Management by Brutality is MUDA

I can not help but wonder if there is a Six Sigma tool for managers to use before they decide to administer discipline or impose a behavior intervention to a poorly performing employee. Management style is one of the key factors affecting high employee morale, optimum functioning and low turnover. When high morale is present, process improvement initiatives are embraced by employees and capacity increases. Seems some managers still have not learned this universal truth.

In the private sector the owner of a company does not have to be nice or effective, he or she owns the company. Long term it is possible for ineffective management to survive if there are mitigating influences among other senior managers. If you read Henry Ford you see very clearly that he believed that if the owner cares about his employees capacity will increase and be sustained.

More difficult to accept are managers in the public sector who think the department they manage belongs to them. They think they can step on, yell at and or berate employees without consequence. They were appointed by the elected governing body and some believe they are immune to disciplinary actions for poor management decisions or unethical confrontation/intervention with employees. If a direct service employee publically or even privately criticizes a manager, some time in the near future that employee may receive a poor performance evaluation and the case to terminate will be opened. This will teach a lesson to the free speech expression in the workplace and further confine direct service employees to keep their opinions to them selves. In the public civil service environment this seems counter productive. Muda in six sigma speak, if managers are spending their time “going after” employees who is managing the department?

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So what can be done when it is clear that a department manager is ineffective or disrespectful of employees? Political reality poses that some governing authorities protect its appointees without regard to the truth of their mismanagement or ineffective management style. It is the job of the governing authorities to confront this manager? No or maybe, that decision is up to the elected authority and how public opinion influences their decisions. But, in the interest of continuous improvement, a much better response is to set a clear professional expectation that self examination, at all times with all work related behavior, is part of the agency management philosophy. Then managers catch them selves on unethical or questionable actions, hopefully before the action takes place, and ultimately employee morale stays positive or improves and capacity increases with the other process improvement initiatives. If they never look in the proverbial mirror, well… I would like to think most do and really work hard to treat subordinate employees with respect.

That, in an ideal world of work, would be wonderful.

Comments 6

  1. Sue Kozlowski

    Hi Stephen, you make some really good points. Why is it that, after all these years, we still have leaders who think "might makes right?"

    This is what I call a "dysfunctional coping mechanism." It goes like this: I give orders in a way that’s mean, rude, or bullying. My subordinates do what I want (out of fear). I get the results I demanded (at least on the surface). The subordinates don’t leave (needing their jobs) nor do they complain directly to me (needing their good performance evals and raises). I think that I have accomplished my task with no negative consequences. What a great leader I am! I think I’ll keep doing the same thing!

    So it’s a coping mechanism, that appears to get the job done, but it’s dysfunctional, because it’s not in the style of continuous improvement that you discuss.

    To me, the personal qualities of self-awareness and commitment to a healthy, positive leadership model (in which we are stewards of our subordinate’s efforts and accomplishments) are the very qualities that separate the value from the muda in leadership.

    Thanks for a great, thought-provoking post.

  2. Royce Williard

    Stephen, nice post. I think the issue for leaders comes down to the simple advice given by parents around the world, "Treat others as you would like to be treated." I, like you, believe leaders need to look in the proverbial mirror and ask how would they feel if a video tape detailing their behavior was shown to their family or on investigative television. Managers working in an old paradigm where unethical treat of employees is acceptable, must learn to respect their employees for the organization to thrive.

  3. Stephen C. Crate

    Thanks Sue and Royce:

    The sad truth is that some of these managers know they may need some work in this area and choose to ignore this obvious flaw. These are the managers who need to be shown the door. Or at least be confronted by the board or others in authority. Even an appology can go a long way in mitigating the long term negative influence on employee morale. In my book this is clearly unethical behavior and warrants a response equal to any other illegal act in the work place. How quickly we respond to sexual harrassment, or theft or other policies termed illegal but, wink an eye to this emotional violence.

    I can only hope that managers that are unaware that their style fits this description discover the error of their ways and work on transforming themselves.

  4. Sowmyan

    I wonder if Henry Ford could have been the same in today’s circumstance. When he introduced the production line, he perhaps found a performance level far higher than the market, and could be very kind.

    The pressure builds up as the competitiveness squeezes out margins. This reduces margns for error (muda). People can make a mistake, but can not be doing it repeatedly. Every employee in supervisory / management position should also be taken as a small entrepreneur who has a performance to show relative to the market. Thus they face the tension. If the individual can not cope, the leader and the team suffer.

    In all situations the small team must have a complete understanding and trust between them. I wonder if a really independent subcontractor who hand picks his team works with a lot less tension, and a lot more trust than an employee supervisor who can not really choose his team as freely. All this shouting may be happening because of the incompatibility and forced co-existence which are also a form of muda. .

  5. Sowmyan

    Based on Sue’s post. I recollect Peter Senge’s ’fixes that fail’ archetype. A quick fix causes long term damage to morale and hence cooperation.

    I also heard some where that people program others by their behaviour. Let us consider a bunch of kids making noise. A kind teacher may suggest they don’t make a racket in softer tones. If the kids respond to these nice words, the teacher would not exceed this level for bringing discipline. If the kids do not respond, the teacher may be forced to escalate her measure, by shouting. If this yields the desired response, the teacher gets programmed. If such escalation requirement happens a couple of times, the teacher may discard the ’wasteful’ soft approach and shout at the first sign of noise.

    Now is not the teacher reducing muda? The behaviour change is not just with one party, the supervisor or the teacher, it is also with the other party, the team workers or kids. What could be the tool for behavioural change.

  6. Steve Crate

    I attended my first process analysis conference in a long time this week. It was the Lean Systems Summit in Portland Maine on August 6 and 7, 2015. I was invited by the Sponsor to be a Proctor. I connected with some old friends and made some new ones.

    One speaker, David Verble, a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute presented the ideas from a book by Edgar Schein titled, Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Act of Asking instead of Telling. This speaks to this post and encourages kindness when working with employees rather that the “tough love” approach. I really believe that tough love can cross reasonable boundaries and become abuse. But then again, if a CEO is the sole stockholder and you want to continue working for him or her. Then the only response is to forgive, try to find some positive developmental lesson in the response and move on. 70 times 7.

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