In the economic climate of 2021, it is very difficult to attract, engage, and retain people who are willing to work and capable of exercising good judgment. Blame a past or present administration, or the pandemic, or “kids these days” all you like. But please, stop complaining that you “can’t find good people” if your primary source of candidates is still the temp agency.
Modern workforce development requires that your company invest in education and skills training locally so that the workers of the future will be prepared to thrive in your employ. It also requires that we invest in current team members to develop their critical-thinking skills. They can be engaged by involvement in problem-solving, planning, and implementation of ongoing improvement, growing their skills in judgment with each experience.
Lessons in judgment came hard and early for me. My grandfather was a cop, a farmer, and a teacher of life lessons. My lessons were as constant as required by my creative disobedience and general immaturity. When I was a boy of 8 summers, my chores included the feeding and medication of a bull calf. All summer, I would rise before sunrise to rope the calf for medication and bottle feeding. It was complicated by the fact that 8-week-old calves outweigh 8-year-old boys. He did not enjoy being roped before breakfast, particularly when the meal included a hot-dog-sized pill to treat scours (that’s bovine for diarrhea).
One morning I was having a particularly rough time. The Guernsey bull calf had been roped easily enough but had no interest in being tied to the center post. He had dragged me through the slime and knocked me into the fence. I snagged the rope, planted my feet, and thought of the most potent swear word I knew. Throwing my weight toward the center pole, I commanded, “Come here, dammit.” I looped and tied the rope neatly to the pole and stood back to survey my solitary victory. “Is that the calf’s name?” asked a deep voice behind me. How did he do that? He was always just there. “No sir,” I replied in a hushed tone. “It is now,” he said, and he went about his work.
I didn’t hear another word about it until the family had finished Sunday dinner. Then it happened; he removed his toothpick, leaned back in his chair and donned a puzzled look. “Now Scotsman, what was that calf’s name again?” I glanced at my grandmother and my mother and said, “Uhhh, Dammit, sir.” We repeated this ritual every Sunday until that wretched animal took his rightful place in the meat locker.
My grandfather consistently used logical consequences to guide me toward maturity. He also allowed natural consequences to teach me, but those lessons quickly grew more severe. He took me along so that I could observe, and he allowed me to ask questions so I could understand the choices he made. When we worked together, he would ask me, “What comes next?” in order to engage my head and my hands. By thinking out loud through planning and problem-solving on the ranch, he taught me skills that transferred to every aspect of life. His example has been my model for helping employees learn problem-solving skills for today while developing critical thinking for tomorrow.
Test me in this. Use the time that is already set aside for crew meetings to engage them in a discussion. Say there was a quality snafu last week that made it to your customer. It would be easy, even natural, to vent frustration toward the crew—to sit them down and tell them the cause of the problem, the solution, the standard of performance, and the consequences of failure to meet that standard. But this will not change future outcomes or their ability to improve them. Assigning blame sucks all the energy out of improvement. What if, instead, the meeting began with everyone getting on one side of the problem? “Folks, we let our customer down last week, and we need to work together to fix our process. The way we are doing things today allowed this production loss to hurt our customer. I need your help in closing the gaps in our process so this cannot happen again.” With the focus shifted to what happened, rather than who did it, you can attack the problem together.
Although it is likely that you knew the root cause when you entered the room, there is value in examining the noncompliant product and discussing all the possible causes, perhaps using a fishbone diagram. The team develops a better understanding of the causes and then focuses on prevention. Keep asking the question of your team, “How can we make it difficult to do this wrong?” By this method you may grow your own willing and capable employees.
Scott Ellis, Ed.D., delivers training, coaching, and resources that develop the ability to eliminate obstacles and sustain more effective and profitable results. He recently published Dammit, Learning Judgment Through Experience. His books and process improvement resources are available at workingwell.bz. AICC members enjoy a 20% discount code: AICC21.