Industryweek 14526 Leadership

How to Promote Disengagement

Nov. 26, 2013
The bottom line is that workers come to work motivated and ready to be engaged. They just need to: know what to do how to do it be supplied with the resources to do it. Then you will get their engagement.

I can hardly look at a blog or read an article without someone talking about employee engagement. It’s a big topic.

Last year I wrote an article about employee engagement, Find the Missing Pieces in Your Employee-Engagement Effort, and summarized it by saying, “It’s not about providing motivation; it’s about providing good management.”

The bottom line is that workers come to work motivated and ready to be engaged. They just need to:

  1. know what to do
  2. how to do it
  3. be supplied with the resources to do it.

Then you will get their engagement.

Guess who is to supply these three elements? It is the sole responsibility of the management team to make sure these three elements are supplied. It is their job -- and no one else's -- to make sure that the work is well defined, the methods and quality standards are clear, and the necessary resources are in place so the work can be accomplished.

Conversely, if we find management who cannot execute well because they are poorly trained, weak, misguided or wrongly motivated, then you can count on finding a high level of employee disengagement on the things management wants to get done.

Not surprisingly, when I see disengagement of this nature, almost surely things are terribly wrong with the planning and planning deployment systems at the business.

A Short Tale: One Path to Disengagement

Imagine this: The C-suite hires a whiz-bang consultant to guide them through a strategic plan for the corporation. They then publish, post and laminate the plan for all to see. With this done, the C-suite explains things to the vice presidents, who then create action plans to be accomplished. The VPs are a compliant group and readily accept what needs to be done, but they are not really sure how to get it done. Still, armed with an abundance of confidence -- or whatever -- they allocate and prioritize their goals among their general managers. Now the general managers scrutinize the goals and are not really sure if they are realistic or not.

With some consternation (since last year’s objectives were not accomplished), the general managers pass the goals to the plant managers. They review the goals, and some provide feedback, such as, “Those are pretty aggressive goals, and to do that I will need another two new engineers and $400,000 of extra capital money. Even then I will only be able to get to those numbers by the end of the year; I will not be able to meet that on average over the year -- no way.”

The plan now has a snag. The GM -- who has already accepted the plan -- thinks for a moment and with some level of empathy in his heart and the best smile he can muster replies, “I am sorry, but we do not have that in the budget, and I doubt I can change it now. You will just need to improve your productivity and create the needed manpower from folks on your staff. As for capital funds, you and your staff will just need to be more creative.”

The plant manager, recognizing that he cannot win this battle, accepts the inevitable and decides to explain the budget to his staff.

Putting on the best smile and most positive outlook he can muster, the plant manager presents the plans to his staff. Upon hearing them, the production manager says, “You've got to be kidding me!" The engineering manager says, "Looks just like last year, which we missed by a mile.” And the HR manager chimes in, “We are expected to do way more with a whole lot less and still don’t have time to train so we can improve.”

In short, there is little belief by anyone that they will be able to meet the targets. However, after a little discussion, they jointly agree to put on the best face they can and be the best “company people” they can be and decide to further deploy the plan.

When the production manager presents the to his supervisors on the floor, the senior supervisor just shrugs and says, “I get it, me and my operators will just keep doing what we have been doing, and we’ll keep getting what we have been getting, which is our butts kicked for not meeting our objectives -- which aren’t even ours! I’d like to know who the idiot was who put this together. Maybe, just maybe, this plan could be accomplished if we had the entire complement of DC Nation’s superheroes on staff. Unfortunately, we mere mortals are dead in the starting blocks.”

A Key Issue: Intrinsic Motivation and Engagement

The production supervisor gets it. He is asked to execute objectives that are not even his! It’s bad enough that this plan gets shoved down this throat, but he had no chance to supply input in any way, shape or form. In fact, in the entire process, almost no one who has something to do with actually making the product had any input.

This is not some “oh-by-the-way” thing. Wake up and smell the roses! This is massive!

This goes to the very heart of what drives us to do things. It goes to motivation. More importantly, it goes to the heart of intrinsic motivation -- that internal set of driving forces that compels us to willingly act. In the production supervisor's case, the sense of ownership and control, plus the sense of accomplishment -- two key intrinsic motivators -- are completely ignored at every level of management.

It explains one very solid and well-worn method managers use that virtually assures they will create disengagement. It is as if they actually planned to make the workforce disengaged. Do you suppose that is what they want? The answer is not “no”; it is “hell no.” But using this method, that is what they will get.

