Make the Connection

In my books I have written much about a connection that most leaders and academics ignore: bad processes lead to bad leadership behaviors. This is a critically important connection because it reveals the time and information function of leadership. What leaders believe in and how they behave largely determines how well information is conveyed in time throughout an organization and between its upstream and downstream participants (suppliers and customers).

A leaders who yells at people, blames people for errors, and whose world-view is political (appearance matters more than substance) thinks their behaviors get results. But in reality, they do not. Their bad behaviors further upset bad processes by introducing more variability, which, in turn leads to more inconsistent results. Most leaders never know this because their observation skills are so poor. They fail to see why people filter information, why they withhold information, and why they block information. They also fail to comprehend this in relation to time, knowing only that time is short and have no clue how to effectively correct such critically important problems. Failing to comprehend cause-and-effect in human relations has serious business consequences.

Leaders are fond of saying “there’s no such thing as a free lunch,” yet they routinely disrespect people as if doing so has zero cost or consequences. Disrespecting people is not free, whether through bad leadership behaviors (waste), overloading people with work (unevenness), or the use of non-Lean metrics (unreasonableness). It costs both time and information. Time, because things take much longer than necessary. Information, because its flow is slowed or blocked altogether. Then, leaders get what they hate most, a lot of nasty surprises. So, they yell at people, blame people for errors, etc., which reinforces the cycle and eventually leads to firings and transfers to lesser roles. And as overall performance declines, worse things begin to happen.

Focusing on people as the problem assures that the processes people operate will soon become completely dysfunctional.

Because the boss cannot comprehend cause-and-effect in human relations and its connection to processes, the organization becomes less tolerant of poor performance. As a result, people more closely guard information, they take less initiative, avoid taking risks, and come to rely up their supervisor to prioritize their work and for daily work instructions. People become adept at conforming to requirements and avoid innovation or improvement.

This is an ugly picture and unpleasant experience which I have twice experienced in my years in the workplace. But, it does not have to be that way. Understand that it is people who create poor workplace conditions, and it is people who can create great workplace conditions.

One of the pioneers of flow production, Frank Woollard characterized the “Respect for People” principle in his day as “Benefit for All,” and has this to say about it: “This principle of ‘benefit for all’ is not based on altruistic ideals – much as these are to be admired – but upon the hard facts of business efficiency.”

“Respect for People” is not about being nice. It is about having a business or organization that functions as one should want it to function, with good processes where information that flows smoothly in time throughout an organization and between its upstream and downstream participants. Making this happen requires a top leader who comprehends the connection and its relationship to time and information flow.

I believe that any top leader can be taught to see this. The question is whether they are willing to translate it into doing the things necessary to make what they see become real.

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