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You cannot Lead by doing ….

The average length of your arm is around 30 inches !!!

This becomes an important fact to keep in mind as you work. Naturally your mind will be focused on what is happening at the end of your arm … what are your hands touching or your fingers manipulating … so your eyes become focused on that 30 inch distance from your body.

As a leader it is the natural tendency that if your team experiences a bottleneck you jump in to provide an additional set of hands (yours) as an added resource to reduce or remove the current bottleneck … that 30 inch view hat can most likely be counter-productive. More important as a leader is to step back, observe and re-balance resources.

I learned this lesson early in my career through the guidance of a very smart leader. It was in the days of being a systems application engineer supporting our dealer network west of the Mississippi River. It required a lot of travel and mini-sound bites working, coaching and educating technicians within our dealer network. Of course I was also at that stage in my career where I thought that if I was not constantly moving and showing incredible results I just was not effective … but my return visits to dealers were common and often.

So it happened one day that I was on-site to diagnose an electrical problem related to a piece of automation. A quick round of root-cause analysis I realized the situation could be resolved by installing a simple jumper wire … the problem is that the junction box was 4 inches wide and of course my 6 foot 6 inch body covered the work theatre while I performed my simple remedial task …. DONE … I then asked the technician if he saw and understood what I had done? Of course he acknowledged with a head nod and verbal YES! … so I felt good. However, my boss was standing close to the event as an observer and quickly interjected “ Richard !!! Look at the size of you compared to the junction box you are working in? There is NO WAY the technician saw what you did , let alone understand what you did !!” He continued … “If I can teach you one life lesson … Learn to SIT ON YOUR HANDS” … of course I had a puzzled response. Specs continued …

“Indeed you know what needs to be done and you can do it faster than the technician currently but if you slow down, instruct, educate and coach the technician will understand and most likely will never call you again when faced with the same problem later. “

Two Lessons Learned ...

  1. Don’t teach by doing !!! Indeed the initial result may happen faster but as a leader you have failed by not using the opportunity as a teaching moment.

  2. Being an observer allows you to see the bigger picture instead of just focusing on that 30 inch view

This lesson has continued to resonate with me through the balance of my career. I have seen Team Leads working on a very long packaging line helping people in the final pack zone while people at the start of line are just standing around ... if they had been in observer role it would have been much easier to re balance resources

Be the Observer

As an observer it is very important to know and understand your process. It also becomes important that you then know how to rebalance the tasks within your process. Through my life observing … processes what becomes very evident is that processes that appear to work well typically have an observer somewhere in the vicinity … ready to redeploy or divert resources.

So attempt not to become involved through the 30 inch view but rather as an observer … just like the conductor of the orchestra … indeed the conductor most likely can play many of the instruments but his role is to stand in front of group listening and observing to balance the individual tasks to create a harmonised sound that he cannot do by himself.

Now as we live with the potential effects of Covid and organizations are reacting with methods to support Physical distancing some great side effects are starting to emerge. Last week I had to go to IKEA to process a return … which of course meant I had to que in a very long line outside of the store but the gate-keeper (observer) was only allowing someone to enter the store only when a Customer Service Agent was available … now I hated having to line up … but … once at the agent I felt that my issue was being focused on and in dialogue with the agent she explained to us that she did not feel the pressure of a large group waiting to be processed even though she did realize ther was a long line outside … so the observer as an added cost actually made for a better experience and with our Customer Service Agent being more relaxed most likely was making less mistakes so everyone won … and was the cost of adding an observer at the end really an actual additional cost? I don’t know the numbers but intuitively I would say it was a wise investment.

Similar at my grocery store … after completing my shopping I need to stand in a que to wait for a cashier for the final process step. But inevitably they have stumbled into a great new process !! They have changed the cashing out process from a batch mentality where I am gauging which may be the fastest line to stand in to being sequenced by an observer to the next available cashier. I am sure this is improving the throughput of the individual cashiers, but the observer is also doing 2 additional tasks. Based on the length of the line the observer is adding capacity by calling for additional cashiers or deploying excess cashiers when the line is non-existent. Of course I still have to wait for the next available cashier which provides the observer and I to have a brief dialogue as she conducts a quick verbal survey about my shopping experience and was I able to find everything I needed? However, they have access to a runner who is willing and diligent to fetch what my memory forgot not only enhancing my shopping experience but also building a relationship and increasing sales … ohhh did I mention they also asked if I had taken advantage of the daily special? Which again the runner is very happy to obtain for me.

So as they say … when life hands you a lemon figure out how to make lemonade.

Many organizations are complaining about the detrimental impact Covid is having on their business and indeed many are suffering … but others have e figured out how to create a better and more personal experience with no negative impact on sales … but they still need to balance investment (additional costs of observers) instead of viewing it as an expense.

Indeed Covid has created many process changes which many organizations have viewed as added expense … but if you view the roles of observers to enhance the shopping experience and building relationships it no longer becomes an expense but rather an investment and a great tool for building your brand while improving relationships.

Now if companies can migrate those impulse purchasing corridors at check-outs to the inbound lines it will most likely increase my engagement and stop me from m thinking where to shop next time that may have a shorter line.



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