CHAT WITH AN EXPERT: DR. GARRY COLEMAN ON MOTIVATING PERFORMANCE

CHAT WITH AN EXPERT: DR. GARRY COLEMAN ON MOTIVATING PERFORMANCE

Dr. Garry Coleman is TSI’s Executive Vice President. He is a leader in the field of strategic performance measurement. Indeed, he was invited as one of the industry’s bright stars to write the chapter on this specialty for the Handbook of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Over the past few years, Garry’s cutting-edge supporting the national defense community is most impressive, but what strikes me most when I have the opportunity to speak with him at length is how much empathy he brings to our clients. His grounded common sense and colorful stories from his early years working as an engineer in coal mines contribute to a delightful aura of humility and wisdom. As Garry and I discussed measuring and motivating performance, he said:

Effective leaders are servant leaders. They set direction and serve the people who work in order to get the business where it’s supposed to go. Once they set direction, it’s not their job to micromanage. It’s their job to support and enable everybody else to achieve goals. Leaders make everybody else shine.

A leader must be able to provide clear methods along with clear goals. If goals are arbitrary, people lose faith in the goal and in the leader who set them. Sure, I can tell you to aim for a 50 percent improvement, but is that even possible? The goal has to be credible to start and achievable at the end.

 It’s the same thing with methods to get where you’re going. Goals without methods lead to a lot of exertion and busy work, but get everybody nowhere. They do nothing but destroy morale.

In the mining industry, safety inspectors must inspect the site every eight hours, within three-hour periods of every shift. If they don’t, the site has to shut down. At one site, the inspector was barely on time. Sometime he was late. He was exasperated and claimed he was doing the inspections as quickly as he could. So, we sent a young engineer to join him and inspect the expectations we had for this guy. It turned out that the foreman’s goal, which originally had been reasonable, was no longer possible. That’s because the site had grown a lot bigger. Of course it took the inspector longer to walk through the site. Not until we took a look into the performance shortfall did we see what was really in play. The foreman hadn’t considered the impact of growth on this one man’s job.

Some goals just aren’t possible, so the metrics can’t be one way. You can hold a gun to someone’s head and get them to do what you want, maybe, for a brief high-adrenaline spurt. Does that make you a good leader? How many times can you get away with that? Strategy and metrics have to work together to sustain great performance for the long term.

Employee success is an outcome. If you develop employees that people want to hire away from you, that’s a good sign. Leaders should have goals aligned so employee success contributes to the organization’s success. You can’t have too much of one without the other. Employees have to grow and learn. Let them work with someone or do something they haven’t before. Rewards should justify your values.

Listening to Garry, I noticed he was talking about performance metrics, but he hadn’t mentioned scorecards, reviews, probationary periods, or hiring or firing. He kept talking about clear expectations and rigorous inspections of what is expected.

Let me give you a last example. It’s in the mining industry, again. A company I worked for would let us leave work early on Fridays if the week’s quota was met. If you stayed, you got paid time and a half. That took getting buy-in from suppliers, so everybody started to treat them as part of our team. The idea was to align their goals with what we had to do, so we didn’t find ourselves beating them up for results. Our management had aligned our goals—and early weekend—with their goal of a reliable outcome every week. Every choice we made was related to the quota. We all wanted out early on Friday.

Aligning goals among all stakeholders is one purpose of good metrics. It’s the best way to reward relationship-driven work. It forces people to slow down enough to talk and listen and participate in impromptu negotiations to create solutions right away. Problems don’t fester, because people don’t procrastinate. Goals make time valuable and relationships even more valuable. There’s a lot of good conversation going on in a business that relies on a solid measurement program for tracking performance. Even the most bureaucratic organization can take on a whole new vigor when a strategy is clear, goals are aligned, and people have the metrics to critique their own performance.

So, what does Garry think divides the leaders who can produce sustainable results from those who cannot?

I tell people to ask themselves this question: Do you have a farmer’s mentality or stockbroker’s mentality? Stockbrokers want to maximize their money, sell, and get out. Farmers are focused on the long-term; they want to pass it on to the next generation.

Thank you, Garry, for sharing your insight and wisdom!