Friday, 9 April 2010

Keep it clean, but only when I say so

Simple but flawed human nature offers the best explanation for the problems identified in the two most recent posts. The following real story makes the point well.

A manager was responsible for a machine shop. The shop was always dirty and presented a safety risk. He couldn’t get the workmen to keep it clean and tidy. So he hired a consultant to help. The consultant took photographs of the mess and pinned them up on an office wall. He then invited the workers to rate them. The workers were shocked when they saw the photos, seeing the mess with a fresh pair of eyes. They gave the photos very high (bad) scores for presenting safety hazards. They returned to the workshop and started cleaning up the mess. Job done? No.

The manager was most put out and immediately instructed them to stop. He explained that he had not given them the order to begin cleaning up the place. This was an affront to his authority. What he needed more than a clean and safe workshop was recognition that he, as manager, was needed and that his authority was to be respected. If there was going to be something closer to self-government in his workshop, it would come only on his terms.

Managers are sometimes the problem as well as the solution. But there is a solution to the problem of what to do with managers, and that is to see the manager’s role and how it adds value in a very different way – switching its focus from managing the people to managing the system.