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Tracey Richardson

Tracey Richardson: Every termination is a failure

By Tracey Richardson, - Last updated: Wednesday, August 6, 2014 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

This is always an interesting topic to discuss, because there are so many contributing factors weaving us through an exhausting web to find the actual root cause(s).    I remember a story during my time at the TMMK plant years ago, I will leave names and specifics out to protect the innocent.

A higher level leader had all his ducks in a row to terminate a person after several failed attempts to change attitude/behavior towards their job and meeting company expectations.  This leader felt in their minds that all avenues for success had been exhausted.   It is difficult to terminate a person at Toyota for quote “performance” issues when it can be deemed as a subjective / grey area to prove without a shadow of a doubt.  It also poses other questions I will address about culture and behaviors.

So every termination (at the time this took place) had to be reviewed by a high level Japanese executive.   The high level leader came in and stated the entire case with all the proper documentation records of the person up for termination.  The Japanese executive looked at everything carefully lifted his head up and asked the leader “have you done everything possible to make this person successful”?  The high level leader stated “yes I have”.   The Japanese executive said to the leader, “then you have failed”.  The Japanese executive went on to sign the termination papers but there was a greater lesson there for the leader (who went on to lead differently from that moment).

When you take on the role as a leader 50% of your job is developing people.  This was within congratulatory statement my trainer said to me when I became a leader myself.    It means as a leader we not only have to get the work part of our job done but we have to foster and cultivate people, even the more difficult ones.    The lesson above wasn’t just saying that everyone is perfect and without issues and its all on the leader, it’s more about problem awareness and leading indicators about behaviors that are tipping towards the traits described in the question.  If it gets to that level of behavior we have potentially missed the opportunity to intervene which leaves us in a reactive mode versus proactive.
When I work with companies I observe deeply the demeanor of the people doing their daily work.   I also like to ask questions.   It’s not too difficult to assess at times whether a person is just genuinely a “bad seed” or is there an underlying  cultural issue stemming from the company side that is creating the defensive claws to come out.   Most of the time it’s not the person believe it or not.   The Japanese trainers taught me a deep lesson in differentiating the person from their process.  I use a parody in my sessions as the “5 Who’s and the Root Blame”.   The trainers would encourage us to “never blame a person first”, this is often difficult when there is a garden variety of personalities out there and product must be made – meaning “I do not have time to babysit”!   Well believe it or not 80% of the time it’s a badly designed process that is creating the deep rooted behavioral issues.   If you can be a servant leader and gather the resources to mend and control the process (building mutual trust and respect) then you can start to see a shift in behavior in the disgruntled person.

If you take the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) its a test that tells you your personality preference.   During my time at TMMK we used this test to assist leaders in understanding their own personality as well as all the other ones out there that could be the opposite of us.  It looks at being an introvert or an extrovert (among many other traits) for example and lets you know your strengths and developmental areas with that preference.   Many times when we start asking questions and getting to know someone (past a work argument) we learn the nuances of personalities.   As a leader we must learn and understand how to recognize certain traits that can be resolved through differentiating learning or how you ask a person to perform.  No different than perhaps a child in school that is acting out for some reason.

A personal example I can share about myself is when I was hired at TMMK I was considered an introverted person.   I can remember the first time I was asked to do a presentation with a microphone in our Plastics group, it was terrifying to think about.   My leaders knew I tested well for potential leadership, but recognized one of my areas of development  was speaking in front of others (some would argue that point now-ha).   So I was given small tasks to build confidence to reduce my fear.   If I would have been forced into a larger situation against my natural preference then I could begin to “act out” in various ways.   This is not the answer to all “people problems” but as leaders we must do 5 why thinking on each individual and get to the root of the behavior, if we find we have created it through badly designed processes, developmental approaches or not getting to know our people well enough– then as the Japanese executive said “we have failed”.

A couple of last thoughts to think about is a more rigid hiring process.   A rigorous sifter that allows people who may not fit all our expectations can “self-eliminate” through some pre-assessments in place to help us with the “just in time” process of people –right people, right time, right process!  I remember in 1986 there were 150,000 people looking to get one of the 1500 jobs available at the TMMK plant being built.   It took some of us 1-1.5 years to get our foot in the door.   The assessments were looking for specific competencies in people to allow the company to succeed along with a very robust human resources policy management system that wouldn’t allow for a disgruntle person to resist and persist in their ways.  Those 5 competencies we all were assessed on were:  Initiative, problem solving, listening, teamwork, and leadership skills.

I like to think of a robust HR policy management as part of a company’s DNA (discipline and accountability)!  If you have policies in place that hold you accountable for your actions, attendance, performance and initiative then its hard to get to a level of behavior you describe in your question, if you do it’s a very low percentage.   Not all situations are the same and in some rare cases you might find a person that is impossible.  For me there should be filters in place to keep them from getting in and disrupting the harmony, but if they do get in then its our responsibility as leaders to ensure that person is successful and we see the leading indicators with their behavior before it’s too late –  as the ole’ saying that we all have heard — “if the student hasn’t learned, the teacher hasn’t taught”
@thetoyotagal

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