Our car was vandalized. We don’t know when it happened but we found it a couple of days ago. It was a shocking sight. The glass on the driver’s side of the window was broken and the shards were all over the seat and below. The center part of the dashboard was ripped apart and insides of the dashboard were hanging below. We do not know who did it and why they did it but the fact is that we felt violated. No one has the right to even touch let alone destroy what belongs to us.
Anyway, we called 911. Our first surprise was that 911 does not deal with vehicle break-ins. They gave us the number to call the Columbus police department. Surprise number two: The police department is closed on weekends! There was an option on the voice recording to stay on the line if there is a need to dispatch a police officer. We stayed on line. After a really weird ringtone, a lady spoke. We explained her what happened. Our biggest surprise followed. She said this is an unsolvable problem. It could be anybody who could have done this. It is impossible to investigate such cases. So go ahead and file that report. We asked her what happens after filing the report. Her response was, “Well, you inform your insurance company and they take it from there.” Bewildered, we asked, “So are you saying that the police will do nothing about this? No investigation at all?” Very condescendingly, she replied, “Ma’am, all I am saying is that you file the report. It is really a small problem.” First let me just tell you I hate it especially when they ‘Ma’am’ me. The word is respectful but you don’t feel any respect because the tone of their voice is degrading and anything but respectful. But think about how scary such a response is coming from someone we rely on for safety, security and assurance!
You are probably wondering, where exactly I am going with this? Well this goes back to leadership and how we respond to our associates when we implement changes. We go out to the gemba, teach people how to look for problems and encourage them to solve the problem. How do we actually respond when they do bring up the problem? The associates are in a vulnerable state of mind. Firstly, they fear losing their job. Secondly, they are afraid to bring up problems because until now they have survived because they hid the problems or fixed on their own. Guess what? It is not easy to handle change. Now what if they bring up a problem that has been there for a while and is “unsolvable” like above? The issue is too sensitive or political? What do you tell your associates? That you really cannot do anything about it? Do you tell them to focus only on a certain kind of problems? Or do you listen to them, go observe the process and understand the difficulties they are actually experiencing while doing their job? Do you or associates gather the data (observations, measurements, taking pictures or shoot a video of the process), asking other associates if they are experiencing similar difficulties and bring it to the attention of the senior leaders? You may get a no for an answer from the leaders but do you at least try? Do you ensure that your associates feel safe to discuss problems? Do you assure them that you will take actions and actually do it? Are you consistent with your words and action that they feel secured about their jobs?
There are lots of tools and methods of process improvement. You can open the tool-box and implement any tool when you want. However you cannot rely on the tool box to exert leadership. As a leader, you have to be out there. You encourage, listen, observe and empower under all circumstances unlike the above incident where they shrug off the responsibility labeling it as an intractable problem.
Share with me your experiences as you are implementing changes in your organization. What is your approach? What are your challenges and ‘aha’ moments that made you grow as a leader?