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Step 1: Open Mouth, Step 2: Insert Foot

by Joshua Rapoza
July 14, 2015

Step 1: Open Mouth, Step 2: Insert Foot

by Joshua Rapoza
July 14, 2015 | Comments (17)

I try to steer clear of discussing politics with friends, family, and coworkers. Except for my dog, who is interested in the discussions when I have a snack in my hand.

A recent comment I read was from presidential candidate Jeb Bush, who said:

“My aspiration for the country and I believe we can achieve it, is 4 percent growth as far as the eye can see. Which means we have to be a lot more productive, workforce participation has to rise from its all-time modern lows. It means that people need to work longer hours and, through their productivity, gain more income for their families. That's the only way we're going to get out of this rut that we're in.”

Sounds a lot like what Jim Womack describes as modern management compared to lean management. Pick an arbitrary number, decide longer hours is the solution, and the kicker… tell people, “That’s the only way we’re going to get out of this rut.”

The only way? Really? Why not work smarter and eliminate the waste?

This reminded me of a time I attended a meeting at a manufacturer. The meeting was with a plant manager, a shift manager, a front-line team of about 12 people, and a few people from corporate. It was a meeting to discuss ways to improve flow of the product they were building. I was excited to see the line workers so involved in improvement discussions. You could see and feel the passion of improving the work, their work.

That’s when it happened. One of the folks from corporate who was facilitating the meeting (and who was new to the company) said, “That’s a good suggestion. But I’ve got a better idea…"

In a blink of an eye the passion left the room and a dozen sets of eyes rolled. Just five words and that was it. “I’ve got a better idea”…

Just these five words can kill engagement. Perhaps second only to the most deadly five word sentence of all: “We can still be friends.” As a result of this person’s words, people left the meeting feeling defeated when the goal had been the opposite – to get them energized.

Choosing your words wisely is always a hard thing to do, especially when you are in the spotlight. I’ve put my foot in my mouth so many times that I can tell you that Reebok tastes different than Nike. But a person can get better at it, a manager can get better at it. My former boss gave me great advice I try to use, to “not react, and just sit with your thoughts for a moment.” Sometimes that moment needs to be an overnight.

So is working harder the solution? Is working smarter? Are they sometimes one and the same?

My vote is still up in the air for the next election. My guess it that if a candidate offers to ask questions instead of telling us that their way is best way, they will get my vote.

So what’s the worst thing you’ve accidentally said, while trying to make things better with your team or at your organization? What might you have done differently?

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
Keywords:  coaching,  musings
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17 Comments | Post a Comment
Michael Ballé July 14, 2015
3 People AGREE with this comment

Great point! Hard to see how US employees can work even longer hours. US is already has the title of least vacation days in the Western world which accounts for more than 25% more worked hours., than, say, Germany (works even less hours than France).

No matter how you figure it, any effort suffers from marginal decreasing returns past a certain point, and the same seems to be true of worked hours productivity http://blog.pgi.com/2014/07/winding-work-week-infographic/

Furthermore, psychologists have shown that decision fatigue is a reality: tired people make poor decisions.

 

Working less, in itself is not a recipte for higher engagement, as France proves. But surely there is an in-between sweet-spot where working more effectively is preferred to just working longer hours.



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Mike Sparks July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

Working longer hours can get the attention of managers leading to you towards promotion and potential raises. It's all part of the "game'. However, it's a stupid game.....



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Joshua Rapoza July 14, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Good point Mike.

Once again it all comes down to culture.



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Joshua Rapoza July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

Thank you Michael, and that infographic is very interesting.

 

That sweet spot exists I agree, but I don't know if government leaders will be the ones that find it or even try. The political climate is so intense here in the US (as it maybe elsewhere) that leaders can't experiment and fail as it would be the end of their career.

We need to get past the people with the "answers" and get to the people with the questions. 



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Michael Ballé July 14, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Agreed, politicians follow social change, rarely the other way around - it's up to us to show there is a different way :). The question is: are we doing enough?



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Tim July 16, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Politicians follow money, not social change.

http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-echochambers-27074746

 

Unlimited, anonymous campaign finance donations through Super PACs due to the Citizens United decision have proven to personnally enrich politicans.  There are cases of politicians hiring their friends and relatives for huge salaries, paid for by Super PACs, to perform little to no work.  In one instance, a congresswoman loaned money to her PAC at >20% APR, and the PAC made interest-only payments back to her.  In another case, a Congressman flew himself and his entire family, first class, to Ireland (or Scotland) for a wedding all on the Super PAC's dime.  The justification?  He would be using some of the time there to interview a candidate for his campaign.

Why does America imprison more people per capita than any other country?  Because the privatized prison system lobby (includes Aramark) is incredibly rich and powerful.  They're one of the primary lobbies against the legalization of marijuana.  They want to keep it illegal, and continue to push mandatory minimum sentencing in conservative states, to keep prisons full, to keep making tons of money by locking people up.

The sad thing?  Citizens United makes ALL of this legal.

What will surprise you in Washington isn't what goes on that's illegal.  It's what's legal that's shocking.



Ken Hunt July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

What if Bush meant "work longer hours" in the context of there are a large number of jobs out there that are only part time? This is just another example of how sometimes words need to be carefully thought out.



