When I finished my convention program last week, two of the attendees came up to the table where I was gathering my exhibits. I recognized the older gentleman, but could not recall where we had met before. He introduced his business partner, Charlie, and reminded me that he had been to one of my seminars six years ago at their local chapter in Indiana.
I quickly remembered him coming to me after that seminar to show me how many notes he had taken so that he could apply some of my “common sense” wisdom in his own company. I asked him how he made out incorporating all of those ideas. He laughed.
“Here they are on the same pad that you handed out in Indianapolis. I took them back to my office and filed them under “P” for Paul’s notes and never even looked at them until we decided to come to this program,” he said. “I gave them to Charlie just before today’s program started and asked him to follow along with your recommendations and add any of his comments for what we should be doing. Charlie did all of that and asked me why we hadn’t initiated any of your recommendations in our company if I knew about them six years ago!”
I interrupted to save him from dreaming up any embarrassing excuses. “It is definitely not easy to put all of that into practice while you are running a big company and fighting all those everyday battles,” I said.
“That was not the problem,” he said, as quickly as I interrupted him. “I went back home from your seminar and looked at our situation through those proverbial rose colored glasses. They made the whole picture look rosy, and blurred out all of the negatives I really didn’t want to see or confront. We were making good money and I couldn’t see any real reason to change everything and shake up all of the troops. I remember that old saying, ‘Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.’ I also have your response to that saying in my notes: ‘Do you have to get sick before you can get better?’”
Charlie spoke up, “We are already sick. We should have been doing some of this stuff to keep from sliding down the drain. This time we are not going to use rose colored glasses! We want you to come to our company and look at us with a magnifying glass to see what needs to be changed and help us change it.”
Lessons Learned: There was no doubt that they should have and could have initiated most of those ideas six years ago and saved a lot of money as well as a dozen damn good employees who have left their company. We spent several hours together that afternoon with Charlie doing most of the talking. He went down through that old list item by item and bemoaned the results of not using them. He emphasized the fact that this was not Paul Ridilla’s list, but his partner’s list of items that related specifically to their company. Let me share some of those items on his list along with Charlie’s comments:
- Initiate a written chain of command. “This one hurts the most because two of my sons would still be with us if we had given them this respect! When I heard your examples today of a boss’s son giving orders that are contradicted by his dad, I thought you were talking about my Chuck and Tony. I’m also very sure that our general superintendent and four of our best foremen would not have left if we wouldn’t have been sticking our noses into their chain of command. I agree with you Paul, no one can have two bosses. Unfortunately we never sat down and decided ‘who works for whom.’ You can bet your life we are going to do it now!”
- Never criticize or discipline anyone in public. (As Charlie read No. 2, he added his own written comments.) We need and only want employees who are proud and take pride in their work, but you cannot have any pride without respect. How proud would you be if your fellow workers did not respect you?
Charlie followed that with a “WOW.”
You are looking at the two biggest sinners in our industry. Not only do I chew employees out in front of our other employees, I even brag about it! I always thought that made my criticism more effective and at the same time I was warning all of the other employees not to do the same thing,” he said.
Charlie looked at his partner and said, “I can’t believe you heard Paul’s explanation of this ‘pride and respect’ six years ago and didn’t come back and hit me over the head. You’ve seen me chewing employees out dozens of times. Why didn’t you stop me? Do you realize how much it has cost us?”
His partner’s reply was simply, “Do you remember those rose colored glasses? It was easier to look the other way than to confront you about it.”
- The best should make the most. You need a fair system to measure your employees; keep a scorecard that determines what goes on each paycheck.
Charlie smiled as he commented, “We are already doing a half decent job with this one. We definitely pay our best foremen more than the others — but we are not sure all of the others agree with our opinion. I can readily see your reasoning for keeping score, so that all of them know exactly where they stand and what they need to do to improve.”
- Clearly define everyone’s job. These job descriptions become your measuring stick for their wages and performance.
Charlie smiled again, as he commented, “I can see why you looked through those rose colored glasses with this one. We have some older office employees who are grossly overpaid and really not doing much for the company.” They shared a couple names that of course meant nothing to me.
- Make sure every foreman gets first aid training and renewal every three years. “Hooray,” Charlie added. “This is one thing we did initiate six years ago, and our foremen really appreciate our interest in their personal welfare.”
- Initiate after-hour skill certification so every employee on every job is pre-trained for whatever task he or she is performing.
- Use a data-based skills inventory to keep track of what each employee is certified to do, and also to keep track of which foremen are doing effective on-the-job training.
Charlie read my last two points together and simply asked, “Why would you hesitate about doing that?” His partner grinned, but did not answer.
- Maintain a how-to-do-it VCR training library to provide instant training for every task and tool. Charlie again smiled as he said, “Here is another thing that we did. Unfortunately,” he added, “nobody is using those tapes because we didn’t initiate any of your training recommendations.”
- Offer flex-time options to all of your employees on the job as well as in your office. Allow your workers an opportunity to make a good life, not just a living!
Charlie really jumped on his partner over this one. “I hope you realize Mary would still be handling all of our submittals if we would have put a fax and computer terminal in her home when she had her baby. We also lost Jimmy and Pete to a competitor when they changed to their four 10–hour day work weeks.
“I really like Paul’s four-day weekends for our service techs and for any of our jobsite employees who would want to do it.
“Do you realize how easy it would be for our fab shop to start at 2, 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning if it would suit everyone’s personal schedules? I know Louie and Mike both coach Little Leaguers, and Larry has a home-alone baby-sitting problem. We really need to get this flex-time in gear!”
- Be sure that every employee signs a written statement to prove they have received hazard communication training. You also need to be sure that you have MSDS sheets available to every employee, and that your employees know where the sheets are kept.
“We need a kick in the butt for this one, but it is as much my fault as anyone else’s because I was well aware of those laws. I like Paul’s idea of our payroll department holding back their first paychecks until all of the critical paperwork is turned in. I should also take some of that blame for looking at our company through those rose colored glasses.”
Both of them smiled as they agreed to let me come to Indiana, take a realistic look at what they are doing and to help them make it better.