Empathy in the workplace – Building Trust – Workplace empathy

Great leaders know that building trust and empathy are keys to creating an aligned culture built to perform in any situation. That said, reward, recognition, and respect are key building blocks in building a high performance culture.


Empathy by definition is –

“The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

As a leader it is important to recognize that every person is different. While it may be very convenient to believe everyone ‘feels’ the same, common sense tells us that is not the case. Taking to time to connect at an individual level – defines the difference between good and great leadership.


An organization pulled together to meet customer orders. The task at hand required everyone to give more than normal to accomplish the goal. In recognition, of the successful task – it was suggested that an employee breakfast was in order. McDonald’s became the restaurant of choice – especially with their low cost breakfast items. For a mere $40 the whole plant could fed breakfast burritos. It was great idea and certainly a way share appreciation for a job well done.


Proud to recognize the team, the supervisor went to the floor to take orders and found that only about half of the people on the floor had any interest in breakfast burritos. Executing this recognition strategy meant that 50% of the shop floor would receive nothing at all but likely appreciated the offer.


Empathy is not a one size fits all approach. It is about individual connection. Realizing that only half of the shop floor would participate, the supervisor changed the strategy and created an opportunity to connect to the shop floor. Sincere in objective, the supervisor took individual orders and got 99% participation. (The other 1% were on a low carb diet). The total bill was just under $90.


This example epitomizes the reality of the work environment. Everyone has individualized desires and needs. Failing to recognize that will cost critical participation in future business objectives. By simply asking and taking the time to connect, the recognition for a job well done – became far more meaningful with negligible added expense. With business strategies, take whatever time is need to connect with employees to understand individual thoughts and concerns. Learn to actively listen and create an environment for creative dialog. Work with your teams to build solutions together.



Culture – What’s the Big Deal

As a new leader taking on a new role we go through so many phases. Leaders think about a vision, often put pen to paper to define that vision, communicate that vision to the leadership team, build measurements, and expect a smooth execution. It sounds simple enough. So why doesn’t it work? In a word, culture. It is often easy to forget that the building blocks of an organization are the people doing the ‘real’ work. The employees who come to work everyday making the product or providing the service that generate the organization’s income are indeed the end users of the vision leadership provides. They look for leaders to break down barriers, provide direction, ensure accountability, and most importantly – provide the promise of workplace stability. That said, it is crucial to understand the pitfalls of the existing culture before providing a roadmap for the new vision.

Assess the root cause of the failure in the existing culture

Leaders know that assessment of past failures provide invaluable insight into developing effective plans for future states. Before launching that ‘great’ business changing plan look for signs of a past life in the organization and start asking questions. One of the organizations I visited int he past was poorly organized. It was clear that the leadership team had little interest in basic organization tools such as 5S and visual workplace. During the tour, I noticed a shadow board and 5S audit sheet tucked behind some excess inventory in the building. I caught an operator’s attention and simply asked – What is this?

The answers were shockingly revealing. The conversation covered a plethora of useful information:

  • Flavor of the month
  • Another dumb idea
  • Nobody held accountable
  • Just made things harder
  • Not focusing on numbers
  • More work
  • No time

Clearly, the opinion was formed and any entry of a ‘new’ top down vision would be doomed to follow the same path, at least from this person’s perspective.


Analyzing the details

How invaluable was a simple question? Very. In the example provided, we now knew that the culture believed that management is disingenuous, self serving, and focused on meeting short term goals.

A deeper dive suggests that this particular employee and likely others, were never INVOLVED in the execution and development phase of any strategic culture change.

In this example, the leadership wants a ‘clean and presentable environment’. Why wouldn’t anyone want that? How could the perception of the shop floor be so misaligned? I suspect you already know the answers.

Likely every program implemented, regardless of intent, was a forced implementation without taking the time to ‘teach the value’, ‘involve the people’, and ‘build accountability from the bottom up’.

Being a great leader means that you can ‘sell’ a vision. People will buy into value. As a leader, ask yourself if you are really providing value or simply trying to liquidate a flavor of the month.


Additionally, reconsider your role. The best leaders coach and break down barriers so that the best ideas come from the bottom up. I wonder what kind of response our friend on the shop floor would have share if asked – what do you think we need to do to keep the area orderly?