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Tim July 17, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

He did.  As I linked in a different comment below, he clarified this after the fact.  I'm not a Jeb Bush support, but it's very clear that this quote was taken out of context.



Darlene Dumont July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this comment

Great article, Josh! On a positive note, I am very hopeful with regards to lean in government. Recently, I was at an event in Washington, DC with over 100 federal employees representing more than 30 different agencies, all doing some form of continuous improvement within their organizations. It was wonderful to meet and hear this growing team of volunteers share stories of what’s working, what’s not working and what can be done better…. together!

While we all know changing behaviors (including our own) is one of the most challenging opportunities, I am excited to learn and see some examples of continuous improvement within government. There is a strong grass-roots effort that is beginning to gain momentum and I’m very excited to travel along this path as it continues to unfold. It’s a start and sometimes, that’s the best place to be.  



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Tim July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this comment

While I do not support Jeb Bush (Bernie Sanders 2016!), I would like to point out that the quote is taken entirely out of context.  He clarified recently (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2015/07/08/jeb-bush-people-need-to-work-longer-hours-means-they-need-full-time-not-part-time-work/), saying he was specifically referring to getting people who are not working full-time up to full-time hours.  This is a direct, pointed comment at employeres like Wal-Mart and McDonald's who employ an army of part-time employees so they can avoid paying benefits, which puts additional pressure on public assistance programs, and driving the need to raise additional revenue from taxes.

Any efforts to raise tax revenue are going to be opposed by the very vocal and well-funded Tea Party (Koch Bros.), since the only support for raising tax revenue from Democrats is going to be in the form of heavier taxes on the wealthy.

Wal-Mart alone costs American taxpayers an estimated $6.2B/year (http://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2014/04/15/report-walmart-workers-cost-taxpayers-6-2-billion-in-public-assistance/) due to their wages being unlivably low in addition to limiting hours to dodge paying benefits.  Low-wage employers, as a whole, cost the taxpayers over $150B/year (http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-low-wage-employers-cost-taxpayers-153-billion-a-year/).

I appreciate the sentiment of "work smarter, not harder", or in this case, "longer", but please do not quote public figures out of context to belabor the point.



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Joshua Rapoza July 14, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

Hi Tim (if that is your real name ;) )

I think you are letting the fact the quote is from a politician blur the point I was trying to make. 

This is about choosing your words wisely. The context of the quote was actually correct. It wasn't until later that a Bush aide clarified the comment that the context was set in retrospect, which could be accurate or damage control. Either way in the context of this post, it fits fine. 

We are discussing the "I have a better way", the thinking before speaking, how every word counts.



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Mark Graban July 15, 2015

I think the lesson here is more about, as a leader, choosing one's words wisely.

Bernie Sanders also talks about how "underemployment" is a huge problem in the U.S., meaning people who would like full time work but can only get part time hours. So, there are leaders on two ends of the political spectrum bringing up that issue.

As you said in the intro to your post, Josh, there's a good reason most people don't bring up politics in the workplace (or on blogs like this).



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Mark Graban July 15, 2015

Tim, don't confuse "tax rates" with "tax revenue." You can reduce tax rates and actually bring in more revenue to the government if the economy has grown.



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Tim July 15, 2015
2 People AGREE with this reply

I'm not at all confused about the difference between tax rates and tax revenue.  I'm saying that increasing customer demand on public assistance programs necessitates additional funding, which is going to come from tax revenue.

To your second point, yes, you can reduce tax rates and still bring in more money if the economy has grown... and the economy grows through more people having more disposable income, which they will ideally spend locally.

When people are working at these low-wage employers who refuse to give them full-time work, they are not only paying for their own benefits (money which leaves their local economy), they also have very little if any disposable income.  Again, please reference my links in my above post, which indicate that low-wage employers are costing taxpayers money because they refuse to pay benefits or a living wage in order to remain (HUGELY) profitable.

Raising additional tax revenue at the federal level means raising tax rates.  The only sector of the populace that can currently afford to pay any more in taxes is the same sector who is incredibly effective at lobbying Congresspersons to not implement new taxes.  Poor people have crappy lobbyists.  That's why Warren Buffet pays less than 15% of his income in tax, while his secretery pays nearly 30% (http://money.cnn.com/2013/03/04/news/economy/buffett-secretary-taxes/).



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Ken Hunt July 15, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Can we PLEASE leave the politics out of this and stick with the subject and the questions that Josh asked for input on?



Tim July 15, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

For some reason I can't reply to Ken Hunt, so I'll reply here instead...

The short answer is "no", becuase when you make a politically charged statement based on an out-of-context quote, you open yourself up to this kind of criticism.

If you want politics to stay off of Lean.org, I'd encourage you to give that feedback to the content creators, not the people commenting on what they've put out into the public space by posting it on their site.



mike July 15, 2015
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Circling back to the original comment and not wanting to address eithere the issue of underemployment or political BS from politicians, my most least sensitive, foot in the mouth comment to a co-worker was "why do you need to know that?"

It took the wind out of their sails, they were trying to engage, and it put me in a position of being seen as someone who would limit access to information and restrict ideas from others because they did not have enough information to comment, which meant I was a real "dink" at that time, which I was.

Hopefully I've grown, and in regards to the political comments, and since I'm in Wisconsin, I sure wish we had a good baseball team! we're only 19 games behind



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