Kleve Kee is as much a student of human behavior as he is an expert on industrial processes.
As a managing consultant at the nonprofit Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, he’s spent the past seven years working with Central Oregon companies like Kialoa Paddles, Composite Approach and Zamp Solar.
The partnership’s consultants can help make the factory floor more efficient or shore up the balance sheet, Kee said, but none of that work will have a lasting effect unless the company’s leaders rethink their own practices. “A lot of times, many of the problems within companies are coming from leadership,” Kee said.
So now the partnership takes a holistic approach, helping companies build a culture of continuous improvement. It’s the same philosophy that helped Toyota Motor Corp. become one of the world’s largest automakers.
Kee has a degree in industrial engineering and master’s in business administration. He spent the early part of his career at Freightliner Corp., which is now Daimler Trucks North America, in Portland. He was general manager of Bar Seven A Cos. in Redmond before joining the partnership. He talked with The Bulletin about business philosophy. His responses have been edited for length and content.
Q: What are some popular management styles that are actually ineffective?
A: This is one of my favorites. Their leadership style is “I hire good people to do good work, and no news is good news.” To me that’s a complete lack of leadership. What we’d much prefer is hire good people; give them clear direction; check on them; tell them when they’re doing stuff right. Because the no-news-is-good-news leader just waits until something goes wrong, and then he just gives feedback.
Q: How much positive feedback is enough?
A: Studies have shown that if you’re not doing a minimum of 4-to-1 positive reinforcement to negative reinforcement, then you’re having a negative impact on performance. The target should be 6-to-1 to 10-to-1.
Q: You mentioned that Daniel Pink’s book “Drive” is popular in management circles. What’s your take on it?
A: Behavior is about consequences. There are internal consequences: How am I self-motivating and all that stuff. In a company or organization, you also have consequences that come from leadership and also consequences that come from peers. People’s behavior is determined by the sum of the consequences.
Q: What prompts companies to seek your help?
A: People are mainly calling us because they have some type of pain. A lot of times that pain will be financial … low profitability or cash flow issues. The pain now (with a strong economy) is different. “I’ve got this growth. I can’t keep up. Unemployment is so low, wages are going up.”
Q: How much time do you spend with companies?
A: A lot of the companies I’m working with …two or three years. And I’m in the company every week. What we’re trying to do is help the companies solve the problems on their own.
Q: What results do companies get from working with the partnership?
A: The stresses of running a company become less. The financial and cash flow issues are much decreased, and the daily stress from owning and running a manufacturing business is much less. A lot of small manufacturing businesses … they started because they had a passion in some area. It’s not that they were trained to run a business.
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