To Eat or Fish?
In the mid to late 80s, I worked at a manufacturing plant that will always be my favorite location. I came to it as the first manager from outside the organization, responsible for at least one-half of the 450 people. People were skeptical; why was I there? No one knew me or heard any stories about me. The first big story came out of an encounter with the IT guy. I wanted a computer; no one in the plant had one, nor would they get one. After being informed that I needed "upper management's" approval, a standard stall tactic, I secured the order with a quick call to "upper management." The stories about me burst upon the plant like a fireworks display on the 4th of July. Then I gave my computer to the manufacturing line with the most problems with cost and quality. They immediately put it to use, with my full support. And it enshrined the people I gave the computer to as people who "must have known him from the past." But they didn't!
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime." Lao Tzu
"Having a college degree simply means I've had different experiences; it doesn't mean I'm smarter than those who do not. If I take my college degree to the coffee shop down the street, the price of coffee is still the same!" G. Wood 1988
Since this was my first large manufacturing organization, everything I needed to do was like an experiment. However, I had real hands-on experience in smaller manufacturing groups. My familiarity with people like Dr. Edwards Deming and Tom Peters gave me a clear understanding of where the issues emanated from and were caused by whom. In assessing what was needed to help the organization prosper, I could not find evidence that these actions had occurred anywhere in the corporation. I knew this assignment would judge my career; I might as well give it my best. That's when I bet on the people!
The people knew their jobs were on the line. Everyone had seen news bulletins reporting manufacturing locations being shut down and moving out of the country. And more than anything, they knew they were working with equipment that utilized 30-year-old technology, which left their jobs vulnerable. So where do you start?
I held crew meetings with most of the workforce. We met in conference rooms day and night to discuss the paradigm change they were about to experience. Several common themes emerged from these meetings, with one being more pronounced. It went like this, are you here to impress us with your education and college degrees? That's what everyone else does! As it turned out, this was their first step in trusting me.
The room always went silent when I said yes, I have a degree in Chemical Engineering; however, having a college degree only means I've had different experiences; it doesn't mean I'm smarter than those who do not. If I take my college degree to the coffee shop down the street, the price of coffee is still the same!"
My point was simple: I needed them and considered them intelligent and capable! Once we were past this question, we would talk about involving them in decision-making at all organizational levels. I always had plenty of refreshments and some of the best cookies. Keeping the cross-talking in the meeting to a minimum was a must. However, at the end of each session, conversations were always significant!
Building and maintaining trust is a crucial life endeavor, no matter where you are. It's a business issue, a family issue, a social issue. By declaring my people as equals, they became willing to participate in the upcoming changes. It was and still is evidence of something still needed in our world. What I found was an organization full of very talented people. They needed management's willingness to get them involved, provide appropriate training, and get out of their way.
My people had been given fish for a long time. So while it took time, sometimes testing our patience, we gave them tools and training while they learned how to fish. All of us can teach people how to fish. However, making changes takes ongoing trust and patience, especially in families filled with years of relationships.
So where do you or your family stand? Are you handing out fish or teaching them to fish? Do you tell people what to do or teach them what and why it's important?
My people in this manufacturing location did arrive at greatness, stepping up to the challenges they faced. They embraced new technologies in their work centers while becoming as close to self-management as possible. As a result, the health of their families had been secured, at least for the near future. The cool part of this is that the same process also works for families!
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