Monday, October 14, 2013

A Moving Target

If you were ever in the military and had to qualify for marksmanship with a weapon, you know how hard it can be to consistently hit 40 stationary targets at various distances (50 to 300 meters) from various shooting positions.  First, you have to shoot from the prone position (lying down on your stomach) with the rifle resting on sandbags.  That’s the easiest position to shoot from; any twelve year-old kid could do it.  Next, you have to shoot from the sitting, kneeling, and standing positions.  To qualify as a marksman you have to hit 40 stationary targets 24 times (60% success rate), as a sharpshooter 29 times (73% success rate), and as an expert 36 times (90% success rate).  (I qualified as a sharpshooter while in the Navy.)

Now imagine how hard it would be to consistently hit the target if it were moving?  You’d have to be an expertly trained sniper to do that.  On April 12th 2009, a three man U.S. Navy SEAL team of snipers firing from the fantail of the U.S.S. Bainbridge (DDG-96) simultaneously killed three Somali pirates on a moving lifeboat saving the life of their hostage Captain Richard Phillips.  Imagine how hard that would be to do with the ship and the lifeboat simultaneously bobbing up and down in the ocean?  Very few people in the world could pull those shots off.

Most organizations have target goals they want their employees to shoot for.  Maybe their target goal is to have a certain level of sales; maybe it’s a certain level of customer satisfaction; or maybe it’s some other metrics they want their employees to hit.  Of course there are rules to follow while doing these (distance and shooting positions): you have to abide by the organizations policies, procedures, and guidelines.  An ethical company would teach you that how you shoot is as important as hitting the target.  It’s pretty easy to hit 40 targets from 50 meters in the prone position, but not from further distances or in the sitting, kneeling, or standing positions.

I once worked for a company that set multiple target goals every year.  The big targets to hit though were sales, service, and customer satisfaction.  The hard part was that most of the issues I had to deal with were moving targets (ambiguous situations).  Everyday the targets moved and the rules changed.  I had to think on my feet and make quick decisions; there wasn’t a company guidebook to help me.  So I had to balance sales and service, with customer satisfaction, with making me happy.  In other words I had to find a win-win-win solution to most issues.

Unfortunately, most of the time it was a win for the company (they made their money), it was a win for the customer (they were satisfied), but a lose for me (I had to work and sacrifice over-and-above the norm without any reward or recognition).  In fact when it came time for annual reviews, the company’s attitude was “you only hit the target 36 out of 40 times (90% success rate or expert marksman) . . . no raise for you!”  In other words they wanted a highly trained expert Navy SEAL sniper that could hit a moving target 100% of the time.    

One thing I learned while studying for my MBA is that it’s important to set realistic and attainable goals for your employees and to reward them fairly.  Just as the military does for their marksmanship qualification.  They don’t ask the average sailor, soldier, or marine to be 100% accurate; 60% to 90% is acceptable.  In fact in actual combat their expectations are that their accuracy will decline 50% because of stress.  They don’t expect everyone to be as good as a U.S. Navy SEAL sniper shooting at a moving target.

Companies too have to be realistic with their performance expectations of their employees.  Some can only be average performers (marksman), some can be high performers (sharpshooters), some can be star performers (expert), and maybe only one can be a superstar performer (sniper).  You can’t expect everyone to be a superstar (sniper) and only reward superstar performance.  The marksman, sharpshooter, and expert deserve recognition too.

In my case, while I usually hit the moving targets (figuratively I was the equivalent of an expert marksman or 90% accurate), the company’s failure to account for the moving targets and reward success eventually burned me out and I finally quit after an eighteen-year career with them.

Someone once said, “Any fool can applaud, real appreciation comes in the form of folding green money!”

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Moving the Goal Post by Allen Laudenslager

This guest blog comes from my good friend Allen.  Read his blog A Voice in the Wilderness at 

I once worked as a foreman in a factory that made wooden ladders, stepladders, extension ladders, tall ladders and short ladders.  Production was measured in feet of ladder per day so a 6-foot tall stepladder counted as 6 feet of production and a 32-foot tall extension ladder counted as 32 feet of production and so on.

The extension ladder department that I worked in was producing about 900 feet of ladder a day when I took over as the department manger.  Management offered the workers a bonus on every foot of ladder built over 1,000 feet produced.  So I reorganized the work area to create a better workflow and within a few days the output had risen to 1,200 feet a day.  The workers were overjoyed because without working any harder (just a little smarter) they were earning bonus money.

The factory manager and the owners had seen how much extra money these workers were earning in bonuses every week and decided to move the goal posts.  The workers would now have to produce 1,800 feet of ladder to make their bonuses.  

My team worked harder, but was only able to reach 1,500 feet of ladder a day.  So I looked at the workflow again, made some improvements in how the work was performed, and before we all knew it production jumped to 2,000 feet of ladder per day.   Once again my workers made their bonuses.

I started to see the strain in my workers.  In order to produce 2,000 feet of ladder a day, they not only had to work smarter, they had to work much harder as well.  I did what I could to improve moral and keep the work interesting by rotating daily tasks and the like, but I felt my team had reached their maximum potential.

Unfortunately, the factory manager and the owners looked at how much money the workers in my department were making compared with the rest of the factory and moved the goal post yet again to 2,200 feet a day! 

My team pushed as hard as they could and finally got up to 2,300 feet a day and earned small bonuses.  But by the end of the next month my workers began to quit in droves.  They were working much harder than the rest of the factory, and they could find less physically demanding work with other companies for the same pay.  And as the experienced workers left, production declined back to 900 feet a day.   So the factory manager and the owners moved the goal post back down to 1,200 feet.  

The mentality of the factory manager and owners was “these workers are making too much money, we need to keep that money we’re paying in bonuses for ourselves.”  This kind of short-term thinking caused them to loose two ways in the long-term: first, they didn’t have a dependable production team in that department which could consistently produce 2,000 feet of ladder a day (double what they were originally producing); and second, they didn’t see the improvements I as a foreman made and ask themselves “how can we use these methods in other departments in the factory to raise production?”

As the cycle began to repeat itself I finally recognized the game the factory manager and the owners were playing was nothing more than a sophisticated version of the old “dangle a carrot in front of a donkey trick.”  I soon followed my workers and left for another job!

The last time I heard, they were still stable around 1,000 feet of ladder a day from the same assembly line that had been producing a stable 1,800 feet a day. So much for continuous process improvement!

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