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Bruce Hamilton

Management

Another Use for Duct Tape

Solving the true problem behind the problems

Published: Tuesday, January 19, 2016 - 17:06

This is an article inspired by the glut of recent football weekends. Lou Holtz, the legendary college and pro football coach, offers the following advice to coaches everywhere: “I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.”

Top managers often lament their employees’ reluctance to embrace change and adopt better ways to work. But after 30 years of lean implementations, few executives have genuinely accepted their roles as change leaders. To lead a lean transformation, there are so many things for top managers to learn—and unlearn— that it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps Holtz has the best idea for starting: Stop talking. At first glance, top manager silence may seem a little incongruous, but here’s why it’s a good place to start.

A while back, I toured a local factory with the general manager, Paul. Paul was concerned about lack of employee participation. “Some days it seems like I’m the only one with ideas,” he said. The root cause of the low participation became apparent as we toured the factory. At each department, Paul rushed in and started brainstorming solutions to problems, sometimes talking to me and sometimes to his employees—but always talking. Finally I whispered this suggestion to him: “I’ll have to get out the duct tape if you don’t stop talking.” Pointing to a problem statement on a huddle board, he exclaimed emphatically, “But I know how to solve that problem!”

“Perhaps,” I responded, “but if you want your employees to begin thinking that problem solving is a key part of their jobs, then you have to cease being the chief executive problem solver.” It was apparent to me as a visitor that factory employees immediately deferred to Paul, awaiting his strong advice, but he was oblivious. Paul scowled at me in response. But after a few minutes of sullen but thoughtful silence, he spoke again. “You know I got to where I am by being a good problem solver. It’s not easy being silent, when I see a solution.”

“I understand,” I said. “You’re good problem solver and an enthusiastic, involved general manager, but how can you transfer that problem-solving enthusiasm and skill to your employees? Isn’t that the real problem for you to solve?” Paul thought for a moment, and replied, “Maybe I need to talk less and listen more.”

“Do you think you can do that?” I asked.

“It won’t be easy,” said Paul.

How about in your organization? Do your coaches talk or listen?

Discuss

About The Author

Bruce Hamilton’s picture

Bruce Hamilton

Bruce Hamilton, president of the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership (GBMP), brings hands-on experience as a manager, teacher, and change agent. Prior to GBMP, Hamilton led efforts to transform United Electric Controls Co.’s production from a traditional batch factory to a single-piece-flow environment that has become an international showcase. Hamilton has spoken internationally on lean manufacturing, employee involvement, continuous improvement, and implementing change; and he has contributed to numerous texts ranging from visual control to variety reduction. Hamilton’s blog, Old Lean Dude, is an on-going reflection on lean philosophy and practices with an emphasis on keeping good jobs close to home.