Respect the minds of people by going to where the action is – a fundamental rule of change management

All through my professional life, I have been connected to improving something on the shop floor — be it a machine, process or a quality problem.

And I have seen that it is very difficult to improve anything on the shop floor by just passing down verbal instructions or by commanding someone to do something or by conducting a training program in a classroom or handing over a well-documented piece of paper complete with all instructions and a to-do list.

In most cases, people don’t get the idea. As a result, workers on the shop floor soon lose interest in the improvement process and don’t like engineers and managers who just pass down orders sitting at their desks. Respect for engineers and engineering is soon lost. And improvements don’t take place. The company suffers as a result.

Respect for engineers and engineering comes from respecting the minds of workers and supervisors.

This is best done by engineers going down to the area of the shop floor where the improvement is to be made and then explain what they want the workers and supervisors to do and what exactly is to be done. It can be explained verbally by physically touching the parts or equipment where the improvements are to be made or through rough sketches quickly drawn on scraps of paper to instantly clarify the points.

This is an important point in making a change, which is often forgotten by engineers. I call this rule — ‘Respect the minds of people by going to where the action is.”

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Who is the best Advisor?

In an increasingly complex world, we need to consult advisors for many things. It helps in our decision making and taking appropriate actions. Even, President Obama, presumably the most powerful man in the world, depends on a long list of advisors to be effective. But how does one judge the quality of an advisor?

The best advisors are those who can see through a system quickly, find potential problems that are yet to manifest and correct those through right design. Such advisors would not be known outside their select group of intelligent clients.

Similarly, good advisors are those who can examine a system, find inconsistencies, contradictions and incipient faults and come up with ideas that would prevent such faults from re-appearing in the future. They would be hardly known outside their select group of clients.

But ordinary advisors are those who would energetically open up things, examine parts of the system, enter into prolonged discussions without specific outcomes, involve lot of people, forcefully present their ideas to others and encourage them to tackle their problems in a firefighting mode without the assurance of a total cure. They are widely known to people who matter most.

This insight came from my reflecting upon a ancient Chinese story, which follows:

According the old story, a lord of ancient China once asked his doctor, a member of a family of healers, “Which of them was the most skilled in the art of healing?”

The physician, whose reputation was such that his name became synonymous with medical science in China, replied, “My eldest brother sees the spirit of sickness and removes it before it takes shape, so his name doesn’t get out of the house. My elder brother cures sickness when it is still extremely minute, so his name doesn’t get out of the neighbourhood. As for me, I puncture veins, prescribe portions and massage skins, so from time to time my name gets out and is heard among the lords.”

A Ming dynasty critic writes of this little tale of the physician: “What is essential for leader, generals and ministers in running countries and governing armies is no more than this.”