Nancy Newbee is the newest trainee for LOCO (Large Old Company) Inc. She was hired because she is bright, articulate, well-educated and motivated. She is in her second week of training.
Her orders include: “We’ll teach you all you need to know. Sammy Supervisor will monitor your every action and coordinate your training. Don’t take a step without his clearance. When he’s busy, just read through the procedures manual.”
Nancy is already frustrated by this training process but is committed to following the rules.
Upon arriving at work today, Nancy discovers the kitchen is on fire! As instructed, she rushes to Sammy Supervisor. Interrupting him, she says, “There’s a major problem!”
Sammy is obviously disturbed by this interruption in his routine. He tells her, “Nancy, my schedule will not allow me to work with you until this afternoon. Go back to the conference room and continue studying the procedures.”
“But, Mr. Supervisor, this is a major problem!” Nancy pleads.
“But nothing! I’m busy. We’ll discuss it this afternoon. If it can’t wait, go see the department head,” Sammy responds.
Nancy rushes to the office of Billy Big and shouts, “Mr. Big, we have a major problem, and Mr. Sammy said to see you!” Mr. Big states politely, “I’m busy now,” all the while wondering why Sammy Supervisor hires these excitable airheads.
“But, Mr. Big, the building…” Nancy interrupts.
“Nancy, see my secretary for an appointment or call maintenance if it’s a building problem,” Mr. Big says impatiently, thinking, “Where does Sammy find these characters?”
Near panic, Nancy calls maintenance. The line is busy. As a last resort, Nancy calls Ruth Radar, the senior secretary in the accounting department. Everyone has told her that Ruth really runs this place. She can get anything done.
“Ruth Radar, how may I help you?” is the response on the phone.
“Miss Radar, this is Nancy, the new trainee. The building is on fire! What should I do?” shouts Nancy through her tears.
“Nancy, call 911!” Ruth says.
Now, of course this is a ridiculous example… or is it?
See also: How We’re Wired to Make Bad Decisions
Assuming you are the boss, try this eight-question test:
- In your business, do you hire the best and brightest and then instruct them not to think, act or do anything during their training, except as you tell them to do?
- Do you promise training and, instead, substitute reading of procedure manuals?
- Do you create barriers to communication, interaction and effectiveness by scheduling the new employees’ problems and inquiries to accommodate the busy schedules of your other personnel?
- Do you and your staff ignore what new employees are saying?
- Is the process more important than the result? Does the urgent get in the way of the important?
- Do layers of bureaucracy between you, your employees and customers interfere with contact, communications and results?
- Is “Ruth Radar” running your shop?
- Do you have any fires burning in your office?
If you answered “no” to all of these questions, congratulations!
Now go back and look at the questions again. The perfect business would have eight “no” answers, but very few businesses are perfect. If you are like LOCO, our large old company, you might be so far out of touch with your trainees, employees and customers that you won’t hear about a “fire” until it starts to burn your desk.
Look back at IBM, GM and Sears in the late 1980s. These were the kings of their respective jungles. Yet all of these leaders nearly burned to the ground. Many thousands of employees were terminated, profits were ended and stock values fell. If you would have talked to any of these terminated employees, you would have learned that the fire had burned for a long time and that many people had tried to sound the alarm.
Remember the large old insurance companies that are no longer here: Continental, Reliance, etc. Did their independent agents smell the smoke? Did the leadership of these carriers ignore the alarm?
Sam Walton, who had reasonable success in business during his lifetime, once said, “There is only one boss — the customer. Customers can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending their money somewhere else.”
Walton was right. In your business, do you or Nancy have the most direct contact with the customer — the ultimate boss? If Nancy has the most contact, is she adequately trained, motivated and monitored? Is she providing feedback? Are you listening?
Take a minute to draw a picture of your organization. Now, draw a frame around your picture. Does this frame create a pyramid? Are you, as the boss, at the pinnacle? Are Nancy and her fellow trainees at the base? Is it prudent to have the least experienced personnel closest to the customers?
Your organization was formed to meet the needs of customers. You exist to serve these same customers. Where are these customers in the organizational chart? Did you “forget” to draw them into the picture? How much distance is there between you (as boss) and the customers?
Does this pyramid model facilitate the free flow of information between you and the customers, or does it buffer you from the real thoughts and feelings of the real boss (the customer)? In your business, is the customer and his problem seen as an interruption of the work or as the very reason for your existence?
If you had to downsize your company, where would the cuts be made? At the top, middle or bottom of the pyramid? Are the people in the hierarchy of the pyramid there because they did or can do more for the consumer, or were they pushed up by the people they hired to support them? Is your company fat or lean?
If your employees answered all the above questions, would they agree with you? If your customers were asked, what would they say? If your customers voted tomorrow, who would be retained? Who would be fired?
Think about it!
Do you dare ask?