Same problems, different workplace: Why your people can make or break your business strategy
31 Aug, 2022

Same problems, different workplace: Why your people can make or break your business strategy
Arjen de Bruin, Managing Director at OIM Consulting

There’s a statement that you’ve no doubt heard, even if you’re too polite to have ever uttered it yourself: Same s***, different day.

Yet, given my experience in building front-line leader capability, my personal take on this is a little different (and fortunately, without profanity): Same problems, different workplace.

The reason for my reinvention is simple. Time and time again, we see the same derailing patterns emerge in a range of workplaces, regardless of the industry – be it mining, manufacturing, retail or financial services. And these challenges almost always involve our most important resource: our people.

While the prominence of these issues may shift to some degree based on the nature of the work or industry, they are always in evidence. These typically include poor planning and organisation; a lack of leadership and development; subpar problem-solving and analytical skills; and poor communication.

The repercussions might also look slightly different depending on the industry, but at the core remain the same. In retail, this might manifest as a gradual decline in merchandise sales, for which general macroeconomic factors cannot account. In financial services, you might find yourself dealing with increasingly grouchy brokers, who you suspect are starting to look to other providers to fulfil their needs. In mining, you might notice that your yield is consistently falling short of targets. Whatever your industry, the result is the same: be it directly or indirectly, your bottom line will eventually take a knock.

Ultimately, all industries have targets. If you meet these targets, you are considered productive. The organisational profile is similar across the various sites we work with in the mining, manufacturing and retail sectors. In these industries, you typically see many processes, a large number of people and a great deal of moving parts…and also, a great deal of inefficiency.

Before training, we find that only around 19% of supervisors within the mines we enter can be ranked as the baseline score for ‘proficient’, and only 5% of supervisors within retail warehousing. In general, the worst supervisor competency in all of the industries we service (barring financial services), is planning and organising.

It was Alan Lakein, an American author renowned for his works on time management, who famously said that “planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” Defined as a management function that involves setting targets and determining the course of action to achieve those targets, it requires that supervisors be cognisant of the various environmental factors that may impact in achieving their objectives while anticipating future conditions. In most sectors we enter, we see that the vast majority of managers fall short of the very baseline benchmark in this competency – and as can be expected, their role execution, in turn, is below the baseline.

Interestingly, in financial services, we find the worst competency to be ‘communication’, while planning and organising is the strongest competency. Yet, bear in mind that we assess general competency on a scale of 1-5, with 3 being the minimum requirement to qualify as ‘proficient’ and 5 indicating excellence. So while planning and organising might be the strongest capability in the realm of financial services, the average insurance administrative workforce is still not classified as proficient, scoring around 2.96.

All of these industries are incredibly siloed. Siloes, which are ultimately created and reinforced by human beings, can cause severe breakdowns in the communication around a process – whether that process is automated or not. Time and time again, we see that even with a high degree of automation, there are huge inefficiencies. This always results in a loss of productivity, which ultimately has a knock-on effect to your targets.

We surmise that machine intervention – be it automation, mechanisation or digitalisation – is some type of panacea or silver bullet that will remove all of our troubles. But consider mining, manufacturing, retail and financial services; these are all industries that have wholeheartedly embraced technology, and these challenges remain.

If you haven’t taken your people along with you on this journey, your business will fail to reach its full potential. There are four key tenets in this human-centred approach, which make up a ‘toolset’ or framework that can be applied to any industry because it addresses human behaviour at its core:

1) The adoption of a daily planning and management practice

2) A brief daily meeting to communicate the strategy to team members, ensuring alignment

3) Visual management to ensure that the team remains on track

4) Establishing a code of conduct, so that expectations are clearly defined

Only through empowering your culture-carriers – your supervisors and front-line leaders – by giving them the right tools, will you begin to see sustainable organisational change.

ENDS

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