The Opinion Page
News and comments about the issues facing today's SCM and Inventory Management professionals.
Dr. Deming's 12th Point speaks to the issues of employee empowerment, the necessity of recognizing and dealing with employee discontent, and encouraging managers to allow employees' true talents to shine through into the firm's final products.
Dr. Deming observed that while managers in American companies were willing to work long hours and go beyond the call of duty to resolve complex challenges, many shied away from confronting "people problems." It was necessary, he argued, for one of management's top priorities to be identification of the root causes of barriers to pride of workmanship, and subsequent removal of those barriers. He observed that through obsession on production volumes and meeting quotas, workers were seen to be told to produce defective parts. Fixing the machinery that was producing the defective parts was, it seemed, too inconvenient.
I once worked for a leading Canadian consumer chocolate and confectionery manufacturer who allowed pride of workmanship from the front lines to shine through. The finished products were truly outstanding. When quality issues arose they were dealt with promptly, and often front-line workers were consulted to find solutions. We all took it personally when something went wrong. We were all proud of our product, happy to have our families eat our product, and pleased to mention the company name at dinner parties. It was a pleasure being employed by them.
Later in my career, I toiled for a different firm. I had over 25 years of experience in supply chain management by that time, had enjoyed considerable successes, and possessed two University degrees along with a professional designation in my profession that was recognized around the world. I was hired into a senior position in order to export my SCM expertise, critical thinking skills, and project management experience to the employees. The problem was that my managers had a vested interest in protecting the status quo. They had built the inventory control processes and systems, and would do anything to protect them. Changing the processes would have meant giving up power and knowledge to an underling. I had no such vested interest and quickly identified the gaps that existed in a very average system. Evidently, they took my criticism personally. I was called on the mat in the Director's office daily (sometimes hourly). Every action that I took was apparently wrong. I was told time and again that I just did not understand the system, and that I had better learn it. He even went so fas as to start correcting my grammar and vocabulary. I recall a protracted agrument over the use of the word "supplier" versus the word "vendor." The quantity of my output was simply below quota. After six months, they truly had me wondering if I actually had learned nothing in my life and career. It had a profound effect in me on a personal level. Thankfully, I eventually gave my head a shake. I knew better. They had purposefully erected barriers to pride of workmanship, and thereby frustrated and destroyed the motvation of a person who could have been one of their best workers. People who needed the job stayed with the firm. Thise who had brains, some courage, and marketable skills simply left.
Listen to your employees. Understand their concerns. Explain to them if they misunderstand. Treat them like humans instead of like instruments of production. Be willing to act in order to remove the barriers. You will find that this will help you to achieve a motivated workforce, and ultimately will help you to produce high quality output.
John Skelton is the Principal Consultant and founder of Strategic Inventory Management.