Author: Frederick "Ken" Sexe
Seth Godin wrote an eloquent blog titled Tires, coffee, and people in which he reminds us that we as consumers tend to skimp on the wrong things in an effort to make things better. For instance, we seek to buy better cars without understanding the benefit that the right tires have on performance. We seek out newer and better coffee machines while ignoring the fact that the right coffee bean is arguably more important.
We as a society also view people the same way. Take two companies of exactly the same size with exactly the same capital resources. What makes the organizations operate differently? It is the people that allow an organization to use the resources towards a company’s goals.
It has been my experience that organizational management looks at people first when trying to solve problems. If a division is losing money it is usually the people that are the first to be scrutinized. When a problem occurs we are first to point our finger at “who is to blame”. This is not to say that people are never the problem but that there are typically much better ways to address a lagging organization than by viewing all problems as “people problems”. A Wall Street Journal study once studied a ten-year period of layoffs and found that not one organization was better off in the long-term. Yet Wall Street as an entity still has a tendency to reward organizations that lay off people first. It is no wonder that organizations favor layoffs when the entity responsible for measuring their performance rewards that behavior.
Yet systems do not operate that way. Problems within a system tend to be caused in places other than where the problem can be seen. A loss in sales can be caused by factors in which the sales team has no control over. I have personally seen how strategies such as reducing spares affect the ability to build products on time (or repair them in a timely manner). Most managers also have no fundamental concept of variation and how to both identify it and address the causes.
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Frederick (Ken) Sexe is a lifelong learner currently wrapping up his PhD in Engineering Management and Organizational Psychology at Northcentral University. His hobbies include challenging prevailing patterns of thinking that discourage new ideas while developing new ways to do things. He is currently employed as a Senior Systems Engineer at Raytheon where he is taking a career break from management to pursue his educational goals and focus on his family.