In The Workplace

I’m the CEO of a small food processing plant. Our Operations Manager suggests that we hire a trainer to teach the workers basic principles of quality and productivity. On the other hand, the Human Resource Manager thinks it’s best to hire a consultant to assess our current operational issues. Whatever the result of the consultant’s findings, then a training program could follow to fix the employee skills gap. A fix is deemed necessary to solve the high defect rate and poor productivity, among others. Who has the better idea?  — Three Tone.

A woman had been trying for years to persuade her egotistical husband to put an end to the idea that he alone was number one. The man was obsessed with being number one.

He never stopped talking about being first in sales at the office, and first on the list for the next promotion. He enjoyed playing tennis and golf, but only when he won. He had to be first in line to buy tickets at games and first to hit the parking lot after the event. Do your two managers sound like this “egotistical husband?” Or does he sound like you or me?

There’s nothing wrong with being first in line, except when there’s an underlying issue between the two managers. But given your outline of the situation, I will not venture to speculate about any infighting. Instead, I will assume both have objective and professional reasons for making separate recommendations.

How would you decide without making it appear that one is correct and the other is wrong? What’s the win-win solution, assuming that both parties are no longer in a position to reconcile their differences? The easy and simple answer is to let the two managers solve their own problems. Require them to come up with a common recommendation.

Tell the two managers that you are confident in their ability to put forward the best consensus recommendation possible.

That way, you’ll avoid taking on the role of perpetual mediator. Talking to people to help reconcile any issues between them takes too much time and takes you away from other important things. Brief them on your expectations. You’ll be glad you did.

Every manager knows there are many considerations underlying a sound decision. However, this can be made easier if two or more managers define a systematic approach for dealing with a work situation, in your case defects and productivity. As soon as you receive their recommendation, assess it by asking the following questions:

One, identify the problem. How were the managers able to identify it? What facts support such a claim? How much money is the company losing if the problem is not solved? Is it a recurring major issue or a one-time minor problem that can be ignored?

Two, verify the root causes. Why does the problem keep recurring? How many causes were identified? Did they use the Ishikawa Diagram or other problem-solving tools? Have they asked the Five Whys to validate the cause of the problem?

Three, gather verifiable facts and figures. Is the information current and credible? Where did they come from? Can you verify the data from independent sources, either internally or externally? How do these compare with the complaints received from customers?

Four, identify and rank all possible solutions. What are the top three solutions? Which is the number one choice of the managers? Have they taken into consideration all solutions that are inexpensive to implement? Do they understand the principle of “creativity before capital?” Why are they proposing to spend money to solve such problems?

Last, weigh the pros and cons of each solution. If they have chosen to implement a low-cost solution, what are the possible adverse effects over the long term, if any? Conversely, if they chose to spend money on a solution, do you have the budget for it? Have they considered using idle company resources in solving such problems?

These questions are not complete. You can improvise and ask your own, if only to assess the validity of your managers’ recommendation.

Without trying to pre-empt the recommendation of the two managers, it appears to me that based on the situation you’ve described, the HR manager appears to have made the right recommendation of hiring first a consultant to identify, if not validate all those issues being raised by the Operations manager. The trouble is that hiring an outsider may expose the incompetence and weakness of the Operations manager.

That could be the reason why he prefers to hire a trainer to upgrade the workers’ skills. Compared to the hiring of a consultant, the Operations manager’s recommendation, however, would take some time before your company realizes the benefits. When you hire a consultant even for a one-day engagement, he might readily identify the operational issues, assuming that he possess an objective, trained set of eyes.

Maybe the issue can be solved instantly by organizing a 5S good housekeeping audit. This is too basic for you to ignore. Avoid falling into the trap of calling for a training program that may not be needed in the first place. In fact, there are many situations that can only be resolved by challenging the status quo, without the need to hire a consultant or trainer.

But the prerequisite is to have a competent management team.


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