Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Well, If That's True..."

Early in my career as the quality department manager, our factory was visited by the company's president. At a dinner for the staff, he talked about how important quality was to the company's growth and success. Afterwards he asked if there were any questions. Of course, I had one. "If it's true that quality is important, can we look at the wages for the quality department? We have a hard time keeping people in the department because wages are so low." The plant manager was not pleased, and gave me the proverbial "if looks could kill" glare.

Later on in my career, this same premise was helpful when we were talking about whether to accrue vacation hours on a biweekly basis and let the employees use the vacation time they had earned. The president thought we shouldn't; people should wait a full year before taking vacation, and not take any until they've proven themselves. I asked which was more costly to the company: vacation benefits or health insurance benefits, into which we enroll new employees after only 90 days. He answered that health insurance was more costly to the company. "Well, if that's true, shouldn't we wait longer to enroll employees on health insurance?" "We wouldn't be as competitive in attracting new employees," he responded. "True," I replied, "and without allowing employees to take vacation they've earned as they go, we may not be as competitive in relation to other employers also. More and more are doing what we're considering."

One of the hardest things in management is having integrity to the principles we espouse. It's easy to get trapped in traditional policies that, if we thought about it, could be counter to the values we hold. It's good to look at our policies once in awhile and make sure they're still the policies we want. Business conditions change, which might also require some changes. Values shouldn't change very often and we may have let some policies drift away from the values too as we adapt policies to new conditions, new generations of employees. Be careful and be aware. Remember the ancient Greek adage: the unexamined life is not worth living. Check on these things; if it's true that certain things are important, even paramount, you might want to make sure related issues are hitching a ride.

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