Back to the drawing board?

I don’t know about you but I get embarrassed watching managers go ‘Back to the Floor’ (a recent BBC television series in the UK). What motivates managers to be exposed as out of touch with the way their organisations make, or more importantly, lose money?

In one case we witnessed a leader of a supermarket chain discovering that his workers were not allowed to speak to each other, had to put up with faulty equipment and were ignored by their managers. In a flourish of largesse the leader fixed a visible problem – everyone got new chairs – but what did he really learn?

Did he ask why his managers ignored their staff? If he did, and had pondered the question rather than jumping to the conclusion that they were just ‘bad managers’, he might have learned that his managers’ behaviour was being driven by assumptions of hierarchy. In our organisations we tend to believe that the higher up you are, the more you know. Yet, as the programme shows with relentless repetition, the ‘higher ups’ know least about what is going on.

And it is these ‘higher ups’ who make demands on lower managers, issuing edicts, targets, policies, procedures and the like – all of which may or may not help the lower managers get the job done. In practice, many of our managers are judged by their ability to serve the hierarchy, not the staff or customer. So when a leader goes ‘back to the floor’, I wonder whether he realises that what he sees going wrong, is actually caused by him? Our organisations are replete with standards, productivity measures and work procedures that undermine people’s work and morale. And who is to blame? Yes, the leader who appears to be amused by the idea of spending time with the people who do the work. Its time we went back to the drawing board with our concept of leadership; ‘Back to the Floor’ is telling us, in simple terms, that our leaders are out of touch with the means by which their organisations make or lose money. Embarrassing, disturbing and definitely not something that ought to be called entertaining.


A visitor from Japan

Professor Takaji Nishizawa, a leading quality consultant in Japan is with Vanguard this week (April 3 to 7) in the UK. He is undertaking a study tour of SMEs to assess the use of ISO 9000 in improving organisation performance. A report of his visit will be published in the next e-newsletter. Some early observations to report from conversations with the professor: The following of Deming is on the wane in Japan. Many who have won the Deming prize ‘give up’ once the prize has been won – it says a lot about the psychology of the awards business. ISO 9000 is gaining ground in Japan because of market-place coercion but many commentators feel it is a retrograde step; Professor Nishizawa is concerned that it is undermining world class thinking.