Friday, April 11, 2008

Front liners know best yet again!

I think it is timely for me to say I feel honoured to have so many fabulous readers who make outstanding comments to Simplicity Blog. Thank you all so much.

Among many comments on my Simplicity posting on Wednesday this week, my friend John O'Leary said this:

“I was working with frontline workers to redesign workflow in an Ontario sawmill. When we solicited cost-saving suggestions from one worker and learned of a simple and quick fix that would save the operation millions of dollars, we asked him why he didn't mention it before. He replied, "I did 10 years ago, but my supervisor told me to just stick to my job, so I did."

Everyone who reads my Blog, my articles or my books will know I have a passion for enabling front line workers to just get on with the job with no interference. I also call for the obliteration of petty, silly rules and the 'control' attitude of some managers.

John's powerful comment reminded me of one of my favourite quotes from the great management guru – perhaps THE greatest – the late Peter Drucker who said;

“Ninety percent of what we call ‘management’ consists of making it difficult for people to get things done.”

Sums up the supervisor in John’s story perfectly wouldn’t you say?

Amen to Mr Drucker's words and thanks again to John – I just had to make a special posting of this one!


John O'Leary said...

Thanks, Trevor. That's just one of a dozen such stories I've heard. Especially in (but not limited to) safety and cost savings, front liners do indeed know best. Who else sees it every day? And what an insult to them when their input is not sought and included. And how can any change effort be successful unless the front line is not FULLY participating in it if not LEADING it?

Trevor Gay said...

Unsurprisingly I agree with you 100% John

I’ve argued long and hard that the job nowadays of a ‘manager’ (as far as I’m concerned it has always been the case) should be ‘coach’ and their main job is to move heaven and earth to make it easy for the workers at the front line to do their job …. And then all the coach needs to do is simply get out of the way.

You are an expert in the music business John. I suggest whilst there is no doubt a ‘Manager’ for The Eagles (sorry – couldn’t resist!) and for The Rolling Stones – very few fans know who the 'manager' is – at least I don’t. We see the results from the ‘front liners’ who all the fans know. love and recognise – the likes of Don Henley, Glen Frey and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards.

I am not saying ‘managers’ are not important nor am I devaluing their role. In the case of The Beatles for instance, I wonder if - without the influence of visionary manager Brian Epstein - the Fab Four would actually have become the world changing music icons they became … or, more likely, they would have been just another 'average' band to emerge from Liverpool in the halcyon days of the 1960's I remember so well as a teenager!

My feeling is the best managers know their place is in the background making things happen and they recognise that the front line is where the real talent is.

John O'Leary said...

Great point, Trevor. Let's take it a step further. In the world of rock & roll, bands do the recruiting and hiring of their managers. At the very least, the bands have a say in who's going to manage them. It's VERY clear who works for whom! Even a big time manager or management team has to earn the approval of the band.

Furthermore, there's usually a "courting" period during which management demonstrates to the band the kind of things they can do for them if they decide to work together. (One band I was in - the band I mention in my blog that played with Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Eric Clapton, etc - even played management candidates against each other in a kind of bidding war. We had the owner of LA's Troubador competing against the manager of NY's Bitter End to manage us. As a result each had us opening at his club for famous artists.) So the bands get to say, "OK, big shots, show us what you can do and then we'll decide if you're going to work for us." And then IF they decide to work together, they have an explicit understanding (i.e. a legal contract) describing what the manager is expected to do - sometimes with performance benchmarks (like securing a recording contract). If management doesn't perform, the band usually has the option of firing them.

Now, contrast that attitude with what goes on in mainstream business today, and the unspoken contract between workers and management. I'm not arguing that in most cases it would necessarily work for teams to select their management, but AT LEAST we need to remember who works for whom.

Trevor Gay said...

Why do we find it difficult to implement the rock and roll band idea of management into mainstream business?

I think we have become so used to a status driven culture where the ‘manager’ is seen as ‘superior’ to front liners. What you describe appears very sensible and logical - the front liners are very much in charge in your world and ‘managers’ work for front liners!

Wally Bock said...

You ask why it's difficult to use the rock band model and celebrate the folks out front. My thought is that it has a lot to do with years and years and years of saying that the fellow at the top is the important one and all those others are effectively interchangeable parts.

rocky said...

That is a great story of true leadership in action. And the company will save millions as a result. Thanks for this uplifting story.

Trevor Gay said...

Wally - thanks for that - maybe we need to change that belief - Front liners rule! I love John's idea that the bosses are working FOR front liners not the other way round - it makes perfect sense to me :-)

Rocky - good to hear from you again Amigo.

David Wike said...

You may like another Peter Drucker quote: "Most discussions of decision making assume that only senior executives make decisions or that only senior executives' decisions matter. This is a dangerous mistake."

Trevor Gay said...

Thanks David - Mr Drucker was clearly in touch with reality.