Knee-Jerk Management

By on May 23, 2018
Knee-Jerk Management

“From now on when this copier needs a new cartridge, call maintenance to put it in. No one in this department is to do this. If the ink runs out, don’t touch the copier.” – Lisa, Office Manager

“You’re using too many of these parts. From now on they’re going to be locked up and if you need one you’re going to have to ask your supervisor to get you one.” – Jeff, Production Manager

Lisa and Jeff both operated in fast-paced work environments. Often confronted by problems that demanded immediate responses, they prided themselves on their ability to solve problems, to act decisively, to be in charge. That was their mind-set. They were the fixers.

It’s possible, if not likely, that in the past you and I have been like Lisa and Jeff. Being in control was the name of our game. Acting quickly and decisively to address problems was, in our minds, the primary validation of our success as a manager. Saying things like, “don’t touch the copier” or “from now on the parts are going to be locked up” made us feel good.

Voices in Jeff and Lisa’s brains said things like, “You’re in control and you fixed it, great work Jeff” or “Lisa, you’ve got what it takes, you saw a problem and acted decisively to take care of it. Great job!

But then an annoying thing happened. Reality came marching into Lisa and Jeff’s perfectly controlled worlds. It became evident that their “decisive responses” had cost their companies more than the problems they were intended to eliminate.

Something like this had happened.

The Impact of Knee-Jerk Management

Lisa and the Copier Cartridges

Situation: An employee is the company’s graphics department attempted to change a color cartridge in their copier. He inserted it incorrectly, ink was spilled, and an outside service had to be called in to clean up the copier. This cost the company $700.

Response: Lisa found this incident more than slightly annoying. The same thing had happened six months earlier and she had told graphics employees to be more careful and to make sure it never happened again. This time her patience was stretched to a breaking point. She called a meeting and told employees that “From now on when this copier needs a new cartridge, call maintenance to put it in. No one in this department is to do this. If the ink runs out, don’t touch the copier.” And they dutifully did what Lisa told them to do. When they needed a new cartridge, they called maintenance. Average maintenance response time: 30–45 minutes.

Impact: Work that required color copies was halted for 30–45 minutes.

Cost: The department’s estimate of the cost of these halts in production: $2,200/year.

Jeff and the Overuse of Parts

Situation: The equipment would break down in this work cell and when it did production halted. Almost always the same part had failed and was quickly replaced by an operator who had a supply of these parts in the work cell. Because the operators could respond quickly, very little production time was lost. The part cost $300.

Response: Even though this work cell was meeting its production goals, Mark, the director of operations, was annoyed by the continuing need to buy $300 parts to keep the equipment up and running. He told Jeff that far too many of these parts were being used and that they were to be taken out of the work cell and locked up in the maintenance area. Mark also met with Jeff’s team and told them “You’re using too many of these parts. From now on they’re going to be locked up and if you need one you’re going to have to ask your supervisor to get you one.

Impact: Every time the equipment broke down the employees would tell his/her supervisor who, in turn, would tell the maintenance department. And maintenance would send out someone to install a new part. For the night shift, the situation wasn’t nearly as favorable. Since the supervisor didn’t have a key to the maintenance area and no maintenance employees worked the night shift, he had to call an employee who did have a key at his home and ask him to come in to retrieve a part from the maintenance area.

Cost: Continuing halts in production, ranging from an average of 15–20 minutes during the day and 1–2 hours at night. Lost production time over a year was conservatively estimated to cost the company between four and five thousand dollars.

The Awakening of Lisa and Jeff: Rational Management

Lisa and the Copier Cartridges

After Lisa’s “fix” had been in place for several months, Mary, the graphics department supervisor, told her that the department was having serious production problems. She said they had come very close to missing some critical deadlines and that waiting for cartridges to be changed in the color copier was a key factor in triggering production delays. Mary suggested that they needed to carefully analyze the cartridge changing process. She suggested to Lisa that there might be a better solution to the problem than the one currently in place.

