The subtext of a lot of conversations that I have with executives is that their staff are fundamentally uninspired. While they know, and speak to the fact that their personal success is predicated on their staff, most executives have a nagging feeling that, on a whole, their organization is performing mediocre at best.
Their fears are reasonable. In a recent white paper, it was identified that the average North American worker, works at about 1/3 their sustainable output. There is not an operations manager that wouldn’t go crazy knowing that their equipment was operating at 1/3 its capability. It is no wonder that the word of the day in the executive offices is to “engage” the staff. It is likely that nothing significant will change and the Operations Managers will continue to be frustrated by all that untapped discretionary effort.
To pour salt on the wound, there are great organizations all around us. We have all seen hourly staff standing up in front of their peers and bragging about their workplace achievements. There are departments that continually find clever and unique solutions to solve systemic issues. There are crews that always seem to get the job done, have luck on their side, and manage to a quality that wows every one of their customers.
We credit the leaders of those great businesses (or departments). Organizations and boards cherish those individuals and shudder in fear at their departure. Given the opportunity, peer competitive businesses see their individual value and quickly scoop them up. Such is the market for such a rare and valued commodity.
Because of the considerable value of these stars, it is odd that so many organizations do almost nothing to create them. Most human resource departments are not equipped to provide effective leadership training.
Often the HR department sends the highest potential candidate to a 2-3-day class but is frustrated because that seems to yield little or no recognizable results. If an organization has a leadership superstar, they are often asked to mentor those around them. While this frequently bears fruit, their capacity is limited. Ultimately operational pressures force them to focus on the issue of the day.
There is a solution. It is possible to create great organizational leaders.
The common perception that leadership is an art that cannot be taught is simply wrong. Leadership is a skill based on science. It can be taught, practiced, coached, and mastered. While this skill will not be mastered in a few days, it can be mastered if trained, practiced, and coached over a few months. The science of human behavior has been well understood for over 100 years. It just hasn’t been incorporated into business. Ironically, many organizations use outdated management practices that limit productivity. This is comical at best and criminal at worst. I’ve written extensively about common management practices that limit productivity in the past.
As a result, while many organizations hope for efficiency improvements of 5-10% each budget year, they only realize 1-2% (net of capital expenditures). Executives, at a loss of how to improve the engagement of their people, by themselves improvement with capital investments. Meanwhile, their greatest opportunity (and often their greatest costs) stays underutilized and operating at about 32% of capacity.
And what is the proof of this?
1. In the last few years, in an immature industry, I have seen 3 different companies able improve productivity by over 100%. That is correct. With the same equipment, the same people, and in the same environment, they completed more than twice the work than they had ever done before. 3 different unassociated companies. The folks that helped these companies did so without any industry experience. They did not provide technical support, no extra equipment was purchased, no existing staff was fired or changed out. This was done by coaching the front-line leadership in how to lead their people by using the science of human behavior. The skills deployed by our clients’ own people literally engaged their staff so that they “wanted” to work instead of “having” to work. It is the same difference in effort that you see in your kids between them “wanting” to play their video games and “having” to do their chores.
In much more mature industries, while there have been 100% improvements in the past, numbers about 10-30% are much more common.
2. We can use a standard scientifically supported A-B A-B test. First baseline productivity data is compiled. Then the leadership group is trained in the science of human behavior and coached on how to implement the skills with their group. More productivity data is collected. The program is stopped and the leadership is asked to go back to their old ways. More productivity data is collected once again. We then restart the program.
The data shows that the application of the leadership skills directly affects the productivity of the group. Effort increases in staff are often great than 100%.
There are great leaders out there… but they are rare and tough to find. Organizations can create great leaders but are but currently ill-equipped to do so. Our group embeds a professional in your team with the explicit goal of developing your front-line leadership. This WILL (>95% probability) result in increased productivity. The proven science of human behavior guarantees the result. The whole initiative has a remarkably high ROI during the engagement even though the benefits of great leadership pay dividends for years to come.
It still astounds me that, for the most part, leadership teams employ strategies that were developed 100 hundred years ago.