Digging, Dunging, & Developing People

Digging, Dunging, & Developing People

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The article below is from a guest author and Lean colleague, Dale Savage.  Thank you Mr. Savage for contributing this interesting article. 

Digging, Dunging, & Developing People

       The other day at work I received an email from the second shift Team Leader. Receiving an email from her is nothing out of the ordinary, but the subject was. Actually, the email was to the Production Manager and I was only cc’d. There seemed to be a problem with the “back-up” trainer in the Injection Department. According to the email, the Team Leader and some others had talked to the Trainer about her responsibilities but “she just wasn’t getting it”. The question to the Manager was, “Now what do we do?” The quick response was to have a counselling session which amounts to a verbal warning in the disciplinary system. Immediately a passage from the teaching of Jesus in the Bible popped into my head, the Parable of the Fig Tree in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 13. It goes as follows:

He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none. Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground? And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it: And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.

— Luke 13:6–9, King James Version

As the Continuous Improvement & Training Administrator I knew that this particular “Back-up” Trainer had not been in her position for very long. There had also been some other issues that were taking place in her department which caused me to question if the assessment by the Team Leader was fair. I felt like the dresser of his vineyard in the parable. I had pity on the Trainer and wondered if we had given her all the tools and training she needed in order to fulfill our expectations of her.

I decided that something should be done so I clicked “Respond to All” and asked the question in my email, “Have we given her everything she needs to meet our expectations? I would like to discuss this and lay out a plan of action.” With the approval of the Manager, I scheduled a meeting with the Team Leader. I wanted to make sure I understood the situation completely. I started the meeting by asking what the current situation was. I was told that the trainer did not seem to understand how she was supposed to do her job. There is a 1-to-3 ratio for each trainer so they need to use their time wisely to be able to move among the three trainees and ensure that they were not having any problems. There is also paperwork that needs to be completed for each trainee. Apparently, the Trainer was taking time with the paperwork when she should have been doing training. Also, she stayed a long time with one trainee “just standing there talking”. So, I wrote on the board that the Trainer needed better time management skills. In addition, the “Primary” Trainer did not like the “Back-Up” Trainer and was not doing anything to help her. Those were the main problems that were brought up in the meeting, but the Team Leader added again, “But we have already talked to her about these issues and she just doesn’t seem to get it”.

There we had it. The Trainer “was told” but “just didn’t get it”. I took this as a confirmation that we had not given the Trainer everything she needed to meet our expectations so I laid out a plan of action. The Training Technician from my department would work with the Trainer on second shift. She would shadow and coach her the entire shift for one week, asking the Trainer what she thought she needed as well as observing where her strengths and weaknesses were. Then, the second week the Technician only worked the first half of second shift, allowing the Trainer to be on her own the second half in order to put her training into practice. The Technician continued to coach to answer any questions that may arise. I also checked in with the Team Leader to see how things were going. The two weeks following was the time for the Trainer to be on her own to be evaluated further. After that two week period, there was a meeting, as in the parable, to decide “if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.” At least at that point in time we knew that we had tried to help the Trainer as much as we could.

So, how many times has an associate been“cut down” when all he or she really needed was a little care to help them succeed?Management does this when there is a quality issue or excess scrap or whatever may go wrong in the manufacturing process. They look to see who is responsible so that person can be dealt with and make it all better. There are reasons this happens and all of them show a lack of respect for the people.

  1. Managers are afraid to admit that we made a mistake by hiring the person or placing them into their position. Maybe they chose a poor quality “tree” and somehow if they admit that he needs help, it will look bad for themselves. This is self-centered and an issue of pride. They are willing to sacrifice the other person in order to save their own reputation. These are managers, not leaders.


  1. They do not want to take the time to work with the person. We all know that training takes time and that extra training takes extra time. The “digging and fertilizing” all takes energy. If the individual cannot catch on quickly enough by just being told what to do then they will find “another tree” who can. This mindset thinks that the time it takes is a cost instead of an investment. They do not stop to think that they could be “cutting down” one of the best associates that they may have simply because they do not have enough vision to see what he or she could become with the right assistance and encouragement.


  1. They really do not see their people as humans. They may say, “Our people are our greatest assets” but they see them as the same kind of asset as the machines and robotics and other equipment used in the manufacturing process. If the associate fails, there are plenty of other “trees” out there to replace the one that is being “cut down”.


  1. It is easier to blame someone than to try to fix the system the person had to work with. Again, managers can just “cut down” the one who is under-performing and put another one in his place. However, if the “soil” is poor and nothing is done to improve it, the next “tree” is going to fail as surely as the one that was just “cut down” and cast aside. No, the systems that are given to the associates to use has to be examined to find out what is lacking. Often, they are doing their best with what they have been given and if no one is willing to do a little “digging and fertilizing” better results cannot be expected.


After all the appropriate work is done to help someone, there may come a time when everyone involved has to admit that an associate in a position simply is not fit for the job. After all the extra “digging and fertilizing” it should be obvious to everyone involved. In these cases, the associate is not really being “cut down” but “transplanted” into a different job for which he is better suited. The associate should feel a sense of appreciation that management was willing to try to help him or her and the member of management does not have to feel that actions were taken hastily. Instead, respect can be instilled both ways. Let’s learn from this parable so that we can see more productivity come out of the “vineyard” of our companies with as little loss as possible.

With regard to our back-up trainer, the extra effort to develop her and give her the tools necessary to meet our expectations paid off. She was eager to learn and even more eager to please. She appreciated that we were willing to invest in her instead of just cutting her down and casting her aside. Because of the confidence showed to her by management, her self-confidence also improved. Just as with any vineyard there may be need for further attention, but very few things in life are worked on and that is it. When we think the job is done is when we begin to lose momentum. It is critical that we are always looking for opportunities to “dig, dung, and develop” our people.

(Written by Dale Savage)

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  1. Harish
    March 01, 2015 20:43 Reply

    Nicely put, liked the sentence be a leader and not a manager.

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