Buzz-worthy: How does leadership pollinate at your plant?

Tom Moriarty says when it comes to cultivating leaders, is your plant bearing fruit or withering away?

By Tom Moriarty

High school biology classes taught us that pollination enables a plant to bear fruit and produce seeds. There are three general ways for pollination to occur.

A single plant can self-pollinate: Basically, all of the components needed are within one flower, and the plant species does not need to transfer pollen between plants. This is a pretty efficient means of propagation, but these types of plants are pretty rare.

The second category of pollination is wind-driven. These plants disperse pollen through naturally occurring breezes or winds. Wind pollination is very inefficient because pollen is randomly distributed. Pollen may or may not be transferred to another plant, and if it hits the right plant, it may or may not contact the right part of the plant.

The third method of pollination is cross-pollination by insects. Many fruit trees require pollen from a separate tree to enable fruit production. Nature provided a very efficient means for accomplishing this – insects. There are many insect species that cross-pollinate, but bees are by far the dominant type and the most effective.

Why am I doing this review of high school biology? Pollination is an analogy for how leadership knowledge can be acquired. Pollen is like leadership best-practice knowledge. The organism that receives the pollen is like the person or organization that needs best-practice knowledge. Insects are agents that transfer knowledge, and bees are the most effective at transferring leadership knowledge.

In rare cases, organizations can self-pollinate; they have internal resources dedicated to establishing and sharing best practices and a culture that supports this. The military services offer an example of self-pollination; they take in very young and inexperienced personnel, train them, and mentor them to be disciplined.

In the majority of cases, the transfer of best-practice knowledge is wind-driven: A great deal of information is available, but acceptance and support of best practices is random. In the 2015 Plant Services Leadership Survey, only about 50% of organizations represented provided leadership training more frequently than once every five years. They may benefit from serendipitous hiring or promotion of previously trained persons, but their leadership performance otherwise is basically a luck-of-the-draw matter. Few actually measure the effectiveness of leadership training. These organizations are following a wind-pollination model.

Other organizations invest in developing leadership by cross-pollination, using outside entities to transfer knowledge to the right places. Sometimes they encounter the wrong bugs: trainers who are not effective in transferring knowledge. These insects do little to pollinate or to generate fruit or seeds. In many cases they can be harmful, damaging the tree. If too many harmful insects are present, an insecticide may be applied.

The problem is that bees (good bugs) are vulnerable to insecticides. Think of a plant manager who has been burned by ineffective leadership training deciding that no training is better than buying more bad training.

You can know whether you’ve hired an ineffective pest – worthy of insecticide – or a bee that will result in excellent production only if you measure the results. Success can be measured in how much fruit is generated. Effective leadership best practices can be measured by baselining and trending motivation scores, team effectiveness scores, turnover, grievances, absenteeism, and recordable safety incidents. You should baseline measure and then remeasure three to six months after leadership training.

Economic value of leadership improvement also can be measured. Look for changes in total cost per unit produced, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), asset utilization, or other related measures. In that way, you can determine the business case for expenditures on leadership best practices.

Bees have been blessed with the ability to accumulate and effectively transfer pollen to generate fruit and seeds. Leadership best-practice bees have experience, credibility, tools to baseline and trend motivation and team effectiveness, experience working with plant operations and management, and a history of delivering results.

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