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Great leaders are able to adapt their style to effectively communicate with their staff. DISC assessment are a great tool to determine how best to communicate with your team, but that is not enough. A great leader must determine where the weaknesses are in the skill sets of the team to achieve objectives.

Create an assessment specific to your objectives

A great starting point for building a great team is to build an assessment specific to the metrics and guiding principles employed. There is no ‘ONE’ assessment to determine if your team has the tools necessary to succeed in the venture.

As a leader, you have a fantastic opportunity to customize the assessment. Let us say for example that your organization is interested in improving OEE, Inventory Carrying Cost, and ROCE (Return on Capital Employed). As a leader you completed the groundwork: visual metrics are in placed and discussed regularly, you’re assigning goals and objectives around those metrics, and you have been transparent about the challenges.

But does your team comprehend the message?

STart by BUILDING an assessment around the metrics

This is fairly straight forward. Create a test that asks the most basic questions: What is ROCE, OEE, and inventory carrying cost? Then move into the technical portion: How is it calculated? Then the culture piece: What has to change in your department to obtain support for these metrics?

Even a simple assessment such as this, provides a fantastic baseline to establish educational objectives with your team. Find the gaps, educate, and test again.

Taking the time to evaluate the team is a crucial step of success.



Supervisors play a key role in the organization. They are also the emerging leaders for future advancement. Leaders see developing supervisors as a key role in the success of the organization.


Leaders recognize that a line supervisor is one of the toughest jobs out there. Emerging leaders deal with everything from personnel issues to operational requirements. It is a thankless never ending battle in some organizations.


Leading supervisors requires several crucial skills


Start here. To lead a supervisor it is critical to understand the challenges a supervisor must endure. Mirror your supervisors frequently to understand the daily challenges. Document those challenges and work with your management teams to break the walls.


Supervisors should not be making minute to minute daily decisions for the workforce. This is a recipe for disaster. Build systems that allow the workforce to think on it’s own.


Supervisors should be developed into the next level of leadership. The best way to accelerate that development is to incorporate them into all levels of the business. Work to shift supervisor responsibilities into ‘an auditing role’. Help to build a standard work model for the supervisor to create a daily pace. Allow your staff to assign non-traditional roles to the supervisors; not only help with development for future leadership but create outside the box thinking. Frequently remind supervisors that their most important role is to SERVE the workforce not command it.

Offer Resources


We will be doing a blog on DISC soon. The assessment offers valuable insight into workforce relationships and interaction. This is a great tool for supervisors to use to get the most out of direct reports.


Create an environment where frequent evaluations are the norm. Not only should supervisors get allotted time to evaluate their staff, but open communication should be the norm between the supervisor and the leader.


Each organization has cultural goals and production expectations. It is critical to ensure that the organization builds effective supervisor training that illustrates expectations and the ‘how to accomplish’ those goals. Create interactive workshops as part of your training and have them frequently.


Leaders should spend time on the floor and act quickly to determine if supervisors are adding value to the shop floor. If not, do not wait to consult developing leaders.


In order to grow, supervisors will make bad decisions. Coach through those decisions and let the supervisor CORRECT the mistakes. Undermining the inherent authority of the position will weaken the role and create opportunities for disrespect to the supervisor role. Encourage humility from the supervisory staff.




Line Balance

Leaders know that looking for hidden waste is a daily and never ending objective. See the Time Chart and review the content. Assume that this operation is staffed with 4 people. (Molding and Cooling Times are automated). What are the opportunities for cost reduction here?

The Time Chart


The pacemaker process (longest cycle time) is the molding operation. This means that any subsequent operation could theoretically take as long as the pacemaker and still be complete before the next part comes out. The problem with this mindset is that we accept that each subsequent process is 100% labor absorbed. In the charted example, it should be fairly obvious that if label and pack could be combined that 1 unit of labor could be saved. (Thus reducing the need to hire additional labor for other processes in the organization).

By getting in the mindset that the process was quoted for 4 (and it is making money) these opportunities are frequently missed.


Leaders know that line balancing should be part of an organizations regular review. One great way to ensure that labor stays in check is to FORCE a line balance exercise each time additional labor is requested. If the data does not support additional labor, then it should not be provided.


Leaders know that excess labor is a recipe for future layoffs. Keeping labor tight keeps the workforce challenged to find improvements, ensures layoffs are minimized, and reduces communication chain loss. It is almost always better to invest in the process and cross train the workforce as opposed to specializing the labor base.