Here’s a recap of the process Lisa and Mary used to come up with a better solution. It’s a method I’d call Rational Management.

Analysis: The current system costs the graphics department at least $2,200/year in lost production time. Further, it has a negative impact on employee morale. It continually says to employees that they are not competent enough to learn how to change the cartridges and, therefore, cannot be trusted to do so. In addition, there are costs associated with using maintenance workers to change the cartridges.

Response: Lisa and Mary called a meeting of graphics department employees. They asked if the current system of changing copier cartridges was a problem. The overwhelming response: “Yes, it’s a big problem. It continually causes delays in production.” Sarah, one of the department’s veterans, told Lisa and Mary that they needed to realize that graphics employees were perfectly capable of inserting new cartridges. All they needed was training in how to do this as well as printed instructions that could be mounted on the wall next to the copier. Sarah concluded by saying, “You really have to trust that we can do this the right way and that we will do it the right way.” Lisa and Mary agreed with the group’s recommendation and it was put into effect.

Impact: At least $2,200 saved in production time and more in maintenance costs. Production deadlines are being met. Additionally, the negative message the previous system conveyed to employees has been eliminated.

Jeff and the Overuse of Parts

The plant was having problems meeting production deadlines. Mark, the director of operations, met with Jeff and told him that something had to be done quickly. He asked Jeff if he had any idea about what was causing these deadlines to be missed. Jeff knew that the primary cause of these delays was the system Mark had put in place in an attempt to limit the number of $300 parts the plant had to buy. Realizing that the problem wouldn’t be solved unless he was candid, Jeff told Mark that the current system of handling parts for repairs wasn’t working and needed to be carefully reexamined.

Here’s a recap of the process Jeff and Mark used to come up with a better solution. Once again, let’s look at Rational Management in action.

Analysis: Obviously, the number of parts used to repair this equipment is not impacted by the behavior of employees. It’s a function of the number of times they’re needed. Also, since this part is custom made to fit the equipment, there is only the slightest chance that employees would steal it. It has no value separate from the machine for which it was made. There is no rational reason for continuing to incur the thousands of dollars of lost production time caused by the current system.

Response: Mark and Jeff met with the area’s workers. They asked if they agreed that the current system wasn’t’ working. They agreed. Continuing the discussion, they asked the workers what they thought a better solution would be. The workers suggested two solutions; one could be implemented immediately while the other would take more time. First, parts needed for common repairs should be returned to the work cell. They should be stored in a clearly marked drawer so they could be quickly retrieved when needed. In addition, maintenance should provide more training in how to replace defective parts. They should also provide work instructions that clearly step through the process with words and photos. Second, and more importantly, maintenance needs to do a thorough inspection of the equipment to identify the root causes of downtime and to address them.

Impact: Thousands of dollars, previously lost to downtime, saved. Production quotas met. Products delivered to customers on time. Employee morale improved.

Just what did Lisa and Jeff learn from these experiences? They learned that Knee-Jerk Management may feel good in the heat of battle but the anger or frustration or pain that triggers its use returns all too quickly and is more intense the second time around.

They also learned that there is only one productive approach to the daily challenges they confront and that approach favors analysis before action, aiming before shooting. It involves respecting the knowledge of front-line employees. It involves trusting front-line employees. It involves listening to front-line employees. It involves making rational, reality-based, decisions, rather than knee-jerk, emotion-based, decisions.

Jeff and Lisa can now confidently face future challenges, knowing that they’re equipped to use Rational Management to very effectively meet these challenges.

St. Louis Community College’s Workforce Solutions Group has a wide variety of training and coaching services that you can put to work now in support of empowering your Jeffs and Lisas to meet the challenges they will face with high degrees of confidence and competence. We’d like to discuss these services with you. Just call Eric Whitehead (314-539-5022) or George Friesen (314-303-0612) and let’s arrange a time to talk. We know 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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