Do you sometimes find your team doesn’t understand your priority? If so, they are probably confused by your actions not your words. So what can a leader do to ensure their actions speak louder than their words?
In a previous post, A Big Problem With Problem Solving, an example was given where the team believed the leaders placed a higher priority on productivity over quality which ultimately resulted in a significant quality defect. I received a question from a reader that many leaders often face, and struggle with, on how best to address the following type of unfortunately common issue:
The perception of team members that some attributes (i.e. cost and delivery) take precedence over other attributes (i.e. quality) has concerned me several times. How do you suggest this can be changed?
A leader’s actions not only have to align with their words, the actions must speak louder than the words! Also, actions have to be consistent and unwavering from the words particularly when in a time of pressure or crisis. For example, if you always say safety is the most important thing, that you care for your team, and that you will not risk their safety for any reason, and then when you are under the gun to deliver on time, you instruct your team, or otherwise turn a blind eye, to by-pass a safety standard, process or policy, you’re done. These are opportunities where your actions can speak louder than your words. Imagine if during this same example, you shut down the operation until it could be done safely? Of course there may be a negative impact such as missing on-time delivery, but over the long term, and as it relates to the culture and relationship with your team, which is more important?
Two real examples come to my mind that emphasize these points very well. The first related to a safety issue that was identified but didn’t cause an immediate safety risk. Only under certain conditions and situations was there some risk. Many involved believed that with additional training and other controls in place, the risk could be adequately mitigated. Further more, the condition had existed for some time but had only just been identified and become known. Stopping the operation would no doubt impact the customer and add cost to the business. The timeline to address the issue was significant, costly, and would impair the operation until addressed. The leader involved, demonstrated conviction to their words of safety first, and shutdown the operation and kept it down until the safety issue was properly addressed.
I was directly involved in this second example and remember the situation like it was yesterday! Production was behind schedule and as we worked hard to catch up, the quality indicators started to decline but remained within target. On this particular day, the first passed yield dropped significantly, meaning a lot of rework would be required and the actual completed volume would be lower, adding to the stress of the situation. We had always and consistently communicated that our top priority, second only to safety, was quality. I called the management team together and requested that we shutdown the plant and conduct a quality stand-down with the entire plant. They looked at me like I was out of my mind! They raised concerns with the additional lost volume this action would result in, not to mention the costs! We shutdown and communicated the quality concerns, what the top issues were, what the operators could do to improve quality, and reconfirmed our leadership priority and commitment to quality over productivity/volume. The recognition and appreciation from the team was incredible, which boosted the morale and pride of the operators for being part of an operation that placed quality ahead of productivity. They wanted to believe!
They wanted to believe!
These examples describe real life crisis situations many leaders have and will no doubt face in their careers. It is during these times, that true leadership and commitment to a leader’s words, values, and standards is tested and demonstrated. It is during these times, you either build or destroy your culture and leadership trust. These decisions are never easy, even though they should be, because of the other ramifications and consequences they create. However, I’d suggest that typically those consequences are short term focused. If you lead with the long term in mind, the decision is clearer and easier to make.
The same holds true for a non-crisis day. Your actions must be consistent with your words. You can’t walk by or ignore anything that doesn’t align with your words. You must take action. For example, no matter what else is happening at the moment, walking past something or someone that is unsafe when you say safety is your top priority, completely discredits your words of the past, present and future. Look for opportunities to emphasize your priorities and reinforce your words every chance you can find. Always explain “why” one thing is a priority over another. If you need to focus on something else that might give the perception that your priority has changed, explain why you are focusing on the other and that it has not in fact superseded the higher priority.
Leave a comment with what you do to ensure your actions speak louder than your words!
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