Friday, March 07, 2003

Who Knows the Most, Anyway?

Had a tour yesterday of a major local manufacturer. They were quite proud of their approach and quality of product. I was impressed with several of the mistake-proofing systems they had built into their production process. They correctly identified the most crucial, tightest-tolerance procedures and consistently delivered accurate work on them.

Yet, a nagging problem sat in my stomach after I left. I finally identified it and the more I think about it the more it bothers me.

Several questions arose as to how the company accomplished their stated goal of continuous improvement. In short, the company expected most of the ideas and all of the implementation to come from engineers and front-line supervisors. The hourly folks who made up the bulk of their workforce were only allowed to contribute ideas. When one of them submitted an idea, it then had to filter through three levels of management. After scrutiny and rigorous challenging at each level (and management seemed proud of the rigor with which they challenged proposals), approved ideas were then implemented by a group of engineers and supervisors, but not involving the person who raised the idea at first.

I'm amazed they get any ideas at all.

Why would a company purposely not involve the people who have their hands on the product day after day and who know every nuance of the product? Who know every idiosyncrasy of each machine? Who see waste and feel it in their feet, backs and hands? I don't know.

What we believe about people profoundly influences how we behave towards those people and the reaction we tend to get. If I believe these people are dumb and self-serving, I'll probably end up with that. If I believe these people want to be excellent and move ahead, I'll probably end up with that as well. The choice is obvious.

I hope this is helpful.

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