"Would you be able to support a policy or a decision with which you disagreed?"I was stunned to hear an HR manager explain how she uses this question to screen applicants. It seems an affirmative response is absolutely required to progress further in the hiring process.Admittedly, we don't want to hire troublemakers who would simply do what they wanted, regardless of any policies or decisions. Even so, would such people be honest enough to even admit their propensity for ignoring the rules? To that end, I can't imagine this question would effectively accomplish such a purpose.In my experience, it's relatively easy to hire people who will simply do what they're told. What is far more difficult is to find people who will actually speak up and explain what they see wrong with a management policy or decision.I wouldn't want to hire someone who will tell me what I want to hear; I want somebody, who will tell me what I need to know. I'm going to eventually find out anyway. Why not find out before I do any damage or lose an opportunity?When running operations, I've always wanted my people at all levels to feel comfortable telling me what they don't like or would like to see changed.I've gotten some very nice improvement ideas from people saying, "Would you take a look at this?"Workers often complain to each other, and that can be a real downer for morale. Getting them to risk complaining to someone who can actually do something about what they're complaining about is not quite as easy, but that's where it can become beneficial.I learned a long time ago that the person who spends eight hours a day doing a job will learn things about it that the engineer who designed it never thought of. Even the best thought-out management decisions, policies and standard operating procedures can have unintended consequences, and these can be expensive.If the people who can see these issues are afraid to tell us or encouraged to be silent, how will we find out?Changing the results There are many programs for improving performance: Six Sigma, Lean Operations, Reengineering and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, to name a few. Regardless of the program, they all depend on questioning things that may have been held sacred. In the words of Peter Drucker, "Businesses are perfectly organized to produce the results they are getting."If we want to change the results, we have to change something about the organization. We don't necessarily have to change the people, but we have to change how they think, and that's not likely to happen without people asking questions.Regardless of their agreement to support it, people will never do something they disagree with as well as they do something they do agree with.When you're doing the right thing, it's pretty easy to get people to agree with it. What we want is to create an environment where they'll have the courage to tell us what they don't agree with.In November 1988, I participated in a special study mission to Japan. This is back when the Japanese were really kicking our butts, and we wanted to learn what they were doing that made them so successful. We visited 12 different factories and saw many of the same themes over and over again.Japan is a very hierarchical society, yet they painstakingly solicited ideas from all their people, even those at the lowest levels. We heard over and over again, "What people can do with their minds is far more valuable than what they can do with their hands."With the respect they are expected to show their superiors, suggesting an improvement to the manager's idea had to be intimidating, but they were quite astute at taking fear out of the equation, and it was a major ingredient to their success.They've built plants over here proving it works here too. If you need better, faster, cheaper, ask your people how to do it.Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or RonBourque@myfairpoint.net.
This article appears in the July 13 2012 issue of New Hampshire Business Review