Samuel Johnson once said, fraud dreads examination but truth invites it. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority is dreading the next steps in the investigation on safety inspections. In a recent Wall Street Journal report the MTA admitted that their workers failed to do the required tests and maintenance on its subway signals. Furthermore, managers failed to properly manage the workers and failed to put processes in place to prevent them from filing the false reports.
This is serious. Proper functioning signals will prevent delays and PREVENT ACCIDENTS. Proper functioning signals will stop a train if an operator misses a red light. What would cause a worker to commit fraud on something so important? Workers submitting false reports put passengers, the MTA, and themselves in danger. What would cause workers to be so dysfunctional? Three simple steps can easily do it:
1. Set stretch numerical goals beyond capabilities
2. Hold people accountable to those goals
3. Rely on inspection to catch errors
Many organization set stretch numerical goals that are often beyond some capabilities. This causes employees to take short-cuts. This is exactly what the MTA workers did. Most of the problems occurred on the highest traffic areas because high traffic makes it much more difficult to do maintenance. Workers need to dodge trains more frequently to ensure their own safety during the tasks. Furthermore, the tasks of inspection and maintenance are arduous and complex.
Many organizations attempt to hold people accountable to overly challenging tasks or goals without knowing what the outcome will be. This is exactly what the MTA did. This creates dysfunction because it forces workers to either make short-cuts. They must achieve what management expects or risk being criticized for not doing their job and therefore receive a lower performance evaluation rating. This is not the only place where this dysfunction plays out. Our high school (and college) students admit succumbing pressure to perform by cheating. Depending upon the study, 80-95% of students admit to surrendering to the cheating option.
Inspection is important but not as a way to ensure compliance. Inspection should be used to uncover important knowledge about how to improve the processes. It should not be used as a club to threaten employees with punishment. According to the article, the MTA’s inspector general will now look for those individuals responsible for falsifying the reports. I wonder how much truth he/she will get with that approach.
Why not develop engagement instead? What should the MTA management do to improve safety, reduce costs and improve maintenance quality? The short answer is to engage the workers in creating the solutions and stop trying to catch them doing things wrong. Here are a few basic steps:
• Use the current inspection data to identify where and how the improvements to the maintenance process can be improved.
• Engage the workers to help improve the process while helping them to feel safe and helping improve their productivity. Make it safe for them to tell the truth without fear of reprisal.
• Take their recommendations and fix their processes.
• Stop using inspection as a club and start using it to increase the knowledge of the MTA to improve the processes again.
Are you creating dysfunction and then looking for the offenders so you can hit them with the inspection club? Stop. It is only hurting everyone. It is not leadership. It is dysfunction in three easy steps.
Wally Hauck is an EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT GEEK and a PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCE PUNDIT. Wally is passionately obsessed with eliminating the current performance appraisal process because it creates long lasting dysfunctions and damage to trust, performance, motivation, engagement, and relationships.In 1983, while reading the book the Turning Point by Frijof Capra, Wally realized he had been taught flawed thinking his entire life. The world of systems thinking and chaos theory resonated and he made a decision to never go back. From that day forward he vowed to share the insights with anyone and everyone.Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, established in 1980, is the speaking industry’s international measure of professional platform skill. CSP is conferred throughout the International Federation for Professional Speakers only on those who have earned it by meeting strict criteria. Wally has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania; an MBA in Finance from Iona College; and earned his PhD in Organizational Leadership from Warren National University in 2008. Wally’s new book, The Art of Leading: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement, provides three basic principles of leadership that form the foundation of success for predictable performance improvement and employee engagement. Optimum Leadership167 Cherry Street #404Milford, CT 06460203-874-8484www.wallyhauck.com