Picture this: A group of executives are huddled together outside the main entrance to a steel manufacturing plant. Among them is Andrew Carnegie perhaps one of the greatest leaders in the industrial revolution. The rest are the plant managers and executives of the facility. This particular plant is the worst performing plant in the whole company. The team is conferring with Carnegie on the strategy for improvement.
Plant Manager: “We have tried everything to improve performance here; offered incentives, fired troublemakers, invoked change management and everything else we could think of. Nothing works we are at a bit of a loss as to what to do next.”
Andrew Carnegie reaches over and grabs a large piece of chalk from the blackboard at the entrance to the facility. As the executives are talking the plant is starting to change shifts. Workers are exiting the building and walking past them. Carnegie politely asks one of the workers “How many heats did you do today?” (A heat is a measure of the plants productivity).
Plant Worker: “We built 5 heats today” . “Thank you” replies Andrew Carnegie and he takes the piece of chalk and writes a HUGE 5 on the entrance to the building that all of the workers will walk over as they enter and leave the facility.
A little later on one of the workers starting their shift notices the BIG 5 in the entrance and asks the departing shift worker: “What’s with the big 5 on the entrance?”
Plant worker: “Oh ... the big boss was here today and he asked us how many heats we built. I said 5 and he took that piece of chalk and wrote a large 5 in the entrance.”
Second Plant Worker: As they are leaving the facility from their shift, erases the 5 on the ground and writes in a big 6. This continues for several weeks until the number at the front of the entrance is 12 and the plant is the most productive in the country.
The same principle applies to innovation. Small is big and it is really the little things you and your team do that make all the difference. That spirit of friendly competition is one of the most powerful motivators I am aware of. Great leaders inspire greatness in others.
- Ian Graham