No Guts, No Glory? Fear of Outside Help Assessments

by Mike Starling

Having worked on the shipper’s side of the desk for some 30+ years, I have experienced both the good and bad aspects of continuous improvement and operating expense containment directed by upper management. One thing is certain:  no matter how good you think you are, there is always someone who has that niche expertise and experience that, if tapped, could be a force multiplier. The assistance of such a person can help the line manager achieve his productivity improvement and cost containment goals, and also provide training and mentoring, helping the incumbent grow professionally as a functional resource within the organization.

The fear of an assessment that clearly identifies areas of weakness or process improvement opportunities, manifests itself both at the line level and in upper management.

At the front-line management level, I believe it is safe to state that the fear of assessment is rooted in the incumbent’s ego. Hired with the expectation that the experience and expertise they bring to the job is sufficient to accomplish any assigned task, managers shy away from seeking outside help via an assessment, which would be tantamount to admitting to their boss and to the world that they have weak spots in their ability to identify, analyze, and rectify operational challenges. If this is your problem, I have a four-word solution that works every time:  “JUST GET OVER IT!”

At the upper management level (directors and above), there can be a similar fear based on ego, but all too often it is more of a lack of understanding of the resource (i.e., the front line manager’s expertise, experience, and capability) that leads to the false expectation that “we can handle this using our in-house resources.” Clearly there is a failure to understand who is capable of doing what, and this failure is often not discovered until after the failure of the line manager to achieve or produce the desired results. 

A truly savvy Director, GM, or VP can see the value in utilizing the services of an outside functional area expert to not only ensure the correct focus of the process improvement and/or cost containment efforts, but also to a) reduce the time required to achieve desired goals; b) help prevent project scope creep and diffusion of the line manager’s efforts; c) provide education and mentoring for internal personnel involved in the project, and d) achieve a timely payback on investment in the assessment process. If you are upper management and you’re hesitating to seek outside help with an assessment, I have a three-word solution for you: “JUST DO IT!”

So, if you are a line manager, don’t be afraid to have a conversation with an outside functional area expert about how they might become a force multiplier, helping you and your company achieve a desired process improvement and/or operating cost reduction/containment objective in a timely manner.

On the other hand, if you are upper management, use that gift of wisdom that comes from experience, and recognize the multiple benefits that can accrue to your organization and staff if you are wise enough to have an outside functional expert conduct an assessment in your area of responsibility, with the goal of having them help not only to improve your staff’s capability, but to improve both process and operating cash flow as a result.

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