Monday, May 23, 2011

Listen Up

I had a conversation with a die cut operator this weekend that reminded me of an important lesson--one that I've tried to practice. He shared some incidences that showed what can happen when management doesn't listen.

He was getting ready to run a job on a weekend. He'd run similar jobs for the customer before and knew that they usually have a window cut into the packaging so that an address can be viewed. This time the specifications on the order read "no window required". He mentioned it to the lead person who suggested that he call the supervisor at home. (I still can't believe that no supervision or management was around while production was happening. I just think it's poor leadership to ask others to give up a weekend and not have someone from management sacrifice personal time.) The supervisor couldn't be reached, nor could the salesperson. However, the in-house customer service rep who is supposed to review orders before going to production was found by cell phone. She was on her way to a mall for a shopping trip. She reinforced exactly what the order specification said. He told her that usually there is a window with a particular purpose. "Just do what the order says," he was told.

The lead person suggested that my friend make a copy of the order sheet.

On Monday, everyone wanted to know why the job had to be re-run to cut the window in the packaging. The order had been "whited-out" and now read "window required". He pulled out his copy and told his story about trying to call others and talking to the CSR.

Another time, he was setting up a job and realized that the packaging design wouldn't work. He mentioned this to the supervisor. "Just run it," the supervisor said. "Okay," my friend replied, "but sign the order showing that you asked me to run it just this way." As he was finishing the last 10 pieces of the 10,000 piece order, the supervisor came running out of the office yelling, "Stop the order!" Too late. There was now a whole production run of waste.

I'm always amazed how little supervision and management listen to operators and other front-line people. They live with the issues for 8-12 hours per day. They are the experts usually on how things should work and could work. I have always tried to get the input of the people who do the work before making decisions about process or product changes. I've stopped many engineering meetings when the operators input wasn't obtained first and I've set up many meetings with departments when we were considering schedule or process changes to get their input and what works for them.

I serve on the board of a human services company (MBW Company). They have a motto: "Nothing about me without me." It means that each individual should be involved in the decision for their particular care or therapy. It's also a good motto for management to practice when dealing with the workforce. It assures that we will treat them as people, capable of thinking and feeling, with many talents and skills, and not like little play pieces we slide around on a strategic game board to win the business game.

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