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Eliminating defects – or multiplying talent? November 25, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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“First, Break All The Rules” by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman has been out for nearly 15 years.  If you are a manager, work for a manager, or even work near a manager, I highly recommend it as a quick read with some good ideas.  Like any management book, there are few one-size-fits-all solutions to the range of organizations out there, but this one – as the title suggests – provides a different perspective on the business world in general and highlights many of the dysfunctions that keep the average organization from being excellent.

Rather than summarize the whole book (which by the way has been distilled into a great set of notes a la Powerpoint) I took note of one easily overlooked point.  The book is geared toward management and managers, being organized around interviewing, motivating, and retaining truly great employees.  However, nestled in the chapter about hiring talented individuals is a bit of a footnote section called “Study Your Best”.

However your current team has been assembled, it will demonstrate some range of performance.  In many organizations, managers fight an uphill battle to reduce failures, defects, weaknesses, and overall poor performance, often by creating more and more policies, procedures, and rigid enforcement of things like TPS reports.  In my own consulting engagements, this is a natural pursuit, as it yields quick, measurable results for the client.  The authors point out however,

Conventional wisdom asserts that good is the opposite of bad, that if you want to understand excellence, you should investigate failure and then invert it.  In society at large, we define good health as the absence of disease…In the working world, this fascination with pathology is just as pervasive…

Rather, you should

Learn the whys, the hows, and the whos of your best and then select for similar talents.

“Fewer Defects” is an example of one tool that organizations use to work toward true excellence, but it does not in and of itself get them there.  You can’t have an excellent organization if you produce defective products, but 100% accuracy does not mean you have an excellent organization.  Instead, focus on those things that your people do well, and apply them to others.  Don’t waste time filling in gaps of talent with more and more policies and procedures.

Truly excellent people find the right way to do their job for their individual talents – and love doing so.  Anything else is papering over people who may simply not be in a job that makes the best use of their talents.