Leading Edge: Horse sense for the 21st century

by Ross Reimer
Ross Reimer, Leading Edge
Ross Reimer has
over 30 years of experience in transportation/supply chain. For the last 15 years he has been President of Reimer Associates, a recruitment firm within supply chain.

A typical draft horse can pull about 8,000 pounds on its own. So how much can two similar horses pull? If you said 16,000 pounds, that’s a logical answer, but it’s wrong. The answer is 24,000.

Now here is the really interesting part: If they are a well-trained pair accustomed to working together, they can pull 32,000 pounds. Astounding teamwork! Can we learn something from this that we can apply to managing our teams? You bet.

If you ever feel your team’s productivity is less than it could be, look to the humble workhorse. There is a good chance you have been pulling only your own weight and setting this example for your team. So, what are some of the ways to unleash potential productivity?

One sure drain on efficiency is requiring all of your direct reports to funnel all decisions—even the small ones—through you, instead of encouraging decision-making. It’s called micro-managing and it prevents teams from flourishing.

Of course, parameters need to be set and training needs to be in place but think of what your week can look like with dozens of decisions made in a timely fashion as opposed to bottlenecked on your desk. Not only does empowering your team with authority speed up decision-making, which directly affects the ultimate customer experience, it absolutely enhances job satisfaction, leading to long-term retention.

A second area to consider is training. Much like the horses requiring specific and extensive training to quadruple the productivity of their individual efforts, your team needs the same.

Has your work process been fully mapped out? Has it been benchmarked against best practices? Most importantly, has your team been given clear and sufficient training?

The horse can teach us even more about workplace productivity. If it is mistreated you can count on lower “horsepower.” The animal learns to depend on the owner for consistent and reasonable instruction. Anything less, and confusion or even sheer insolence can result. Sadly, we still see workplaces where “the boss” figures yelling or threatening will boost effort. Even horses know better.

A mistreated horse will withhold from giving its maximum effort. While the animal’s strength can seem unlimited, a careful owner understands that even the strongest steed has a limit. It needs to have a sense of trust in its owner in order to give the most it can.

How many bosses think there’s always something more to get, only to discover that his or her team seems to underperform consistently? There is simply no replacement for fair and decent treatment coupled with reasonable expectations and appropriate rewards.

Of course, even the most powerful workhorses deserve rest. The harnesses need to be removed and the horse needs to replenish its energy. It’s no different for your team. Unfortunately we live in an age where we continue to be shackled to our business duties 24/7. Without question it’s draining our overall productivity.

Try unchaining your employees both physically and mentally from 24/7 responsibility. Of course there are emergencies, we all understand that, but in the normal course of life, try to release them from the constant expectation of responding to every phone call or email during their down time. They need that time to put energy back in, enjoy their lives and return refreshed and ready to pull far more than their own weight as part of a well-functioning team.

When a team of draft horses is well trained and well treated, not only will they produce maximum effort for their owner, but over time they will develop an abiding sense of trust. Trust isn’t formed in a few days or weeks. It takes a long consistent approach. But when it’s there, it fosters outstanding and highly productive working environments. Job satisfaction can then reach new heights, careers are built, and the overall strength of the team is multiplied by several factors.

So don’t settle for pulling your own weight or asking your team members to pull theirs. Consider the ways of the draft horse, and you can accomplish more than you thought possible and enjoy all the benefits.