Leaders care about the future of the organization. Layoffs and frequent onboarding can destroy organizational culture. Line balancing is a stabilizing process that can secure culture.



Demoralized Workforce Blues

It is truly amazing how fast a crisis can snowball. I feel a great deal of empathy for our friends in Automotive. Poor forecast accuracy and externally impacted political demand schedules; require this industry to employ only the very best in their field. Trouble is, nobody “wants” to lead an automotive production organization. You’ll work harder than you every have in a thankless environment where the light at the end of the seems more like a black hole. This is the industry that really separates good leaders from great leaders. On the positive side, if you are learning to lead – there is no better environment. If you are a leader in the Automotive industry, dealing with a demoralized workforce keep these four key points in mind.



DO NOT SET YOUR TEAM UP TO FAIL.  Aggressively quoting business without thinking about the future could not only destroy your organization but will certainly obliterate workforce moral. Imagine coming in too tight on a quote, suppliers raise prices and the customer refuses to offset. What now? Run the product at a loss? Think about how demoralized the workforce becomes when they KNOW they are working overtime on a MONEY LOSER. Lastly, NEVER assume you will somehow “make it up” in future productivity gains. With technology, costs are going down and the low hanging fruit is not nearly as obvious as it used to be. Can’t compete otherwise? Try selling VALUE. Selling on price alone is a long slow bleed out and your teams will see it too.



MAKE A DECISION AND STICK TO IT. Leaders who lag on key decisions CAUSE a demoralized workforce. Sorry, you are expected to LEAD. That means making decisions to cut or move product lines that cost more to operate than they generate. That also means balancing work across the team at ALL levels and cutting excess overhead. Unions included. I have yet to meet a Union official who would prefer a plant closure over absorbing additional responsibilities in the contract. Your team sees waste every day. Objective #1 is Safety. Objective #2 is Machine efficiency. Immediately move all NON VALUE ADDED processes away from the shop floor. In a crisis, every second that machine is not running is another inch dug in the grave. To stay engaged, employees MUST see action everyday and the RESULTS from their leadership team – and Leaders MUST COMMUNICATE IT – especially in a distressed environment.



CUTTING LEAN MANUFACTURING RESOURCES IS NOT A COST SAVINGS What is does do is illustrate that organizational leadership is focused on short term gains, thus further demoralizing the workforce. Furthermore, handing over your business over to consultants is not a solution either. Your workforce must stay engaged in the solutions working with (not for) consultants as needed.  Several years ago an executive asked me why an organization I was running was 45% more efficient than the next comparable plant. I answered very frankly with – I look for stupid EVERY SINGLE DAY. Great leaders know exactly what process waste looks like and frequently asks the team what it looks from their vantage point. Put a GO-PRO type of camera on one of your team members. Review the day. Then really think about whether your really need to hire more people.



Leaders know that every level of the organization has a different perception of what is important which is precisely why transparency and communication are CRUCIAL to success. Your teams need to SEE you fight for them and you should! A leader is NOT a “YES” person. If you cannot keep a job in your role without being a “YES” person – I would suggest another career. Leaders must question Sr. Management regarding waste with plenty of well presented data to back it up.


Employee Engagement

As a leader, it is crucial to keep employees engaged. Let’s face it, sometimes work can get a bit boring. Coming up with solutions to really spur creativity is a never ending challenge. We were very impressed with the solution below to help keep employees engaged.


This particular example is from Trainer’s Warehouse. They can customize soccer type balls for any number of custom categories. The example shown was purchase to engage employees regarding safety discussions.

Trainers Warehouse


In most cases about 29% of your workforce is actually engaged on a good day. Consider using this soccer ball example to engage employees in:

  • Culture Objectives
  • Strategic Goals
  • Safety
  • Product or Quality Questions
  • DISC Interaction
  • Situational Leadership questions

We have seen this tool utilized in a couple of facilities with great results.





Not to intended to offend our vegetarian friends, do you recall how meat is graded?

  • Prime
  • Choice
  • Select
  • Standard
  • Commercial
  • Cutter
  • Canner

Expect plenty of gristle from select down! Like meat grading, we can rate our own leadership effectiveness with “Servant” as the prime cut. 


