Bad Career Moves

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


My e-mail correspondent was worried about making a bad career move. Since it is unlikely that people starting out in the gear trade today will work for one company their entire career, worrying about making a “bad move” is valid. If you change jobs or employers to advance yourself, you will occasionally have regrets.

In 43 years I have worked for eight different companies, including my own. There were days when each and every one of them seemed like a career mistake, and there were days when each seemed like a dream job. Each assignment taught me something that I have applied elsewhere, so none of those jobs was a complete waste of time.

My biggest regret in moving around was the toll it took on my family. Fortunately my wife came from a family that relocated frequently and my now adult children considered the moves good preparation for “modern life.” All of us learned to adapt to new surroundings and make new friends quickly.

Coming back to my correspondent’s question of, “How can I tell if it’s going to be a bad career move?” the worst moves I made were made under the pressure of “needing” a new job. When you have bills to pay you can sometimes overlook warning signs. Leaving a “leaking ship” for a “sinking ship” is understandable when the situation is not clear.

My young friend pretty much answered his own question though. The way to avoid bad career moves is networking. Whether you need a new opportunity, are stagnant where you are, or aren’t sure if an opportunity is worth pursuing, the “answer” starts with networking.

Alumni groups, LinkedIn contacts, and friends in the industry are all good sources of opinions on your situation. Be careful to protect yourself from “word” getting back to your current company. I once learned my boss was trying to trade me to a customer for a “favor to be named later” and wasn’t sure what to do. It was awkward to discuss my career goals with him under those circumstances but eventually my work responsibilities were rearranged to better use my skill set.

The worst career move is leaving a job you enjoyed because you were afraid to ask your employer for a job you could love. Be the best gear guy or gear gal you can be and you might be amazed at what doors open up for you.

Spamsters be Damned — We’re Bloggin’ Here

 

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


The anticipated, two-way dialog for this blog has been hampered by persistent spammers trying to scam their way onto the contact list. We wish there were a way to prevent this, but given the inability of even large corporations to prevent such shenanigans, it may become necessary to  simply consider these gadfly goofs the equivalent of moronic hecklers at a stand-up comedy show and ignore them.

Just keep in mind that if you have a comment to express, or a topic you would like addressed, the very best way to contact us is by e-mail. We’ll print questions and comments here if they are of general interest. Private details or requests will be omitted.

For instance, a young engineer e-mailed this past week looking for information on making his next career move. The details are not important, but the man’s question was exactly the sort of thing I’d like to discuss in this blog. Reader X was considering making a job change, but worried that the new position wouldn’t help him towards his goal of becoming a gear consultant.

Very few of us currently in the consulting trade got here because of a long-term plan. More often than not, “consultancy” started as interim employment or a way to keep active following retirement from a long career. It is not as highly compensated or steady an activity as most of us hoped it would be, but there is pleasure in being your own boss and in helping people solve problems.

The type of consulting you want to do will dictate the preparation needed. One common project is wading into partially done designs and sorting them out without hurting too many peoples’ feelings. You are part emergency responder, part educator, and part diplomat. The need for tact and the art of diplomacy arise from the need to resolve differences between different groups at the client firm.

There are many ways to prepare for such projects. Often the “gear engineering” is the least complicated part of the deal. You can memorize the AGMA standards applicable to the product in far less time than it takes to learn about the competitive landscape for the equipment.

Learning to “handle” difficult people is by far the most challenging part of consulting — almost as challenging as keeping a steady flow of projects.

Adding it All Up

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


So now you’ve seen my “20 Questions” method for employee performance reviews. I’ll make the spreadsheet available through this blog; please use responsibly and give proper credit. By “responsible” use I mean adopting a level of transparency with your employees as to what you value and how you are going to measure it. I have been told that one multinational corporation rates all of its people as A-, B-, C-, or D-level performers, but never discloses to those employees what grade they got. Don’t be that corporation.

I am not advocating self-esteem camp where everyone gets a gold star and a pat on the head either. My system assigns points to each answer for the 20 questions and totals those points up. I don’t hide behind letter grades or grade on a curve either. In the PEAC system, if you get 51 points or less I advocate discharge before more damage is done to the organization or the employee’s mental health. Such a low score indicates a person ill- suited to their assignment who will likely be much happier doing something else.

If you get below 60 points, I rate you as a “fix-or-fire” employee. Frequently these low scores are another sign of a poor job “fit” or, if a recent phenomenon, personal issues that have to be dealt with. Fix-or-fire people need a short leash and some tough love. A definite “action plan” has to be dictated and lack cooperation with that plan needs to result in discharge.

Moving up on the scale, 60 to 69 points makes for a “trainable” employee. There are signs of interest here that can be nurtured into better performance in the future. Another type of action plan is required for “trainable” employees. Instead of being dictated, it has to be negotiated and agreed upon between the supervisor, employee, and the company. Provided the company follows through on its role in the plan, the employee can acquire the skills needed to become a long term team member.

The 70 to 79 point cohort are “keepers” in my book. Not everyone has to love their job. Those who are reliable performers in the office or shop shouldn’t live in fear that their livelihood is in danger if they don’t change. Good supervision may make them want to improve; there is nothing wrong with asking if they would like additional training or a different assignment. Tying salary increases to improvement is very fair too.

I rate the 80 to 89 point group as star performers. Think of them as the stars on a sports team. Their actions on a daily basis have much to do with how well the organization handles its business. Not enough stars — projects fall behind. These are the people you know you can count on and their compensation should reflect their importance to the team.

