Those of you who know me are aware that I have been slow to embrace the power and value of social media.  Fortunately my friend and partner, Jamie Flinchbaugh, has convinced me of the error of my ways.  This is my 1st foray into the blogosphere and I hope to be a valuable contributor.

Although it is becoming less common, unfortunately it is still not uncommon to find employees, and even entire departments, unwilling to participate and contribute ideas or suggestions to improve their organization.  The reasons are wide and varied and often would take a psychiatrist’s couch to understand.  The following is a tale of an extremely important department in a company, we will call them AAA, that was not only unwilling to be engaged, they were downright militant about it.

They were a very mature workforce with many years of experience with a long history of employee engagement being unwelcomed and, in fact, discouraged.  The only requirement was “just get the work done”.  How efficiently or effectively you got the work done was not important.  Times have changed at AAA and so have the expectations.  Efficiency and effectiveness are now paramount and absolutely critical.  Unfortunately these employees are in an “entitled” environment and they are essentially employed for life unless they commit some significant egregious offense.  Little to nothing can be done to force performance improvement and professional “encouragement” was not working.

A previous and proven method we have used to promote employee engagement and performance improvement in a difficult environment was to simply post real-time performance metrics at the point-of-activity.  In most cases we see a 3%-7% improvement in performance by posting the metrics. The thinking is that most of us want to know what the score is at any time and the metrics will stimulate the competitive and winning spirit in all of us.   So, of course, that was that was our solution at AAA.  Up went the metrics with the goal lines and the traditional and simple visual management technique of red, yellow and green color coded performance indicators.  The color coding made it easy for everyone, including the department employees, to recognize performance status.  We might as well have put a red cape in front of a raging bull. The reaction was a disaster.  What a mistake.  None of the metrics were even close to goal so they were obviously “all” red.  Not only was this not a motivator, it was a demotivator.  They were insulted and even more resistant to contributing and improving.  The cautionary tale is simple.  Regardless of how powerful or effective you think a simple lean tool/technique like color coded visual management indicators may be, never underestimate the power of the culture.  You too will experience the “unintended consequences” of acting without thinking.

We are trying to correct the mistake.  Still have metrics at the point-of-activity but they are only bar and trend charts.  No color coding, no goal lines.  Not sure if we can recover but the data suggests things aren’t any worse off than before and possibly getting better.  Time will tell.  I can tell you this, I don’t want to ever go through this experience again and hopefully you never will.