When leaders in one global company used the “fly on the wall” to understand how the current performance appraisal system was working, they learned (to their shock) that only 25 per cent of the associates actually were having an annual performance appraisal, writes Dave Hanna.
I once attended a morning production meeting in a plant to which I had been recently transferred. The people in the meeting followed a set agenda, raised a few items that needed follow up, and then adjourned to begin their day.
In a meeting with my new plant manager later that day, I observed, “The discussion was friendly and informal. Production numbers from the previous day were shared, problems that had arisen were discussed, some in the room were irritated that some of the problems were being brought up for the second and third time, but no one was assigned to take care of any of the problems that were identified.”
The plant manager, who had inaugurated this meeting at start up, said, “You must have misunderstood. I’m sure people were assigned.”
The next day we both sat in the meeting as it was conducted exactly in the manner, I had described the day before. The plant manager came to me afterward and said, “I can’t believe it! Just like you said, no one was assigned to follow up. They have eliminated the most important part of the meeting.”
This experience is not uncommon for many managers; they err too often in thinking they truly know how everything is going day to day. It reminds me of the old saying, “It isn’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just isn’t so.”
Describing behaviours as the “fly on the wall” is to describe key features of the organisation’s culture. The fly cannot praise or criticise anything.
Seeing Things Like a “Fly on the Wall”
I have found a very effective way to understand what really happens in the organisation. All a person needs to do is look at the situation from the vantage point of “the Fly on the Wall.” This metaphor is most useful because the (imaginary) “Fly on the Wall” can see everything that is going on and can hear everything that is being said. But the fly cannot praise or criticise anything. It only describes what actually happens.
In effect, I was like the fly on the wall when I described to the plant manager what I saw happening (and not happening) in the production meeting.
The importance of all this is that what people actually do (or don’t do) drives our business results. In my plant’s morning meeting, problems that were identified (multiple times) but not assigned to be remedied were depressing production volumes, increasing waste, and prolonging cycle times. Describing behaviours as the “fly on the wall” is to describe key features of the organisation’s culture.
All a person needs to do is look at the situation from the vantage point of “the Fly on the Wall.” This metaphor is most useful because the (imaginary) “Fly on the Wall” can see everything that is going on and can hear everything that is being said.
Using the “Fly on the Wall” to Your Advantage
The “fly on the wall” is a metaphor; how to make use of it may take many forms:
- Getting the observations of associates closest to the issue you want to understand.
- Identifying the behaviours that cause business results to fall short of the mark despite your many attempts to improve them.
- Having business lunch discussions with mixed groups of associates when you simply want to learn what goes on every day.
- Surveying the associate population with three questions:
- What are your objectives?
- What things help you achieve your objectives?
- What things prevent you from doing better?
- Summarise the themes you find in the collective answers to these questions and you will learn some important things about your real culture.
- Make your own personal observations, like:
- Observe and describe how people actually work together when following a prescribed work process.
- Observe and describe associates’ behaviours in your meetings.
- Observe and describe your associates’ behaviours as they interact with customers or other stakeholders.
One example: when leaders in one global company used the “fly on the wall” to understand how the current performance appraisal system was working, they learned (to their shock) that only 25 per cent of the associates actually were having an annual performance appraisal.
“It isn’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just isn’t so.”
Try This “Fly on the Wall” Approach
Here is one suggestion for using the “fly on the wall” productively:
- Pick a result you want to improve.
- Ask a selected group (or groups) of associates, “What does the ‘fly on the wall’ see happening regularly that logically explains these results?”
- Ask them why these behaviours are repeated.
- Do associates have the skills to do anything different or better?
- Does the work process drive these behaviours?
- Is it our structure? Do associates work together as needed? Are the right associates making the decisions?
- What are the consequences to those who aren’t delivering? Are they rewarded? Are there negative consequences for poor performance?
- Make some corrections based on what you have learned from the “real world.”
Implement some of these suggestions and you will find the “fly on the wall” to be a very valuable contributor to your improved business results!