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It’s Not the People

Posted by admin on December 1, 2014

We don’t spend much time talking about problem employees in our blog posts because we think most employees want to do a good job.  But people are often blamed for problems that occur in the plant without really examining why they do what they do.  Before you reprimand or fire employees, take a hard look at the situation.  The causes may be as much in the work environment as with employees.

After examining the physical aspects of a problem, we train managers and supervisors to focus on two critical areas that can create or exacerbate problems.   These must be examined to get a full picture of what went wrong and, more importantly, how it can be avoided in the future.

Human Root Cause – Look at the decisions or actions that caused, contributed to or extended the problem.  Problems can be caused by decisions that were made by employees throughout the plant, from the plant manager to managers and supervisors to machine operators and maintenance staff.  It is helpful to understand why these decisions were made and what impact the decisions had on the problem.  If there is a trend of decision making with negative impact, it can be helpful to put in place a formal decision-making program so objectives of decision are agreed to and visible to everyone.

And remember, not making a decision is a decision.  Suspecting there may be a problem and not doing anything about it is a conscious choice. 

Latent Root Cause – In this step examine the organizational systems—policies, practices, procedures—that could have influenced the human root cause decisions that drove behavior.  We generally find these systems are the cause of the poor decisions that result in or exacerbate problems.  While pay and bonuses are clearly part of the organizational systems, they are often short-term factors and can be counter-productive if they put too much emphasis on short-term thinking.  This can result in band-aide fixes to get product out the door and withholding investments needed for the long-term competitiveness of the plant.  So the first step is making sure compensation is aligned with the desired performance.

But you also must look at other incentives such as how positive and negative feedback are given.  Is the reward for good work more work with no additional compensation or recognition?  Are those who perform poorly and cause problems dealt with effectively or are they allowed to slide because they are just too much of a headache to deal with?  Looking objectively at this area can show where rewarding the wrong behaviors might be happening.

There is no doubt there are some employees who are just hard cases who will not change and need to be removed.  But we believe these are the vast minority in any plant.  The challenge for plant leadership is determining what human behavior was driven by policies and procedures that result in the wrong decisions causing problems.  Without this holistic approach, they are most likely creating unnecessary employee churn and low morale, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy for causing problems