I conducted a communication assessment of an under-performing operation inside a larger company. It has a poor safety record and is missing its quality, service-delivery, productivity and cost goals. Employee retention rates are poor.
The assessment revealed no core communication process managed by the leadership. People throughout the operation complained about disconnected, often-conflicting information that made it appear that “the right and left hands don’t know what they’re doing.”
It also left no doubt about the root causes of the problem. The leadership has not built a communication system to drive operating and financial performance. However, they have perhaps unknowingly designed a communication system that’s guaranteed to predictably drive poor performance, that is, until the system is changed. In other words, they’re getting exactly what they’ve designed.
Results don’t change until work changes. Work doesn’t change until people have the information they need when they need it to make the right changes.
What do I mean by: “The leadership has not built a communication system…?” Isn’t that the job of a staff person? No. Leadership is about communication. That’s what leaders are paid to do. Staff people might help build the communication capability. But they’re not there to do the leader’s job for them.
Today’s high performance world means selecting, developing, assessing and rewarding leaders who understand that a huge part of leadership is establishing and communicating a clear, shared vision, providing the resources that people need to get the job done and celebrating the successes that come with it.
One of the operation’s staff people did suggest a solution to the problem: “touch screens in the plant or some other standard medium for communication …will really give us immediately actionable things to tackle.”
The poor performance was not caused by the absence of touch screens. Touch screens provide a little “gee whiz” factor. But they don’t address the root cause of the problem and will only give employees another thing to do–more activity. The root cause remains and the lousy safety, quality, service delivery, productivity, cost and employee retention performance will not go away.
This is becoming a lean, six sigma world where root causes of waste are being eliminated. A test to determine whether something represents waste is, “Would the customer be willing to pay for (fill in the blank)?” Would the customer find value in the screens?
Touch screens cost money. If the touch screens don’t address the root cause, the leadership communication issue and the poor performance will continue, perhaps declining even further. That’s the case for any other suggested tactical solution that doesn’t address the root cause. However, there’s still a tendency to take the easy way out and reach for something flashy, shiny and useless.
Touch screens must produce financial and operating gains that are greater than the cost of the touch screens or they will likely drain value from the operation and the company. They are likely to represent a cost with no return!
Is that a value-driven approach to running a business today?
Key Takeaway: Priority #1: Make the problem go away—forever!