Quality Blog


Steve Adams: Intuitive Management, the Behavioral Approach

February 21, 2014
There are many useful methodologies available to today’s floor management; which include Lean, Six Sigma, and Kaizen.  Deployed properly all can add value and have a place in the tool kit.  However, lofty concepts don’t always meet immediate tactical needs on the front line.  Incisive doctrine is needed.   

Many can agree the human interface with any process is often the most critical and difficult to manage.  We often work our people harder than we work our machines and expect more.  Insights drawn from the behavioral sciences of Psychology and Sociology can offer effective remedy.  Enlightenment and a holistic approach to management can yield significant advantage. 

Consider this analogy.  As frontline management, leaders are the conductors of an orchestra.  There is a perceptible rhythm on the manufacturing floor.  There is also momentum that can wax and wane throughout the course of a shift.  The conductor has a program to follow-- soloists and sections must perform on queue.  The individuals become the collective. 

The suitable selection of your band leader is critical.  Remember human behavior can be modified but not a person’s nature.  A leader should possess insight and uncommon virtue-maturity, character and wisdom must be innate.  If they are petulant and insecure they will falter.  He or she is being entrusted with valuable resources and must understand this.  The proper, judicious application and projection of authority is crucial.  Perception is reality and middle management is a reflection of upper management.  Morale is critical to success and must be shaped.  Cultures will be ruined by spite and cynicism. 

When a properly vetted leader is in place, what must be done?  Absorb, rationalize, reason and engage.  Constantly evaluate and factor every note; sights, sounds, atmosphere, pulse and vibe.  Recognize body language, vocabulary and personality.  Identify and assess informal leaders and cliques.  Understand demographics; neighborhoods, diversity, education and experience.  Listen intently, whether conversation is solicited or not, one on one or in groups.  Recognize, invite and manage the basic human desire to be heard.  Gage your reports and seek balance.   Adjust your speaking style to suit the situation, person or group and realize everyone possess their own unique filter. 

Back to perception; what point are your trying to get across?  What do the reports hear and retain?  Refine the message as needed and look for comprehension.  Never be perceived as condescending.  You must empathize.  Your people share the same space as you for eight hours or more.  They must co-exist with you and others.  Like you and others reports have concerns outside of work; children, debt, marriage, divorce, life.  This is all part of shared human experience and has influence on temperament, cooperation and performance.  Think of this as intelligence that must be gathered the proper appreciation and utilization of which creates rhythm and harmony. 

So our hero has taken stock and has situational awareness.  He or she is out on the floor influencing and effecting but how?  Establish presence and recognize it can be projected.  While energy and visibility are key don’t hang over someone’s shoulder, grasp the effects of distance and space.  You can be sure your reports watch your movements and are aware of you.  People interpret your attentions and intentions differently.  Don’t unnecessarily distract from the task at hand.  Observe the ebb and flow of the day and decide the best way to interact, this is the point of impact.  Guide and shepherd activity don’t inhibit.  Recognize your effect on movement and momentum.  Assuming all instruments, meaning equipment, are “tuned” the astute manager will be able to detect the slightest variations in pitch and frequency.    

Be decisive.  Mentally challenge yourself to hasten the amount of time it takes to factor information necessary for clear decisions.  Less is better.  Well-chosen words or phrases support authoritative bearing and credibility.  Also be aware of gestures and how they will be construed.  Personality defines; set the tone, be affable and positive but makes sure kindness is not perceived as weakness.  Prepare the disarming phrase.

With human interaction skills precise and relationships developed, use what you know when needed.  Over time the technique becomes intuitive.  As he or she orchestrates activity confidence is gained.  The conductor is able to clearly divine intensions, motivations and potential.  Measure and maneuver, bridge gaps and exploit breakthroughs.  The front line leader becomes prepped and girded in case of conflict but that is a topic for another day.

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