Shiny-object overload

ask jeff shiver shiny object overloadQuestion: Jeff, it seems that we are always chasing shiny objects and nothing sticks. Every time someone comes from a conference, there is a change in direction. It’s like initiative overload. Can you suggest a better approach?

Holly, maintenance manager, North Carolina

Answer: Holly, to the person on the production and shop floor, it seems a new initiative rolls downhill every few months. It is common to see executives, managers, and others chasing the shiny objects. This week, it’s root-cause analysis; three months ago, it was operational excellence; and before then, it was something else. There are also corporate initiatives, plant initiatives, and personal development initiatives to boot.

Here are some of the ways in which we fail when we are constantly chasing new flavors: First, we may spend some time educating people on the concepts involved, but often we don't do so at a deep enough level required for success. We don’t build champions in the organization and provide coaching to help them become successful. Next, we don’t provide enough time for the initiative to become a way of working before a new one lands. I’m reminded of a quote: "If you want a fig, time must be allowed to sow the seed, the tree to grow, and the fruit to ripen." It’s no wonder that 70% of all initiatives fail.

Beware of chasing the shiny objects. The analogy of "a mile wide and an inch deep" fits here. One of the best plant managers I knew had a basic rule regarding initiatives: The limit was three wildly important goals (WIGs) per year. That was it, no more. He had no problem pushing back up the hill. Otherwise, initiatives become the proverbial "flavors of the month" or "flashes in the pan." On the personal level, I am not encouraging you to stop learning. I believe that we must be constant learners, but that doesn’t mean we implement every new (to you) concept that one reads or watches a video about. A better analogy is to go "an inch wide and a mile deep." Learning is a spiral process that requires regularly drilling down into a concept. Think of Deming’s plan, do, check, act (PDCA) loop.

All of that said, there is a missing component for those initiatives that you choose to pursue. When you pick your one to three initiatives, you must take action. Go all in. Do something. Develop a plan. Implement it. Coach people. Coaching provides accountability. Get people to buy in and then to own the goal and the process. Measure to track and encourage business and/or personal results. Celebrate wins, even small ones. I can hear you saying, "But that’s so cliché." Maybe so, but it works. Change can begin with one person: you. Also, audit to make sure that changes stick. There’s no secret formula; it’s simply hard work and a focused dedication to achieving results. Sadly, only about 30% of your organizations will have the discipline to make it work. Are you in the 30% or the 70%?

What is your experience with taking action? What barriers do you face? Please post your comments or questions below so all can learn.

Talk soon,
Jeff Shiver, CMRP

If you have problems in the fields of maintenance, reliability, planning and scheduling, MRO storerooms, or leadership as examples, please contact Jeff Shiver with your question(s) here.