Sometimes employees need things spelled out for them.

Are you frustrated by your employees’ failure to use common sense? Or do you figure they’re just lazy?

During a tour of our office, training center and showroom, an out-of-town visitor saw many unique things.

The Gas Boy fuel computer system automatically tracks who takes fuel, when, how many miles per gallon the vehicle is getting and what the current mileage is on the odometer.

The lights and HVAC systems all are controlled by timers and programmers. The electric outlets for plugging in the spare diesel service vans turn on when the weather gets cold. And when you use the bathroom, the lights and fan turn on and off automatically by a motion detector.

“Very impressive,” he said. “It seems like there’s a lot of automation, a place for everything and a systematic approach to everything.”

“Well, everything around here is designed to overcome people’s human nature. Everything here minimizes frustration while ensuring compliance,” I replied.

The Gas Boy fuel computer system is here to get the drivers’ mileage consistently. The drivers have to put in all the information if they want to get fuel. The mechanics get a report that’s generated automatically to identify which vehicle is due for service or is using too much fuel.

The HVAC systems all are on special programmers that automatically reset themselves. People tend to override the controls to make it colder or hotter than it is designed to be. And if done in moderation, it’s OK. But, they forget to reset the temperature to the program when they leave. So it automatically resets itself to the designed program, otherwise the next day it would be as cold as a meat locker or as hot as a sauna.

The outside outlets for the diesels are weather sensitive because no one remembers to turn on the power when the weather gets cold.

The bathroom fan and lights turn on and off automatically because they were always being left on. Or people forgot to turn on the exhaust fan; you can imagine the results.

There’s a need to overcome people’s human nature by automation and clearly defining your systems.

Tripping Over Progress

The warehouse manager, Eddie, told me a story that illustrates the power of human nature. He was frustrated by the unwillingness of the apprentices, service technicians and installers to clean up after themselves. They never seemed to return the materials from the jobs to where they belonged or to put away the debris where he thought it should be.

They just left stuff lying around and expected him to pick up after them. So that’s what he did everyday. They’d never been told exactly where things were supposed to go or what he wanted them to do so they felt free to do as they pleased.

One day, he decided to conduct a little experiment in human nature. He leaned a broom across a chair on an angle so it looked like it was just left lying around. Eddie figured that someone would pick up the broom and put it away, or at least ask him why it was there. But no one did.

It was blocking the path to the materials the techs needed for their jobs. And all of them had to pass that way one or more times during the course of the day.

Eddie watched in amazement as each and every one of these guys would either step over the broom or walk up to it and make a U-turn.

His story proves why you literally have to make people trip over your systems or otherwise human nature will win out. Save yourself and the people who work for you a lot of grief. Automate everything you can and make it very clear as to where things go and how you want things done so they’ll have to comply despite themselves.

An operations manual can specifically tell people which bins to use for which type of debris they have. And putting up bright yellow and black signs that say which type of material goes into which bin and where items go to be recycled should leave nothing to the imagination.

The manual should spell out the exact procedure for almost every task you do at your company. From how you want them to come dressed to work or fill out your reports to the procedure to follow for most repairs and installations. And when necessary, who to see for help.

It may all sound a little obsessive but the “broom” can teach you how easy it is for people to follow their human nature. And that seldom produces getting the job done consistently and correctly.

In January, I sold my share of the business to my brothers so I could devote myself to working as a trainer and consultant to our industry full time. And now when I visit the office, they’re still putting the debris in the right place and the materials are being stored in their specific racks and bins. Everyone shows up dressed like they’ve been instructed to, because it was made clear what is expected of them.

The lights and fan in the bathroom still turn on and off automatically. And the brooms are stored properly in the utility closet until they’re needed to sweep.