some here, here and here. I remember that during my days at Ford, we had the manufacturing standards. Those standards meant to ensure that the technician would have the right resources available and the right conditions in place, to ensure that will comply with cycle time, meeting safety, quality, and cost expectations. Those standards included, number of walks from the workstation to the rack of materials, light in the workstation, workload (work content) in the station. I remember that in one chat with my manager of that time, He told me that he was involved on the meetings to discussed flow of materials, layout, etc. And one key consideration was that there shouldn´t be a point on the floor where the bathroom was more than 65 ft away. During these meetings, the committee involved in the discussion, found that often the 2 elements the worker hated the most were:

  • Having to go to the bathroom in the middle of the cycle time.
  • Sweating because of heat.   

The way to control the first one, was to place bathrooms closer to the workstations to avoid stress on the worker because he wanted to go there but the line couldn´t be stopped. This way a worker could go, and the team leader could support during his absence for brief periods of time. 

The second condition, the committee thought about air conditioned, but unfortunately, as the plant was old, couldn´t support the installation of an AC system, plus the cost was way over the budget. Again, damn cost – benefit analysis. Will write on a different post about that.
The thing is that they tried to provide the best conditions they could, for their workers. They were sure and they knew their efforts would payoff later. 

However, even though ergonomics and work conditions have been recognized in the recent years, we still have managers who look at you when you leave the office early. Some others classify people as lazy when they just try to do things easier. Now, we have to recognize that too often the path from our current conditions and practices to an easier work environment, process or practices isn’t easy at all. Cultural and mindset changes may be involved, and this isn´t easy to achieve. Many of our current managers, bosses, directors haven´t been exposed to different ways of thinking. Many of them recall and practice the original management style they learned at the beginning of their careers. I cannot blame them. After all, they have reach managerial positions with this style and it is very difficult to change their ways. However, we must think that if we do not recognize the undisputable facts that conditions, have on the productivity, on processes (industrial, administrative, services, etc.) other companies will, and in fact have, taking a competitive advantage over us.

Deming used to think that the majority of problems were due to poor managerial practices. Most of times it is true. It is management responsibility to provide the best conditions for workers to perform. That includes not only physical conditions, but create openness, team work and creative environments where workers can help with ideas, suggestions and experimentation. Recently read a phrase attributed to Taichi Ohno, that stated:

In Toyota we hire people to think.
In order to do so, management must create and environment where workers are allowed to think,
proposed and experiment. But at the same time, managers must be willing to listen, coach, provide , challenge and respect people´s opinions and ideas. That is the second pillar on the TPS system.
And that´s why is often missed from many companies who think or try to implement Lean practices.

Thanks for reading, hope to see your thoughts at the bottom.    

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