Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Respect for People by Walking in their Shoes

In a previous blog, I mentioned that I wanted our company to be like the New England Patriots? In recent years, offensive players (both receivers) Troy Brown and Julian Edelman played in numerous NFL games ON DEFENSE. Why? Because that is what was needed by their company. Players on defense were injured, and you can't just call off the season. So they were asked to play on defense in addition to their regular jobs. So they did it. In the NFL. Not sure if was a coincidence, but in the years this happened, their company went to the Super Bowl. Keep in mind that professional football is HIGHLY specialized. Players learn the trade of their position by playing that position for many years, often from 4th or 5th grade through college. 

At the beginning of my lean journey, I had a brainstorm (others called it something else). Can we build a culture of "respect for people" by asking everyone to spend time working in every other position in the company for 4 hours? Every player playing every position? Office people on the plant floor, plant people at the customer service desk, maintenance people riding with sales people, plant people in the laboratory, etc. I called the program "In Each Other's Shoes". After an initial what I call "cooling off period", (that was when nobody in the company would talk to me), and quite a bit of stick-to-itiveness, we started it. People signed up to work in every other area in the company over a 6 month period. At first, it was like a trip to the periodontist. They went grudgingly, and often found excuses why they couldn't do it. But, after awhile, people actually found out it was fun. It became almost like field trips. When they arrived in the foreign land, they had tour guides to help them. They got to see the processes and problems that their teammates handled with ease. People got to know other people better. Most importantly, they began to RESPECT the key roles that everyone in the organization played.

In retrospect, that really was the key point. People realized that no one's job was any more important than any one else's. A person who bagged sand was as important to the success of the company as the CEO. A new, strong appreciation for others was built.    

Give it a try in your organization.  Just be prepared for the cooling off period.

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