Bill accepted a job at a small but growing industrial/commercial electrical services company. The company’s owner, a Master Electrician, needed someone to manage the growing numbers of projects and oversee the crew working them.
Not long after starting, Bill became keenly aware of a problem. The employees were always talking. For example, Bill rode along in the service vehicle to three different job sites. On each trip there and back, the driver had cell phone conversations. While on the job, crew members would talk about various things that had nothing to do with the job. On several occasions, Bill stopped the inattentive workers to point out a safety problem they had missed.
Bill sought to discuss this problem with owner, but the owner shrugged and said: “Yes, I know about that. It’s why I wrote all those highly detailed procedures for every kind of job they do.”
Bill decided this had to stop. So he asked each worker, “Why do you talk so much on the job?” The answers he got back included:
- I’d fall asleep if I didn’t.
- The work is boring.
- I don’t feel challenged.
- I’m overqualified for this kind of work.
- They treat us like little kids here.
- Actually, I’m trying to find a job with another company because I don’t feel valued by this one.
One employee nailed the root problem, however. He said the owner never sent anyone to training and then went on to complain about the “trained monkey” procedures. The owner did in fact send people to training, but he tried to replace some training with over-detailed procedures that everyone hated.
Working quietly in the background, Bill began replacing the “trained monkey” procedures with ones he wrote with the input of the workers. These new procedures were streamlined and assumed a certain level of craft capability. Bill also persuaded the owner to invest more in training.
You’ve probably predicted the outcome already. But is the management in your company aware of how workers perceive the procedures? Or the level of training? If not, you may have a productivity and safety problem that a little honest feedback will reveal.
Your people need good procedures, but “good” does not mean “paint by numbers.”