Dear Coach Alan,
I have an employee who is brilliant at calibrating machines and creating new techniques to improve machine productivity. He has come up with a way of reducing the cost of wear parts while decreasing the cycle time for finished products. This is a precision grinding operation. He believes his technology has the opportunity to greatly reduce costs of production. His supervisor is skeptical because this employee has not collected enough reliable data to justify the significant investment needed for his innovative technology. The employee is frustrated and is complaining that the company is too slow in implementing his innovations. I believe this employee is on to something, but I am not sure how to intervene. Is this a problem that coaching can help solve?
–Randy K, CEO
Randy, you are indeed fortunate to have such a talented innovator in your company. In my experience, technical innovators are much like artisans: they create new technologies and expect others to appreciate their work. They are often frustrated when implementation goes too slowly. In your case, there is skepticism and a reluctance to make the capital investment until the technology has more data to support its adoption. It is my understanding that your employee is not familiar with experimental methodologies or data collection.
From a coaching perspective, I see a talented employee whose assets include innovation and whose liabilities include a lack of sophistication with data collection. In order to realize the value of his innovation, change is needed. The question is, what kind of change is needed? If I were working with this employee, here is how I would approach change.
After completing an assessment profile of your innovator, I would work with him to develop a balance sheet of assets and liabilities. It is important that this employee become aware of his liabilities and what he needs to do to manage them. In this case, we know he lacks data-collection skills to assure management that his new technology will realize the gains he suspects it will. A reasonable approach may be to find a partner for him who is familiar with data collection. By partnering with a credible data-collection expert, the skeptics will have the data they need to decide how effective the new technology will be in reducing costs. If successful, this will validate your innovator. If not, he will need to continue to perfect his technology until the data support his claims.
One other suggestion is to have a joint coaching session with your innovator and his designated data-collection partner. Getting these two employees to work together will greatly enhance the success of the initiative. Group coaching should reinforce the importance of collaboration and of each partner appreciating the contributions of the other. This can be a win/win initiative rather than one fraught with conflict.