Poison in the Well

During a college summer I worked for a manufacturing company as a machine operator.  It was boring work.  During the first night, I figured out a more efficient way to configure the work space.  The second night, after some rearranging, I more than doubled the output.  When entering the plant on the third night, the supervisor clapped me on the back and congratulated me.  Barely two minutes later, the union steward told me that if I did it again, I risked bodily harm in the parking lot.

I was designing a sales incentive plan working closely with the vice president of sales for a well-known consumer manufacturer.  During a plan review meeting, a financial person persisted in questioning a provision in the plan.  After a short while the sales VP suggested that maybe the finance person didn’t want his job.

As a senior vice president of a national broadband company, I heard of a small group of cable installers in rural Massachusetts who wanted a union.  I traveled most of a day to get there and sat with the group.  It took a while for them to open up, but when they did, I heard their ideas to better schedule time off.  Unfortunately, their manager didn’t want to listen to them.  It wasn’t about pay, or benefits, or safety – it was about flexibility.

There are many reasons why organizations don’t get the best thinking from their people – it almost never has to do with the ability or motivation of the front line crew.

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