It is this top-down, inflexible, “I-know-it-all-and-I-don’t-need-your-input-muddying-up-my-plan-but-you-damn-well-better-get-it-done” attitude that is the issue.

Ask yourself, “How motivated am I when:

  • someone stuffs a goal in my face, and then
  • tells me to accomplish it and
  • does not want to discuss it and
  • makes it clear that compliance is the only objective by placing my performance appraisal, my raise and my bonus swinging in the balance, based on how I accomplish this goal?

For this goal that isn't even mine!

Voila, watch the disengagement begin.

The Critical Disconnect

In my imaginary-but-often-seen, scenario, there is an absolutely critical concept that was missed by the entire C-suite. It was missed by the entire group of VPs, it was also missed by the GMs and it is commonly missed by the majority of management.

The budget is executed by the people on the floor, not by any level of management.

Let me be clear to you Mr. C-suite, Ms. VPs and Mr. GM. You can go on a six- week vacation, and the business can proceed smoothly day to day. However, if you do not have the shipping clerk, the forklift driver or the operator in the cell, production goes to zero and now your production facility isn’t. It isn’t producing.

Without those folks, you make nothing.

Your budgets and plans, while critical and definitely needed, are not executed from the mahogany-paneled offices of the C-suite. They are executed by the people on the floor. No matter how good that plan may be, it must be executed to be useful and developed. Deployed in this manner, it is DOA.

What's the Cure?

No secret here. Make sure the folks from the C-suite all the way to the floor know what to do, how to do it and have the resources to make it happen. That’s not too complicated.

Is that too general an answer? Want a more specific answer?

There is a well-known method that accomplishes this and more. It is called hoshin kanri planning. Hoshin kanri planning is a superior method of planning and plan deployment. It was developed by the Japanese and is now used in many firms worldwide. And it works.

A key element of hoshin kanri planning is the concept of “catchball.” (See “How To Implement Lean Manufacturing,” McGraw Hill, by L. Wilson, 2009, Chapter 9). In catchball, a hoped-for result (the "what”) is passed to the next level down and the manager at that level determines if it has the means (the "how tos”) to achieve that result. This initiates a discussion, centered on reaching a certain goal.

“Catchball” is often seen as goal negotiating, but nothing could be more misleading. Rather, it is a method to get the “results” of the goals aligned with the “means” to accomplish the goals. No one proceeds until the goals have an alignment of the “results” with the “means.”

This process requires thought, patience, knowledge, presentation, iteration and open, honest discussion with an emphasis on listening. It is not only planning and deployment at its finest, but also the process is teaching and learning at a very high level. In this process. a significant level of both alignment and focus are achieved. In the end, the persons who must execute the goals have input as to the execution of those goals. Then there are no more surprises, goals are accepted, and motivation to succeed is high. Goals ownership and goal accomplishment are done much better.

Success is greater but, regardless, engagement is almost assured as this process is the fuel to the intrinsic motivators of a sense of control and a sense of accomplishment.

At the end of the day, it is about choices and consequences. You can continue with this process of top-down, one-way, inflexible planning with its “my-way-or-the-highway” deployment, or you can adopt a method that feeds the intrinsic motivators.

It is a choice -- nothing more, nothing less.

However, all choices have consequences, and the consequences here are to have engaged or disengaged employees.

Choose away.

Lonnie Wilson has been teaching and implementing lean and other culture-changing techniques for 43 years. His book, "How To Implement Lean Manufacturing" was released in August 2009. Wilson is a frequent speaker at conferences and seminars. In addition to IndustryWeek, he has published articles in Quality Digest and was a frequent contributor to iSixSigma magazine. His manufacturing experience spans 20 years with Chevron, where he held a number of management positions. In 1990 he founded Quality Consultants, www.qc-ep.comwhich teaches and applies lean and other culture-changing techniques to small entrepreneurs and Fortune 500 firms, principally in the United States, Mexico and Canada. In particular, he specializes in "lean revitalizations," assisting firms that have failed or failing lean implementations and want to "do it right." He is currently drafting his second book. Wilson recently retired from coaching youth soccer, a love he maintained for 31 years. Wilson lives in El Paso, Texas, with his wife, Roxana, and their son, Kevin. You can e-mail Lonnie at[email protected]or call him at 915-584-9228.

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