President of Fulcrum ConsultingWorks, Inc.
Listening to one of my playlists, I heard those memorable words sung by Rod Stewart and Faces: “I wish that I knew what I know now when I was younger; I wish that I knew what I know now when I was stronger.”
Rod and the band were singing the message of a grandfather to his grandson. He added: “poor young grandson there's nothing I can say you'll have to learn, just like me and that's the hardest way.”
And that’s a shame. Most young boys (and girls) believe themselves to be advanced beyond their years and much smarter than their experienced elders. But we should all outgrow that by the time we become leaders in organizations. Didn’t your kids figure out that you’re not really stupid by the time they were in their early 20’s?
The best of us are committed to learning, from the past and from our peers today. About 1500 professionals attended the recent AME annual conference. No one could walk away from that without learning something valuable.
But what have you done with that learning?
It’s too easy to get sucked back in to the day-to-day and leave our good intentions and learnings at the entry door. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Call a meeting of your team to discuss the following:
- What have we learned as an organization in the last year?
- What have we as individuals learned in the last year?
- How are we leveraging that learning?
- What are the competencies we’ve gained, both personally and as an organization?
- What problems have we permanently removed from our business?
- What do we all know we should be doing, but we’re not?
- What do we all know we should quit doing, but we continue anyway?
- And, most importantly, what will we do about all that starting now?
Ensure the agenda includes the exact questions to be discussed so everyone comes prepared. You know the drill: capture on flipcharts, no judgement of comments, everyone participates. But all that is useless if you don’t identify issues and opportunities and follow through as agreed. Memorizing the alphabet does no good until we begin to learn how to read. Use the information you’ve gained.
If someone says they’ve learned nothing, there’s a serious problem. It might be with them, with the company culture, or with their job duties. But that has to change! We talk about continuous improvement, which can only occur with continuous learning.
Have we appropriately generalized any learning across the organization? Safety is an obvious example of leveraging shared learning, but all processes should benefit. Is the product design process much improved because of what supply chain, manufacturing, quality and customer service have learned? It should be.
I encourage each of you to take a moment to reflect each week:
- What have I learned?
- How will I use that learning to help myself, my team, and my organization?
And then monthly:
- What have I done with what I’ve learned to help myself, my team, and my organization?
There are oh so many ways to learn. We don’t need to touch hot stoves to learn not to. We can learn by looking out the window, by observing, by reading, by thinking, or by listening to music. But remember, learning has value only when we value it.
Sam Cooke sang “A Change ‘Gonna Come.” He may not have been referring to manufacturing, but don't stick your head in the sand believing "we're different." You're not. Individually and together, we all need to learn, leverage, rinse and repeat.
As Sam also sang, "this is a mean old world to try and live in..."
Becky Morgan is an operations strategist working with leaders of mid-sized manufacturing companies. Her video series Manufacturing Greatness is a great tool to use in developing your leaders.