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Vacation Reverses Progress: Reinforce Routines on Return

September 3, 2013

After a few days of rest, the human mind plays an ornery trick on managers. Staff members have a frustratingly human characteristic of change reversal. Ignore it and you will continually lose ground. Leadership management considers this rule and makes adjustments to reduce impact.

Here is the rule: Humans tend to revert to the deeply ingrained pattern of behavior that existed prior to the last major change under stress, duress, or rest.

Here is an example: Manager X implemented a new routine for checking work quality in line with the process in March. The results have been good. All staff have adapted and are working under the new approach. Prior to this, many production orders had to be returned to the beginning and rebuilt. The shop standard had been to only check product at time of packing and shipping. Problems at this point required many hours to fix and a great waste in complete orders produced multiple times. The changes implemented to utilize steering controls along the production path had resulted in an 80% reduction in waste as problems were caught in time to correct and make adjustments along the path.

Over the July 4th holiday, many staff members took extra days of vacation and enjoyed themselves immensely. Manager X was surprised and happy to see the team enjoy time with family and friends and morale looked better than in years. But, waste was creeping back up to last year levels and customers were complaining of late orders. On a walk-through, it was obvious that a few of the colleagues were not performing the steering controls that had been implemented and stabilized into the production process. In fact, it seemed that every staff member was skipping some control point at random. The team had reverted to depending on the last check point to catch errors before they impacted the customer.

This was not a purposeful sabotage. This was human nature. Upon return from vacations, orders had picked up. Customers came back from vacation with a backlog of rush orders. Suppliers were slow with needed inventory. The new production checkpoint pattern had not had time to fully integrate into a subconscious activity. The team had been good at performing, but had not subconsciously integrated the process. That takes many months. Each person had reverted to a different pattern of work that was a mishmash of prior procedure and present process.

What To Do? An astute manager is aware of this phenomenon. School systems are working to address this across the United States. They notice students returning from Summer vacations seem to have lost major portions of knowledge they had been taught in the last semester. Some schools have shortened Summer to attempt to address. They may find that the amount of time off consolidated may have little effect on the phenomena. The biggest effect is brain rest and disconnect. That can happen in a few days. The difference between one month and three months is probably negligible. But, what does a manager do? How can he or she keep production running smooth?

1. Get ahead of the vacation curve. Right before a major holiday make a concerted effort to reinforce training on any critical changes made within fours months of the holiday. Bring it fresh to mind and communicate priority immediately before vacation.

2. Notice those on your team that do this most frequently. Spend some time with them on return from vacation or other time off to reinforce changes. Give them time to ask questions and rethink through routines before they run back to the production floor. If you can’t pull them away, at least show up at their workstation and ask how the modified routines are working. Put priority on the changes by asking questions about them.

3. Don’t use banners or wall posters or email to get this job done. Get personal. Presence communicates priority. Your face and voice in the mix will mean a lot and can do a lot to stir good adherence to right routine. Those other methods are okay to reinforce personal involvement, but will never get the job done by themselves.

4. Consider holidays into project plans when implementing major changes. Don’t put a change into place too close to a holiday. Make sure major changes are implemented at least two to three months prior to big holidays, when you know you will have many staff members taking time away from the job. Give people time to integrate change before the rest periods.

Summary: Managers manage change. There are rules of change that are attached to human nature. Ignore them at great pain. Acknowledge them and see better results in your teams.

Build Better Business… Manage Well… Best Wishes, Phil

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