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Ride the Trucks, Walk the Lines

2/3/2014 4:21:49 PM
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The next step on your improvement journey begins just outside your office door. It’s time to ride the trucks, or as Lee Iacocca would tell us, time to manage by wandering around. One of the best articles I have ever read on this subject is actually called “Get Out and Ride the Trucks.” Written by Richard Hewitt, it appeared in the APICS journal in November of 2003 and tells another great story of good employees finding a way to work around management’s (well-intentioned!) obstacles.

You won’t be the Undercover Boss. Your folks know who you are, whether or not you have been accessible to them before now. You will find them incredibly curious—it’s their company, too, after all—and most will be ready, and even eager, to talk to you and give you answers to those sticky questions we discussed last month.

And though you will be wandering about with your own agenda, remember to write down any employee’s question you couldn’t immediately answer so you can get back to your questioner. You cannot afford to miss these opportunities to continue dialog or assure employees that you will do what you say you will do. It all works toward your credibility and trust.

I remember when I was a brand new manager, being accosted by a rough-looking man who ran the hot press crew on our evening shift. His question was related to a new job rating system and I had no idea how to answer it and I told him so. “Don’t worry,” I told him. “I’ll come in early tomorrow and find out.” When I returned to the hot press the next night, I had an answer that I knew he wouldn’t like, but I went up to him and told him what I had learned. His response astonished me. “Thank you. I expected that, but no one else I asked would tell me. You’re the first person with the courage to deliver that answer.”

As for your own purpose, you are looking to understand the current culture and the current responses to your strategy. Are people behaving the way you would expect? Do they speak of the purpose driving the organization? What have they heard about changes? How do they feel about them?

Are they telling you that “management wants” to make some change or are they accepting what they are seeing so far? Do they tell you that they are taking a 5S approach to their own production area, or did they say that their supervisor told them that they “better 5S this place” before the manager comes around?

Now begin to digest what you’ve gathered. What have you learned? Does it look like what you thought it would? Are the surprises in areas you thought were nailed down? Do people understand what the changes mean for their own lives? Do they accept the changes as improvements, or do they think that “management” is playing with them?

Did you include your direct reports in your exercise? What did you learn from them or about them? Do they follow your strategy, or just bob their heads up and down to please you while their actions shouted louder than their words that they were doing things the same old way, or their own way? If you haven’t convinced your team, you are unlikely to convince their people. When your staff understands and agrees with what you are doing, you can teach them how to implement the changes and teach others. If someone on your staff is resisting, find out why as quickly as you can. You need his or her support. If you accept his or her push-back, everyone will know you aren’t serious about changing. If they refuse to sign up, you may have to transfer or replace them to show everyone how serious you are about your new direction.

You are beginning to see where your peoples’ mindsets align with your strategy—and where they don’t. Maintain your current evolution until your efforts achieve the critical mass of support that will promote the revolution.

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