In a word, EMPATHY. A great read is The Empathy Factor by Marie Miyashiro. The book is over the top in a lot of ways but it really drives home how to start on a path to MASTER reading people. Prime cut leadership will be able to look a subject and know ‘something is off’;  then subsequently adjust leadership styles accordingly. (More on that later.)

Servant leadership actively seeks to LITERALLY serve the workforce. Not quite the cigars, brandy, and posh office you were promised? Evolving to this level of leader takes work and constant dedication. When the leader understands the effectiveness of the the cohesive team transcends individual objectives – an AMAZING culture shift will take hold.


When you ask for a cheese burger “plain” and you get the opposite, how do YOU feel about the service? Do you go back? Neither do your employees when you fail to SERVE them!


Great leaders develop listening skills, learn how to read body language, and break down barriers for solutions to thrive. Learn to re-frame yourself as an approachable opportunist. Actively seek to engage employees when you see the signs of fatigue and frustration and ask “HOW CAN I HELP!” Then sit back and enjoy watching the CULTURE THRIVE.


There is NOTHING wrong with having personal goals of advancement and achievement but the the approach and genuineness define true leadership. Be very aware that staff MUST be coached to change their traditional mindset because organizations continue to reward on mere results – NOT THE METHODS of HOW THOSE RESULTS WERE ACHIEVED. This counters servant leadership and creates a culture of self serving short term goals. Build an organizational structure that rewards leaders who engage in focusing on serving the workforce rather than simply solving problems quickly.


Start your transition by following these simple methods:

  • Put yourself in place of the employee (see it from their perspective)
  • Read everything you can find on body language
  • Engage quickly – Actively seek frustrated workers
  • When you can’t provide an immediate solution, propose a timeline and act
  • Immediately coach staff managers with inappropriate engagement
  • Train the workforce to serve each other

We will be publishing training soon on servant leadership and employee engagement.



Implementing Effective WorkplaCE Accountability

OVERVIEW – Workplace Accountability

How many times as leaders have we been here? In a crisis, yelling and dictatorship is the easy route. All of the culture, interoperability, continuous improvement, and strategic improvement gone because we failed to lead and instead turned to our basic instinct to yell and criticize in a crisis situation.

By the time the leader has reached this point, we can easily say that leadership has failed. (Of course, there is a place for this type of leadership in ‘dangerous’ or ‘potentially hazardous’ situations. ) How did we get here? Through poor accountability.

So what does an effective accountability program look like?

Starting with the basics, an accountability program should:

  • Maintain organizational culture
  • Reinforce trust and transparency in management
  • Create “measurable” goals and targets for behavioral improvement

In a typical accountability program employees are engaged in a 3 strikes and you’re out program. These programs are commonly referred to as a verbal, written, and termination review programs or point systems. In these types of accountability programs, the employee is typically told “what to change” and there are review dates with specific objective targets.

The Pitfalls of Common Accountability Programs

In the aforementioned methodology, the conversation is centered on employee performance with regard to established company objectives. In this type of environment, the employee is exposed to a manager outlining company expectations and subsequently expected to change.

The issue at hand with this type of disciplinary action or coaching is that leaders to fail to understand the root cause of the undesired behavior. Therefore, the probability of repeat behavior is high.

Modify the Script for Improved Workplace Accountability

To improve the coaching experience we recommend the following:

  • Begin the session by defining the undesirable behavior.
  • State the expected behavior and/or what needs to change with regard to the undesirable behavior.
  • Ask the employee what may have caused the undesirable behavior.
  • Ask the employee what he/or she is going to do to align with the expected behavior.
  • Document with expected milestones.
  • Followup with regular meetings on those milestones.

Why this method is better:

  • It virtually eliminates a confrontational meeting.
  • The change management piece is now owned by the employee.
  • It may well uncover opportunities for improvement in the organization.
  • Two way dialog is established.
  • Assuming the leader delivers expected objectives, a trust is formed with management.

Remember, always treat your employees as critically important assets to your business. It is far less expensive to develop than dismiss. A great leader understands that all employees are positive assets to the organization and has a bias toward resolving systemic issues before ‘simply blaming the employee’.


As a final word of warning for staff development, be aware a managers who frequently blame team members. When managers sign up for the job, it is a given that “buck stops here”. Leaders who fail to own opportunities in their charge need significant development. Left unattended, your staff could be creating cultural cancer!

Key: Workplace Accountability