What is the biggest employee problem you are trying to solve?
Is it people not getting along, people not taking responsibility, a poor attitude towards management and authority, a lack of interest in improvement, or something else?
The reason for asking how you know that this is the problem, is this.... you are making an assumption. That’s right; I am accusing you of making an assumption about the current situation. Why? Because I want to challenge your thinking about your employees, your colleagues, your team and your managers.
The science is that we need to make assumptions in order to function and make decisions. We couldn’t possible check everything; therefore we need make assumptions all day every day. Some of these assumptions are true and some are not. Getting it wrong doesn’t always lead to a catastrophe but it may cause us a pain that will not go away. I believe that a big assumption made about the majority of employees is that they have no interest in helping to improve the business. They do not want to be involved in making the customer experience better or to support your lean manufacturing improvements. In fact some employees go out of their way to make it fail. Sound familiar?
I will let you into a little secret. When we help our clients with lean implementations it very rarely happens to us. I wouldn’t say it never happens but very rarely. We get a little resistance early days but we’re a bunch of strange people snooping around the organisation, what do you expect? The reason it doesn’t happen to us is not because we have special powers, it’s because we are not in any behavioural loops with your team and the assumptions we make are the right ones.
You and your team are stuck in what is known as a behavioural loop. A behavioural loop is a cycle that we get into with people that eventually becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. You can see in the image to the left a perfect example of an employee engagement loop that is common in most businesses. The manager thinks (assumes) employees don’t want to be involved in improvement. The manager feels disappointed and people in the team get a sense of his disappointment (the body language usually gives it away even if nothing is said). The manager behaves in a way that does not involve others in decisions, including how the work tasks should be carried out by his team and where we should focus our improvement efforts. The consequence of this is a disengaged workforce that have a very low opinion of the manager. Nobody is interested in what we have to say and nobody asks our opinion, so we just keep our heads down. And the cycle continues.
If you are reading this and you think that this is you. You are making an assumption about people, your team, your workforce... and it is wrong. So stop. Be the one who takes responsibility and breaks the cycle. Break the behavioural loop. Why? Because this will unlock the door to employee engagement, to trust, to respect, to teamwork and to much better communication.
Let me tell you from experience what you should assume about the majority of the people in your workforce. People want to be masters of their own destiny. They want to come to work and do a good job. They not only want to do a good job but find ways to do it better. They want autonomy. They want to feel part of something. And most important... they are all different, which means that you will need to find out what makes each person tick to get the best out of them and release their full potential.
Believe me this is not uncommon. We are all guilty of making assumptions. It is the way we are designed. When we approach a road, we look both ways. We assume that a car is coming, rather than one is not coming and walk straight out into the road. Making assumptions is our minds way of protecting us. With employees we are making the wrong assumptions a lot of the time. Break the cycle today, and if you are going to make assumptions about people... make sure they are correct.