I recall going into the office of one of my Vistage members and noticing that a flip chart, which had been there for some time, had some seemingly mysterious figures on it.
Intrigued, I asked what the numbers meant.
“The column on the left is the week number, fairly obviously” he said, “and the other numbers are the unit cost of production of our products, week by week”.
“OK”, I said, “so tell me why the unit cost of production is reducing so significantly from around £7.00 to just over £5.00. Have you found some sort of magic bullet?”
“There have been no changes in the product” he replied, “No changes in the method of manufacture and virtually no changes in the personnel either. What seems to have made the difference is that I have started to take time out every day to go on to the shop floor and talk to the operatives – nothing about business, just about them, their families and their interests”.
Significantly he later hired an Operations Director and suggested that he should take over the daily chat and, guess what? Unit costs went up.
The whole point was that people wanted to speak to the leader not the stand-in, so he went back to his original plan and improved production resumed.
So what can we learn from the story? It is a matter of having and showing respect for people in whatever function they happen to be involved. It has been truly said that every human being has something, some talent, to offer and great leaders develop the ability to draw it out for the benefit of all.
It starts and finishes with respecting the abilities of everyone, whoever they may be and whatever their position, and most importantly demonstrating that respect at all times.
It used to be called Management by Walking About but it could better be called Management by Building Relationships (If you can think of a more snappy description, let me know)
Talk to your people – you never know what you might learn