Leadership LessonsBy: Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Leadership Lesson 1: "Why CAN'T We Do It?"
Pamela Kinser works for the Stanislaus County Department of Employment Training.
"When you're working with the government," she told me, "you have so many regulations to follow -- City, County, State, and Federal. Two years ago, we knew that the Work Force Investment Act was going to come into effect, bringing a whole new set of regulations.
"Our director said, 'Instead of reading the regulations and saying, "We can't to this, we can't do that," why not say, "Why CAN'T we? Where does it say we CAN'T do this? That we CAN'T provide these services for our clients?"'
"That has made a complete turn-around in everyone's thinking and has made us all open minded. I came to this department from another agency that focused on 'we can't do that.' Now, we can push to get cars fixed for clients so they can get jobs, try to get them dental work or their tattoos removed, all the things people need so badly before they can get jobs. This kind of thinking has worked so well that we're now trying to bring other agencies on board.
"Our leader made it okay for the line workers to ask, "Why CAN'T we?" It's brought a huge turn-around in employee morale and made a major difference with our clients and the community."
Leadership Lesson 2: "I'm Glad You Asked"
Pam Kranhold's Quality Department at Delta Dental Plan of California is revolutionizing the way they do business for government and their customers.
"Over the last two years," she told me, "we have changed our leadership from a very bland 'government' approach to an innovative vision-mission-value focus! It took a number of months to get the leaders to put all their thoughts on the same page and circulate them to the employees.
"One way we are doing this is with meetings where leaders and employees could ask each other questions and share suggestions. We solicited ideas from employees and got more than a thousand in the first year, almost more than we knew what to do with. We organized the ideas and put them on a data base. The strongest incentive for employee feedback is always the willingness of management to listen. A secondary inducement is that everyone in our department gets a Quality Buck for each suggestion that they can spend on a showcase of items.
"This program totally revolutionized the company. Now, employees from other divisions are eager to work in our department."
Leadership Lesson 3: "Why Did You Do It That Way?"
Joyce Ward is with Shore Intermediate Maintenance Activities, a Navy organization that fixes ships. "As a Business Performance Officer," she told me, "I go out and work with the shops, focusing on teamwork.
"In 1994, I was working with my first team, our lifeboat repair shop. These rafts hang on the decks of ships and need to be inflated in an emergency. However, the failure rate in 1994 was 40%. After we asked some questions, we dropped the failure rate to 1% or less by the year 2000. How did we do this?
"We looked at the processes and made a flow chart. We kept track of who was working on what so we could spot where the errors were occurring. When we did this, we discovered one extraordinary employee whose work was always perfect. There was no failure rate for Joey.
"We decided to observe Joey carefully to figure out what he was doing right. We watched and watched, but couldn't see that he was doing anything different from the other workers. Then we decided to videotape him and asked him to describe what he was doing as he did each step. We encouraged the other members of the team to observe, reminding them that they or their family might be the ones needing a lifeboat in an emergency.
"So the whole team was there watching. At one point, Joey said, 'And now I fold the valve under.'
"'Wait!' the other said. 'But we fold it toward the top? Why are you folding it underneath?'
"'Because," Joey said, 'it lies flatter, and there is less chance that it could be broken when the life raft is compressed into the little package.' Joey was a young man very low on the totem pole, but we've learned that you have to listen to the kids down on the deck. They are the ones who make it happen.
We ask the teams to define problems and describe what they've done to solve it. After we collect their answers, we brief the executive officers who can make it happen. Then they make recommendations to leadership who can bring about a permanent change. Joey's idea became the department standard for the entire Navy. (He also got an award of $2500.)
And thanks to Joey and our asking the right questions, your chances of having a working lifeboat have risen to 99% or more. "
© Copyright, 2002, Patricia Fripp
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