Vision – When One Can’t See the Forest, for all the Trees are in the Way.

It has occurred to me recently that there are a great many workers, and even leaders and managers, that don’t extend their vision beyond the task at hand.

From a workers standpoint, this might seem to be irrelevant – “can I really change anything? I’m just doing what the boss said, and then going home” is all too common of a theme. Truly, for an organization to thrive, everyone needs to be engaged in the long-term goals and vision.

Without this type of engagement, an organization will stagnate.

The people doing the work are the ones who can best assess whether there is room to improve processes and operations. I started out work on the lab performing qualification tests at the box and platform levels. I heard all too many times “boy, it would be nice if we could rack and stack this test setup, so we didn’t need to drag all the equipment out each time…. we could roll a rack up to the bench, and run a test”. I changed companies 3 years later, and found that they had two of that setup in mobile racks, with provisions to build a third in a pinch. When I left, they had three with options to build a fourth if the need arose. In my first job, we used to lament how convenient it would be to have a shielded facility large enough to fit a full platform – for testing the vehicle’s own systems and compatibility with known environments, without worrying about nearby emitters and receivers. Just last week, i found out that one of our biggest competitors has exactly that, and has for a long time.

That company is still doing things the way they did in the 1970s. They are decades beyond in lab automation, efficiency efforts, and capabilities. How does this happen? To put it bluntly, too many people spend all their time with their head down in their work, and can’t think longer term or bigger picture. “I’m too busy to think about that stuff” is the standard message when potential improvements are brought about.

What these workers don’t realize is that by taking just a few moments to consider (and implement… or PLAN to implement) improvements, the time savings could be more than enough to not only pay back the time spent, but also allow for implementation of new capabilities…. i.e., by improving and optimizing Process “A”, enough time can be saved that Process “B” can be added to the organizations capability, where it wasn’t part of it before.

I’ve been fortunate in my career, I’ve had organizations and leaders who encouraged a longer term vision in the workers. This led to a number of my year end reviews saying things like “consistently challenged the status quo”, and “continuously showed enterprise vision”. This does not mean that my work reflects some vague corporate strategy or mission statement. Hell, I can find a mission statement generator online, where the user pumps in some generic details about an entity, and it kicks out a mission statement (link) – example:

KC9UMR.COM is dedicated to the highest quality of technology and Leadership based Blogging delivered with innovation, ingenuity and creativity

What the heck does this mean? It means I pumped some nonsense into a web application, and it pulled some nonsense together that makes me sound like I’m worried about high quality for the user. My quality is not bad, but I’ll admit – I occasionally miss a few typos… and the purpose of this blog, well, a lot of the time, it’s just to have a way to vent some of the ideas in my head. My wife loves listening, but even I will admit, sometimes I go down a rabbit hole on some of these thoughts…. speaking of… where was I going with all this… oh, right, reviews…

So, as I was saying – I was not (and still am not) content with “this is how we’ve always done it”. I’m not saying there’s ALWAYS a better way, but it can’ t be ruled out. That being said, let’s not get stupid – if something’s been tried, and didn’t work, don’t try it again, unless there’s something different to add to the equation. I tried automating a test once, and I had technicians arguing that it would never work because they tried it years ago. I considered what he had said, but he hadn’t accounted for the new hardware and computer code we were trying to work with. Ultimately, it DID work out because I had something new to bring to the table. I’ve also had things not be “improvable,” because there was no good way to improve with that I had in hand at the time. Give it time… I still tried, because the potential is there, and I am NOT content with “how we’ve always done it”.

In addition to the workers – it’s absolutely crucial that leadership supports and encourages the potential for improvements. This isn’t just in words (“that’s a great idea”), but it’s also investing a little, knowing full well it will pay for itself in the long run. Sometimes those costs come out of overhead – it’s a calculated expense… ironically, I’ve seen companies who bid to win by expecting to lose money up front on a contract refuse to put up any overhead for process improvement or even training of personnel. This lack of leadership (and management, as they aren’t always the same) support for improvement leads to more workers who just put their heads down, and focus on nothing more than the task at hand, using the same methods and tools they did 20 years ago.

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