The Soft Side of Work

"Why did we hire 55,000 brains and only use three of them?"
-- Woody Morcott, former CEO, Dana Corporation

The previous post in this series dealt with management system element of operations, where the conditions of success you have created in earlier aspects now converge to doing the work for customers. Your management practice considers how to derive the most value from the work system.

One of the most important things you can do is to include the people who do the work not only in work execution but in work system design. Frederick Herzberg, a leader in the study of organizational behavior, said that "if you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do". The people in your workforce live their jobs every hour of their working day and have acquired experience that informs how to do the job well. The average worker is smart, if not always highly educated. That intelligence, along with the innate desire to do well, results in the workforce getting increasingly better. Their knowledge base keeps growing, and tapping that experience and expertise is smart management. Skip over their contribution, and it’s all on you to know everything better than everyone else… good luck with that. Remember that it’s not your job to do stuff, but it is your job to get stuff done.

Running ops integrates with your planning by understanding capacity. Measuring factory capacity is relatively easy compared to measuring the capacity of knowledge workers. But knowledge work keeps growing as a percentage of business activity. Capacity utilization can be a primary driver of profitability, so setting a baseline and measuring change is an essential task for your org. When you set the baseline, include obvious stuff like PTO and sick time, but don’t forget generous budgeting for training and development, as well as making it possible for the team to have a well-balanced life.

Another practice to emphasize is that no matter how well your ops are performing, they will always need to get better. That can mean better along multiple dimensions, including quality, cycle time, cost, utility, and others that are important to your customers. Foster a culture of continuous improvement. Much like the suggestion system we discussed in the post about innovation, encourage everyone to generate lots of ideas. Communicate the status in the assessment process, patiently wade through the bad ideas to get to the best, and run them in a market model.

There are priorities in making ops better. We like the insight from THE THREE RULES: How Exceptional Companies Think, by Michael Raynor and Mumtaz Ahmed:

  1. BETTER before cheaper
  2. REVENUE before cost
  3. There are no other rules

A final thought on your management practice of operations. As a guiding principle, always favor any approach that is easy to execute. In our time- and attention-challenged lives, any work system that isn’t easy won’t be effective. Some processes and tasks are indeed complex. DaVinci taught us that simplicity is the ultimate sophistication… that’s powerful advice.