The Vice President of Operations for a large, Dallas-based manufacturing company convinced the President and CFO to abandon Activity Based Costing (ABC) one month after implementation. Even though a consensus of headquarters and factory staff had deemed ABC to be a significant improvement from their legacy cost system, the new ABC system was set aside.
“Why was ABC canceled?” I asked.
The controller took me aside and explained, “A factor in the calculation of executive bonuses is variance to standard cost. The VP of Operations doesn’t know how to create favorable variances in the new ABC standard cost system, so he successfully worked behind the scenes to bring back the inaccurate, irrelevant but highly influenceable legacy cost system.”
In his new book titled “It Takes More Than a Carrot and a Stick” (1), author Wess Roberts has a name for that VP of Operations… Productivity Rebel. According to Roberts, “The problem in getting along with Productivity Rebels is that they can perform and cooperate; they just don’t want to. Productivity Rebels passively express their combative nature by covert obstructionism, pigheadedness, and purposefully wasting time.”
At the onset of ABC implementation, the vice president would confirm his attendance for project planning meetings, yet repeatedly canceled at the last minute. According to Roberts, this is a typical ploy of Productivity Rebels. “In a world where a work ethic and cooperation are seen as desirable qualities, productivity Rebels protest even trivial matters ad nauseam and procrastinate until it is too late for their efforts to matter.”
When absence at meetings did not thwart the progress of ABC, the VP of Operations let the 90-day pilot project conclude before skillfully convincing other senior staff that ABC findings were interesting but not important. “Productivity Rebels survive because they are so skillful in gaining others’ sympathy, and they escape accountability by masking their intentional impediments to progress in a cloak of contrition.”
Do you have an ABC/ABM Productivity Rebel as a boss, peer or employee? If yes, here are some recommendations how to handle the situation:
If you work for an ABC/ABM Productivity Rebel…
- Be proactive…Productivity Rebels do not communicate clear goals, directions or expectations. You’ll waste valuable time waiting for them to approve ABM/ABC. Instead, create an activity accounting report for your own department and share it with your boss and your boss’s boss. Briefly explain how activity cost can be used to improve, allocate and budget more effectively.
- Be independent…You’ll never go anywhere by becoming a Productivity Rebel manager’s flunky or enabler. Don’t hang out with your rebel manager. His/her pessimism could become infectious. Instead, search out and find an ABM/ABC mentor for advice, counsel and encouragement. For more information on mentors, read my web site article titled “Accountability – Part 2” .
- Be optimistic…Optimism will prevent you from adopting negative Productivity Rebel attitudes. Your positive attitude will make it difficult for your manager to remain negative towards continuous improvement. When asked about ABM, be prepared to share examples of internal or external success stories. Magazines, newspapers and web sites are loaded with great ABM/ABC success stories. For example, the February 7, 2002, issue of Industrial Distribution tells how Deere & Co. uses a web-based tool to pull data from purchasing and their Activity Based Cost system to know exactly where they stand and will stand on costs and cost reduction goals. The Deere system provides cost information by product, buyer, location, supplier, raw materials and machines. Feed yourself with ABC success stories. As author Wess Roberts says, “It’s difficult for anyone to be purposefully negative in the company of people who have a positive spirit about them.”
If you have a peer who is a ABC/ABM Productivity Rebel…
- Practice proactive damage control…Productivity Rebels that you work with will be quick to make commitments on which they plan to default. Don’t let them take an important task in an ABC implementation. If a “rebel” member of your ABM/ABC team commits to a task, hold them accountable with regular follow-ups, status reports that are reviewed by senior management and visible performance measures linked to consequences. In other words, use both “carrots and sticks”.
- Practice humility…Productivity Rebels resent others who receive recognition and rewards. Don’t antagonize them by flaunting your ABM/ABC successes. Even “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (2) Learn to be humble with success. According to the recently published research of Jim Collins (3), great companies have leaders that “embody a paradoxical mix of personal humility and professional will.”
- Practice generosity…All people, even Productivity Rebels, have a fundamental need to be appreciated. When people feel unappreciated, they sulk, spending their time thinking up ways to obstruct your ABM/ABC system. Go out of your way to recognize even their most routine efforts. For example, Susi Fryer and Patty Bender of R Plus More, Inc. have created software called TraKit that will reward your employees for simply submitting an improvement idea.
If you manage a ABC/ABM Productivity Rebel…
- Give them ABM…“Productivity Rebels consistently perform below their talent level because they suffer from a lack of self-confidence,” says author Wess Roberts. Providing employees who report to you with ABM books and training will boost their self-confidence. And, with self-confidence comes confident, continuous improvement.
- Give them consequences…As a manager, you may be enabling Productivity Rebel negative behavior if improvement consequences are well defined and enforced. Define the positive things that will happen if ABM/ABC is implemented and improvement is achieved. Likewise, list the negative consequences if no progress is achieved. For some consequence ideas, read “1001 Ways to Reward Employees” by Bob Nelson.
- Give them encouragement… Productivity Rebels like to sulk. Sulking blocks success. According to a Gallup Poll (4) of 100,000 employees in 2,500 businesses, companies with managers who regularly encourage employees, have greater levels of customer loyalty and profitability. Even Productivity Rebels do positive activities. Make encouragement one of you priority activities.
The 1955 James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause” portrayed American youth as troubled, frustrated, anguished, and rebellious. Hollywood could remake the movie in 2002 to portray Productivity Rebels in our economy and organizations. Without stated cause, these adults rebel against Activity Based Management, Six Sigma, Balanced Scorecard, Cycle Time Reduction, Pay-for-Performance, Lean Manufacturing or any proposed change. Much like James Dean’s character, 21st century rebels are troubled, frustrated and anguished. We should strive to understand them, but we shouldn’t condone them.
Rebels cannot avoid change. “You can avoid the flu, you can outrun your past, you can ignore your in-laws,
you can outsmart your adversaries, and you can deny your imperfections. One thing you cannot get around,
however, is change.” (5) Just as rebels cannot avoid change, you can’t avoid rebels. They’re found in factories, distribution centers, offices, retail shops, hospitals, places of higher learning, churches and government institutions. When confronted by a Productivity Rebel, don’t become their mirror. Instead, use methods listed in this article to become their mentor.
- It Takes More Than a Carrot and a Stick, by Wess Roberts, Andrews, McMeel Publishing, 2001
- New International Version Bible, James 4:6
- Good to Great, by Jim Collins, Harper Collins, 2001
- First Break all the Rules, by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman, Simon &Schuster, 1999
- Boiling Point, by George Barna & Mark Hatch, Regal Books, 2001