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business, leadership, lean thinking

Why People Don’t Develop

“If we do not give people accurate feedback based on real behavior they are not growing and we are not respecting them. The job of a leader is not to put them in positions to fail, but to put them in challenging positions where they must work hard to succeed and still see how they could have been even better. “Akio Toyoda

If you are a production manager and one of your machines develops a problem that is resulting in increased costs or poor quality, would you let the problem continue until the next time maintenance is due?  For most of us, the answer would be, “no.”  We would shut down the machine and fix it to stop the problem from continuing.

If you are a manager and one of your team members is having a behavioral or capability problem that is resulting in increased costs, poor quality, or missing commitments, what would you do?  Experience tells me that many would wait until the next performance review to point out the problems and work for improvement (oh, and assign a poor rating in the process).

One of the biggest problems facing organizations today in the drive to improve is the inability of many managers to provide regular and relevant feedback to team members and work with them to improve.  There are a variety of reasons for this but, unless we start to dig into the causes and address them, the problem will continue and our ability to drive and sustain improvements in safety, quality, production, and cost will be severely limited.

The Causes

Over the years, I’ve found many reasons for the lack of ability to provide effective feedback for team member development that occurs in many organizations.  Although most of the reasons are fairly simple to recognize, they are system-level issues and can be difficult to address.  Like any problem facing an organization, however, a focused effort with clear objectives can result in significant improvements.

The reasons many organizations are poor at developing people include the following:

  • Leaders Don’t Know How: Coaching and developing people is not something that comes naturally to most people.  When we promote someone into a supervisory position, we need to develop his or her skills in coaching and leading a team.  We must help leaders understand the types of conversations to have with people and how to recognize when improvement is needed and occurring.  They also need to understand how to approach these conversations with respect and utilize questioning, rather than telling, to guide development.
  • Inconsistent Leadership Styles: Variation in leadership styles is one of the most unrecognized and destructive problems in business.  Unless we have a clear idea of the competencies we want in the organization’s leaders, the resulting inconsistency will confuse people and lead to demotivation, high turnover, and poor performance.
  • It’s Not Valued: Leaders are often not held accountable for development because it is not valued by the organization.  Organizations that take a cream to rises to the top approach to identifying leaders often follow a hands off approach to development creating an environment of competition and silos rather than teamwork and problem-solving.
  • Poor Hiring Practices: If we continue to hire people who don’t fit into the organization’s culture, the problem will be overwhelming to those managers who truly want to develop those on their team.  Hiring a new employee is a much more important decision than many people recognize, and unless candidates are carefully screened for fit before they enter the organization, they can do significant damage before we realize we have a problem.
  • Overemphasis on the Performance Review: Organizations that do not value development tend to put more pressure on completing performance review on schedule than worrying about whether or not it actually results in improvement.  In this type of environment, managers often feel they are fulfilling their responsibility as a leader by having one or two conversations per year related to development.

It’s a Daily Thing

Avoiding conversations with people related to areas to improvement need to happen every day in real situations.  Besides the effect this can have on the performance of the team and the organization, orienting these conversations toward truly helping someone develop and improve shows a level of respect that people will remember for years afterwards.

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About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.

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