Managing organically rather than step change

This one feels a bit like Radio 4’s “Thought for the Day”! I was travelling by taxi the other day and in conversation with the driver I discovered that he’d worked a paper mill some years earlier. Having worked at a number of paper mills myself I was interested and asked him why he’d left. Turned out that he’d been made redundant when the plant closed suddenly. The tale unfolded that there had been redundancies offered two years prior and he’d applied in the hope of getting a big ‘lumper ‘. (As an aside, why do people always assume that a big wad of cash will be such a saviour – what happens if they don’t get another job? Or am I just too cautious?).

Anyway, he was told that rather than let one of the good guys (him) go they (the management) were using the opportunity to get rid of the ‘dead wood’. So all the dead wood got paid around £35,000 to go and he kept his job. Kept until two years later when the firm abruptly closed and he eventually got £10,000 in statutory redundancy payments (after waiting 3 months on the dole otherwise he’d lose whatever he’d earned from the payment). So then he bought the taxi plate and the rest is history.

So, a very dull story given second hand, but what’s my point? Well we discussed the issue and postulated that if those people deemed ‘dead wood’ had been dealt with much earlier then the closure may well have been avoided. And we didn’t mean just sacking them or making them redundant but finding out why they were not as effective as others and dealing with that organically, through competence development, different roles, work and task changes to make the job more rewarding, etc., or even having an agreement to let them go because it was best for both parties (but only as a last resort). Instead it would appear that these individuals were tolerated until the situation worsened and then they got paid a handsome sum while the good guys got the chop some time later.

Perhaps another alternative was to work what was causing the business to fail, it isn’t really about just a few non-performers. If the business and production metrics, unit cost of production, RONA, ROCE, low overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), increased downtime, reduced profit margins, or whatever were tracked and dealt with before they became catastrophic then the whole company failure may have been avoided. We have seen how in many areas the application of SPC (statistical process control) can provide an early indication of a process going out of control (before it does), e.g. a DCS will be programmed to check for changes in certain I/Os and to set alarms when the progression looks to be heading towards the control limits. The application of similar SPC rules to business and production metrics, having a method of getting the right people at the right time to discuss the right metrics and then taking action can avoid the need to make step changes as any issues are dealt with much earlier and addressed before they get too big.

And that would also improve the lot of the taxi drivers I regularly meet who complain that as soon as a person gets made redundant they become taxi drivers and flood the market. :-)

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About the author

Dave Dyer

Dave Dyer is a principal consultant within the Operations Improvement team in ABB Consulting. His speciality is in bringing sustainable change and operational benefits to an organisation through the engagement of its people. He hopes to share good ideas and good practice, to inform and to learn.
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