Stay away from that guy! He’s interested in his job.

By on December 3, 2015
He’s interested in his job

As absurd as the title sounds, this is exactly the sentiment that was shared by a member of a 5S team I was meeting with several years ago. We were discussing the ways in which employees on the production floor were reacting to 5S. One of our 5S core team members talked about the especially good work a worker was doing in making his work area lean, orderly, and clean. We told him how great it was to hear about this kind of active involvement in making 5S a potent transformative force in the plant. After the accolades, he added, “But you know he’s paying a price for the good work he’s doing.” We asked, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Other employees are ostracizing him, saying, ‘He’s interested in the job, so he’s a square.’

Interested in the job, so he’s a square. Every time I’ve heard this type of sentiment, and I’ve heard variations of it many times, it shocks my system. The thoughts that shoot through my brain are, “Are they crazy? Don’t they realize that doing a good job is what will keep this company in business? And don’t they realize that if the company isn’t in business that they won’t have jobs, etc.

All very logical thoughts. But as I’ve also come to realize many times, it’s not logic that destroys employee engagement in work processes. It’s not logic that causes some employees to say “Stay away from that guy.

It’s emotions that drive “Stay away from that guy.” And what creates these kinds of emotions?

It’s stories, developed over time, about the company and, specifically, about what the company thinks about line workers. And these stories, retold and elaborated upon, exert a powerful influence on the behavior of employees. It tells them what types of behavior are acceptable and which aren’t.

And it was a story, the underlying theme of which was “the company doesn’t respect us,” that drove the “Stay away from that guy” comment.

So how does do stories like this develop? Management writes them.

Management writes the story by not giving feedback to an employee who has done great work. A line employee said to me:

I keep working hard at cleaning my area but nobody ever notices it.”

Management writes the story by showing overt disrespect for employee ideas. A line employee said to me:

I told the plant manager that I had an idea about how to fix the problem the press was having and he told me, ‘Shut up. I pay you to work, not to think.’

Management writes the story by not soliciting line worker ideas on how to improve work processes. A line employee said to me:

I knew what the problem with our production process was but I didn’t think that management was interested in what I’d have to say.

Management writes the story by not letting all employees know why decisions that will impact their futures are being made. A line employee said to me:

I sure wish the company would let us know what’s going on. After all, it’s not only their future, it’s ours also.

Management doesn’t have to write these kinds of stories. In fact, any company that intends to be a competitor in our highly volatile twenty-first century marketplace can’t survive with these types of stories driving the behavior of employees.

When a company adopts Lean thinking and management process it triggers the development of very different stories.

They’re stories that say loud and clear to all employees: We’re all on the same team. We respect your intelligence and creativity. We need your ideas.

They’re stories that reflect the kind of thinking that Henry Ford nurtured 100 years ago in his Highland Park, Michigan, plant, arguably the birthplace of Lean manufacturing. Ford continually told his line workers:

“Success and failure belong to everybody.”

And they’re the kind of stories that drive engagement, that drive increases in productivity and profitability.

Our Corporate Services Group has training and consulting resources that will transform the stories told in your company. When this happens, employees won’t talk about staying away from a guy who’s interested in his job. On the contrary, they’ll admire him.

If you’d like to find out more about the transformative power of Lean thinking and management processes just give me a ring anytime at 314-303-0612 and let’s talk. I think you’ll find it time very well spent.

About George Friesen

George Friesen serves as Business Practice Leader - Lean Manufacturing for the Workforce Solutions Group of St. Louis Community College. He has led the College's Lean business practice area since 2000. Prior to joining the College, George worked for Maritz Performance Improvement Company. Over the past 35 years, he has served a wide variety of Fortune 500 companies, specializing during the past eleven years in Lean Manufacturing, focusing especially on the 5S System, Lean leadership and thinking processes, Value Stream Mapping, and Lean team building. George is a graduate of Washington University (AB), Webster University (MA), and United States Air Force Flight Training.

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