My wife recently saw a book online (direct from the publisher) that she thought I would enjoy reading: “Lean Production for Competitive Advantage,” by John Nichols. There was, though, a funny thing about the book; it was printed upside down compared to the binding. I considered sending the book back to the publisher, but I decided to read it anyway—and frankly, I thought there might be a hidden message in the print being upside down. Did the author want the reader to take a different perspective of what was written? I was into the book about 100 pages before I gave up on that notion.
Out of that experience, I was reminded of the importance for everyone in management to truly observe their own situations, especially within the context of making improvements. I am reminded of how, when my brothers and I were young, Mom and Dad would head out on a “vacation.” If you knew my Dad, Don, very well, then you knew he did not take normal vacations. They were adventures. We would take off from Chicago on a circuitous route to visit component plants, lumber mills, OSB and plywood plants, and many other manufacturing operations until we arrived at the spot we were going to vacation. It was my Dad’s way of getting outside of his own operations and observing other manufacturing techniques—and, more importantly, looking outside of our industry and observing how manufacturing was done at other types of companies. He was gaining a different perspective.
One of the challenges I see managers get caught in is they do not take time to get out of their operations—be that lumber, component, millwork, etc.—to observe manufacturing at a different plant and outside our industry. Part of the reason we see companies from outside of our industry entering the building market is they are bringing a different perspective. In fact, the 4Ward team has enjoyed working with several of these companies, because they are not “stuck” in trying to do things the way we have been doing them for so long. But, at the same time, this interaction also gives our team a different perspective—which we then can use when we work with many of the established companies in our industry who are making or ready to make changes. It is not that we are sharing the ideas of these new companies; rather, we are helping established companies more easily gain a new perspective.
It is this understanding of other perspectives that is a key leadership skill for managers who are successful. Let me give you a few ideas on how to change the way you see things, or how you seek new ideas.
We all have the ability to take a different perspective, but for fun do this: close your eyes for a moment and imagine taking the point of view of one of your associates. When you get to that point, ask yourself, “how can I improve the operation, the process, the equipment, all that is around me?” And then ask, “what do I fear in taking action?”
Taking perspective is about understanding the viewpoint of another person, to see if through their eyes. The cool thing about this is that it allows us to better explore a situation, and it helps us better understand and make decisions. For example, if you are considering buying a new piece of automated equipment, try looking at that purchase through the eyes of your associate. Will they see the same benefits? Will they see more? Or, would they ask some probing questions on its use?
Seeking perspective is about reaching out to colleagues or other industry partners and gaining a better understanding of their point of view on a specific improvement or situation. It is about being authentically curious about hearing and learning more about their perspective. We go to conferences or listen to our vendors, but are we really hearing what they are saying? Are we seeking to understand their point of view?
The biggest trap of perspective-seeking is reaching out to people who have the same point of view as a way to validate a hard decision. If their viewpoint is the same as yours, then you’re not helping yourself gain any perspective. This is why, when I work with a company, I always advocate for visits to another plant or yard or distribution center that may not be in our industry. By doing this, you certainly will hear from people who have a different point of view, and you may discover potential blind spots or new things to consider.
Now that you can take perspectives of others and seek them out as well, what can you do with all of the information you’ve received?
The first thing you can do is observe what you can learn from the perspectives you received. What does it tell you about their operation and how they see their world or have made improvements? What will be the impact of implementing change or improving a process or adding automation? How can you communicate back to your associates the information that you gained and this new perspective learned? How does considering these different viewpoints contribute to your understanding of improvements and help you in your decision making? This applies to our associates too—you can observe how wide or small their perspective is. Are they seeing the bigger picture? Can you give them any information to help widen their perspective? If so, what change does this create to their point of view?
If you take the time ahead of a decision to coordinate perspectives, the changes you do make will be more widely accepted. We live in a world that goes fast and where people do not always take the time to step back. When going fast, leaders often confuse their perspectives with reality and have difficulty truly understanding the point of view of others. A perspective is not right or wrong by default. It just is what it is: the point of view of a single person based on their experiences and values, among other things. We each have one—sometimes we share it with others and sometimes we do not. Our perspectives shape how we act or react in a situation. What could be different in your leadership if you chose to be more generous in your interpretations of perspectives? What could be different in your personal leadership if you could better take, seek, and coordinate perspectives?
The 4Ward Consulting team has helped several hundred operations effectively increase problem solving to lead them to success by widening their perspective on change and the opportunities it creates. If we can be of assistance to you and your team, please give us a call.
Ben Hershey is CEO of the 4Ward Consulting Group, LLC team. When the industry needs an actual expert, they turn to 4Ward Consulting Group team with more than 100 years of experience. 4Ward Consulting Group is the leading provider of Management and Manufacturing Consulting to the Structural Component and Lumber Industry. A Past President of SBCA, Ben has owned and managed several manufacturing and distribution companies and is Six Sigma Black Belt Certified. Ben has provided consulting to hundreds of Component Manufacturers, Lumber Dealers, and Millwork Operations in the past seven years. You can reach Ben at ben@4WardConsult.com or 623-512-6770.
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