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Feature: Use These “Active Management” Steps to Remove the Barriers to Success – T.A. Cook

Mark Rigdon

T.A. Cook





Use Active Management to Remove the Barriers to Success

By MARK RIGDON, Manager with T.A. Cook Consultants in North America

Active management is vital to ensure that products and processes run smoothly and continue to improve, but how can the simplest of theories be put into practice?


Let´s imagine you estimate the time needed for a tradesman to erect a scaffold. Like many planners, you include the time taken for things to go wrong – the work area not being ready, for example. However, you have accounted for this, “padded” your time estimate, and you still manage to get the scaffolding up in the time you originally allotted, so you´re not behind and everyone´s happy. Well, you shouldn´t be. The time the scaffolder spends waiting for the work area to be ready is wasted time – which could translate into valuable cost savings.

Agree with the scaffolder on what he needs to perform his task competently in a realistic period of time and what activities you expect of him in that time. This could be as simple as a comprehensive task list or as complex as a detailed process map. A realistic expectation of performance can then be developed which is clearly understood on both sides. Then agree on how you will measure that performance, for example against best demonstrated practice or accepted industry standards. A thorough understanding between a manager and his team of what level of performance is required is essential to cultivate success.

Compare performance to expectations

Effective follow-up is a vital part of active management. But how can you conduct it efficiently?

Firstly, agree on discussing performance with your scaffolder at set intervals, daily or weekly, and make sure that you both commit to giving honest feedback. It may be an informal chat, but it must be structured: was the expectation met, and if not, why not? Perhaps the scaffolding was successfully erected in the allotted time, but then failed the first inspection. Why?

Secondly, ask the right questions. Supervisors often express their frustration at not being able to get useful responses. Listen to what your scaffolder tells you: what exactly prevented him from fulfilling expectations? Did other constraints hinder him from double-checking before the inspection? Understanding the root causes of the gap between the plan and the execution of it is paramount to securing change.

Identify root causes and quantify them

You have set reasonable expectations, performed effective follow-up and identified the barrier. Because there will be many barriers to expected performance, it is important to quantify the root causes in order to know where to focus problem solving efforts.

Set up a process to track where time has been lost and why. This will allow both manager and scaffolder to really see the distinction between one-off instances and systemic problems. For example, dismantling delays could be the result of single, unique errors – clamps being momentarily unavailable for example – or they could be the consequence of long-standing confusion over responsibility: is the scaffolding company or the supervisor accountable?

Once the effect that a specific obstacle has on performance has been identified and understood, both you and your scaffolder can utilize this information to create action plans and remove obstructions.

Sustainable Improvement

The barriers to achieving performance targets are often centered around behavior changes. Active management encourages each team member to recognize and adopt the necessary behaviors essential to achieving better performance. Additionally, a standardized formal review process is required for every level of management to drive increases in performance and identify which behaviors must be part of the culture to ensure sustainable change.

Developing reasonable expectations, effectively following up on those performing work, and removing barriers translates to increased performance. Commit to active management and you can place your company on the path of continuous improvement.

For more information, call (919) 510-8142.

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