None of us are as smart as all of us – so says the well-known Japanese proverb. And while this holds true in every organization, job shops in particular must take special heed.
RBB focuses on low volume electronics: what we like to call “small batches.” We assemble and test our customers’ high tech products on a made-to-order basis. It is common for our 40-person workforce (not counting support staff) to run 200+ highly intricate, mission-critical jobs through the shop at any one time. That’s a lot of opportunity for our employees to use their smarts!
As we’ve discussed earlier in this series, a mission, a vision, and a daily dashboard can do wonders to get everyone on the same page. These tools help crystallize what it takes for the business to win – and gives us a scoreboard for how we’re doing. Which is good. But, alas, once again, it ain’t enough.
Three frogs sat on a log. One decides to jump in the pond. How many are left? Well, three, of
course. Deciding to jump… is not jumping. Knowing does not always translate into doing, as we realize only too well. The leadership tools described above prepare folks to make the right call at crunch time. But actually leaving the log is what matters.
More than at many other places, the scarcest resource in job shop environments is usually time. With so many jobs running at once, and so many variables in play, the performance of any one job – and the satisfaction of that customer – often comes down to whether one single employee feels free to make the difference at “crunch” time. And most every job has it. That pivotal moment when someone must step up and do the often-invisible-next-right-thing or the job will suffer a quality, cost, or responsiveness problem.
The crunch time, crucial moment will likely come for somebody else on the next job. So it’s not enough for most of our people to “get” it. We all need to; we sink or swim together!
Do your folks pull the trigger? Do they feel comfortable making decisions and immediately executing on them? Must they check with the hierarchy first or inform them later, if at all?
Is shop floor (or kitchen, or wherever else) risk-taking and initiative feared? Welcomed? Encouraged? Rewarded? Even taught? The answer to this question will determine how far employees will stretch their necks at crunch time. It may be saving and building your company right now, one job at a time, without you even knowing it.
Or it may be the culprit behind some chronic problems that you’ve been attempting to solve with technology, or high sales growth, or org chart calisthenics.
Whether it’s small volume electronics or some other type of job shop, in future blog entries I will tackle a number of proven strategies to help induce our frogs to leave their logs. For now though, I invite you to get out there and get some honest answers about whether your folks truly feel free to do whatever is needed at your “crunch” time. Then just go do the next-right-thing.
Bruce Hendrick has been a leader of major change in corporations and small business alike for the past 25 years; currently he's the owner of RBB Systems and Organizational Development Services, LLC; noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer.