Note: This post is adapted from a similar one I wrote for the ODS blog which is devoted to leadership, communication and trust.
Like any business, small batch shops like RBB have many things we can improve upon all the time. (And the minute we don’t admit it signals the beginning of dangerous complacency!) It’s a growing challenge since most low-volume electronics manufacturing companies face intense competition and so seem hooked on instant answers and urgent innovation. Employees, regardless of their formal authority face enormous pressure to address everything that stands in the way of reaching the company's goals. Or they often think they do.
Let’s clarify roles. An employee who wants to see something changed in their company is much like a tugboat. Tugboats help maneuver the much larger ship in tight quarters. Note that it can’t succeed if it works at cross-purposes with the captain and crew of the ship itself. The tugboat must pay close attention to certain fundamentals while the crew ultimately guides the ship.
So it is with organizations. As CEO, I can confidently say that we count on our RBB employees to fight certain battles, while we expect management to run the business. Keep in mind that the unique culture and goals of each firm play a big part in this. Management steers. Employee change agents watch out for and fight against common problems that arise when the organization gets off track; they tug us to where we belong.
5 Battles Worth Fighting
The organization is counting on employees to act when these things happen. Left unchecked, each of these situations can significantly erode otherwise great progress. By no means is this a comprehensive list. To those in the org chart without formal authority, it can, however, give license to speak up and do something. Always be constructive and then do your part to help “tug” the company back on course.
- When employees are treated like robots. Sometimes organizations can get so caught up in the pursuit of goals that they begin to leave the human side of things out of their thoughts. They may cut corners with communication, skip over HR policies (like posting open positions), or otherwise leave people in the dust. Even the best managers can rationalize by thinking they are too busy to slow down. But robots can’t rally around goals when we need them to. When you see this issue, help to tug the company back on target.
- When there’s a flavor-of-the-month track record. Constantly changing priorities is one of the fastest ways an organization can lose momentum. What often feels like strong leadership to managers and supervisors can be experienced as confusion and inconsistency elsewhere. The big warning sign for this one: people start to believe that there is no way to win. Talk with the key influencers and help the company make some tough but much-needed choices.
- When resistance to change goes underground. We all know the insipid consequences here. People act overly polite and they avoid discussing the real issue. Camps or cliques develop. New forms of tension start to spread; managers are usually the last to know. Resistance is perfectly normal and even healthy – if it is both voiced and handled in a healthy way. Avoid choosing sides. Lead others to the icky place and if possible help work it through.
- When employees don’t know how a given change affects them. Like other industries, low-volume electronics manufacturing has been impacted by recent economic challenges. Many shop floor people are now caught in a certain amount of “hunkering down” behavior – out of fear for their job. These same employees are often hit with ever-faster changes to their work environment… and yet they may not ask their real questions. When good folks don’t understand changes (whatever the reason), progress can be slow, mistakes high, and people can pull in different directions. This is another great time to climb into the ring.
- When the change is different than the culture. Your company’s culture may be based on the best design concept (like Apple), or perhaps it’s more about cost control (Walmart), or maybe it’s highly team-based (The Ohio State Buckeyes). However your particular organization’s culture works, the changes that come along must fit with that style. For example – Apple embraces the best idea even if it makes a product more expensive, but Walmart doesn’t think that way. The Buckeyes won’t run a new play unless the whole team can execute it as one. So be on the lookout for exciting new tactics and changes that don’t appear to fit with your culture. You can help by modifying the concept to fit better with your underlying culture – or the intended change will face a long, tough battle indeed.
When you are constructively facilitating your company through the challenges
I’ve outlined here, do so with confidence. You may be the best (only?) person to see the direct impact of these issues on your company’s performance. If not you, who? If not now, when? When the organization sees you fighting profitably and for all the right reasons, you will become the champion of change after all!
Bruce loves to manage change and to encourage working environments where employees and customers thrive. His passion led him to found ODS – a highly practical leadership, trust and communication training firm and blog. He’s a noted speaker, author, active church member and community volunteer. Bruce has led RBB since 2001, becoming Owner in 2007.
If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you with your small batch electronic assemblies, contact us today.