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Putting the Pieces Together

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Bob Gilbert, AkzoNobel North American business and process consultant, wants you to imagine that a jigsaw puzzle has been poured onto a table in your shop. You and your staff are in charge of putting it together. What’s the first thing you’ll want to know? You want to know what the final product will look like. You’ll want the box top or the big picture objective.

Gilbert explains that running a business is no different than putting a puzzle together. If your staff doesn’t know what the final picture or the big picture objective, should look like, they’ll all start working in isolation and create their own value streams for different pieces that won’t add up to anything. However, if everyone on your team was provided a photo of the end result, then you could all work together to achieve a common goal.


Identifying the Problem

On a daily basis, shop owners are walking around, frustrated that nobody seems to be seeing the same problems or working towards the same goals, explains Ryan Ross, East market business services manager at AkzoNobel. It isn’t because these shop managers are bad at what they do; not at all, in fact, explains Ross. They are all good at their jobs because of a no-nonsense, take charge instinctive approach. The problem lies in the fact that it’s very difficult to teach instinct, and the solution lies in making the pattern of their thinking transparent to everyone else. Ross and Gilbert work with shops around the country to do just that.

Whenever Gilbert works with shop owners and managers, he starts out by asking this question—How often do you look around your business and wonder why it is that nobody else sees what you see?

Gilbert explains that this conversation is a way to get owners to open their minds to understanding why the staff doesn’t operate the way they want them to. The reason? The staff hasn’t been shown the bigger picture, or worse, don’t even know what the big picture objective is.


The Bigger Picture

For most employees once they’ve finished a task, they have absolutely no idea what the shop owner or manager will want them to do next because there’s no transparency, explains Gilbert. If a shop owner has a big picture objective and shares it with his or her employees, this will start to get employees engaged and will allow them to anticipate what’s to come next. The big picture objective needs to be something that is simple and brutally consistent so that the staff will be able to guess what they’re going to need to do next. If employees believe that they know what to do and are actively contributing, they will be more engaged, explains Gilbert. An environment that requires guesswork and has employees questioning themselves will foster disengaged employees. Ross says that shop owners can display visuals that remind employees what their role is and what they should do once they’ve finished a task.


Putting It into Action

Ross and Gilbert are quick to say that this change isn’t easy.

“It’s typically a fight from the moment we try to help them,” Gilbert says of his clients.

There are a number of different reasons for this, Gilbert and Ross explain. Gilbert says that in his experience, the managers and owners he’s worked with are scared to change their behaviors. Many he’s worked with have been afraid if staff can work more independently, that might mean the manager’s position won't be needed anymore.

Ross explains the trick is to work with someone who is uncomfortable with change and get them to stick with it—something he’s perfected while working with AkzoNobel.

“There’s value in the simplicity of what we do at AkzoNobel,” Ross says. “The simplicity of some of the solutions that we provide may cause some people to question it, but it works.”

Going back to the jigsaw analogy, if you provide your staff with the final image, the staff can work together to devise a plan to put it together. By filling in sections, employees will become more motivated and be encouraged to work together.

“That’s the power of the big picture,” Gilbert says.

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