Sunday, January 16, 2011

Refrigerators and Microwaves

The first manufacturing management assignment I had (called a foreman back then) was assembling the MD-80 upper aft fuselage. It was loud, dirty, had plenty of shortages and the parts did not fit together very well. Lean was not cool yet. You’d think the team I was responsible for would want my help fixing these issues, but they did not. They told me in no uncertain terms that they needed a new refrigerator in order for productivity to improve. I got them a refrigerator. The next group needed a microwave oven. I got them an oven. Another group needed filing cabinets. I got them. An exhausted Supplier Management team just needed a day off. We took the heat and shut down for a holiday weekend. Time and time again, leaders need to help teams with the fundamentals before moving to the more complicated.

The funny thing is these are not new concepts. Abraham Maslow (Hierarchy of Needs - 1943) and Fredrick Hertzberg (Motivation-Hygiene Theory - 1963) have been taught for years. I formally learned them in 1980. Sometimes in our quest for the “new and exciting” we do not give proper credence to the tried-and-true. Bottom line, it is unlikely a team of people can do fantastic work when their basic needs are not being met. Key here is that the leader does not select what the basic needs are or if they are being met. The team or the customer selects.

We all want to work on the latest and greatest, but we need to ensure the “refrigerators and microwaves” are in working order first. Where have you seen this done well?

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