Those 90 to 100 point employees are the superstars of your squad. As high achievers they may be subject to bullying by co-workers; they might be a bit thin-skinned. Either way, every company needs a few superstars and they have to be carefully handled. But no matter how talented, some superstars are not a good “fit” for some teams. These guys and gals may be the most difficult people on the team, but the place wouldn’t be the same without them. Occasionally you have to ask that classic question:

“Are we better off with — or without them?”

Download My Handy Excel Worksheet to Calculate Review Scores

Creativity Makes Us Human

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


The final quarter of my performance review system measures the creativity a person brings to their job. Some might argue that many jobs don’t require creativity; they just involve repetitious activity which is to be done as efficiently as possible. I firmly believe that creativity is what makes us human; to freely engage in work or play we need ways to make it “our own.” We’ve all run into that waiter or other service provider who brings such energy to their task that you remember the encounter in great detail. Contrast that to sullen people who just go through the motions.

The difference, in my mind, is a desire to learn new skills and apply those skills in different ways. Other people don’t like to learn anything. I prefer to be surrounded by those who are hungry to learn; they get five points in my system. Learning as an adult hinges on problem analysis skills; you have to recognize a need to learn something and figure out where and how to acquire that knowledge. I want my co-workers to say “We’re having trouble with “x;” where do I learn more about “x” rather than have them just shrug their shoulders and expect a solution to be given them.

Knowledgeable and motivated employees enjoy developing solutions to problems. They take pride in solving problems on their own rather than just bringing everything to the boss. Often this requires that they remember similar problems from the past and how those situations were resolved.

The last piece of the “creativity” quadrant measures co-worker’s inventiveness. My high scorers demonstrate unique abilities to apply lessons learned and historical results to new problems. Low scorers are just waiting around for someone to tell them what to do; or for time to run out on the day.

The next blog posting sums all of this up.

Attitude is Important, Too

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)


I don’t know many people who enjoy working with crabby co-workers. Attitude is a key element in team chemistry, so my evaluation system allocates a full 25% of the points available to it. I break attitude down to four key elements — the first of which is cooperation with supervision.

An uncooperative employee undercuts your authority with the rest of the team. This doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with every decision you make — only that they disagree in private and in a mature, well reasoned way. While this is not something HR tracks, everyone in your department will know if a co-worker gets away with ignoring instructions or flaunting company policies. You can’t reward that type of behavior.

Another reflection of attitude is an employee’s willingness to work with others, be it in tag teaming a problem, sharing job knowledge, or coaching a new skill. Good teammates deserve credit in the evaluation process.

I have found that buying into a team goal — as opposed to only looking out for your own interests — pays long-term dividends. When experienced people model selfless behavior on the job, the younger folks notice it and try to do likewise. Having a shared goal helps in decision making and reduces conflicts.

Enthusiasm and pride in the workplace are also reflections of attitude. Stories about the great things the team has accomplished in the past, or important innovations the company brought to market, are much preferred to a constant rehashing of past disappointments. Not every employee will be a cheerleader for XYZ Company, but as a supervisor you certainly appreciate having one on your staff.

A final element of attitude is how employees feel about the most important person at any company. No, it isn’t the boss or owner. The one person no company can do without is the customer. If your staff doesn’t understand that, rude customer interactions that reflect poorly on everyone may follow. One employer was fond of the mantra “The sales department isn’t the whole company, but the whole company is the sales department.”

Every employee is capable of making a “customer for life” or an “ex-customer” through the way they conduct themselves. Maximum points are awarded to those who understand how important their contributions can be to customer satisfaction.

E is for Effort

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

The second step in my performance evaluation procedure looks at the effort a team member puts into his or her job. From our first day of sports training we are taught that effort is as important as talent in achieving good results. No one wants a teammate who just goes through the motions.

We are all experts at detecting a sports star who is “dogging it.” But in the workplace, it is not quite so easy, so I try to rely on things that can be measured. One of my favorite Dilbert cartoons concerns employee evaluation. Dilbert is lobbying hard for “attendance” to receive fair consideration — which I happen to believe is a key measure of how much the employee wants to be on your team. If they have five or more unexcused absences in a year, they may be telling you they’d rather be doing something else; zero points in our scoring system. An employee who never misses a day of work gets a full five points.

A more subtle metric is whether the employee makes work enough of a priority in their life to be on time each day and to stay for a full shift. The chronically late or always-leaving-early get zero points in my system. People who are always there get five points. These metrics are already in place at most organizations and those statistics can — and should be — a part of the evaluation.

High-maintenance employees who require constant coaching and supervision are also indicating that their heart may not be with your team. They get zero points from me — as opposed to the person who hears instructions the first time and gets on with the project. These interactions are not recorded by the human resources department, but will be remembered by the people involved — especially if they are made aware that it matters.

I marvel at those companies kind (?) enough to allow their smokers to gather and light-up at the perimiters of plant property at any time of the day. How are they getting their work done so far from their machine or computer? Sticking to assigned tasks is an important portion of “The Effort” section of my performance review system, so frequent absences from your duty station won’t get you any points.

Sports writers and fans love players that “hustle;” so do supervisors. Every company needs employees who are willing to stay that extra hour to meet a deadline or to drop that important part at a subcontractor on the way home — as opposed to the teammate who is primed and waiting at the time clock like an Olympic sprinter.

Guess who gets maximum points in my system?

Productivity

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

If the work isn’t getting done, every job on the team is at risk. This is why my evaluation system starts by looking at productivity vs. goals. Each of the 20 questions is scored on a scale of one to five, starting with volume of work produced. An employee who never meets the goal obviously gets zero points, while someone who far exceeds the goal gets five points.

Sloppy work doesn’t really meet goals, so our next question concerns “Quality of Work Produced.” If quality is always a problem for the employee, they get zero points. If quality is never an issue — five points.

Deadlines are important, too, so the people who can never seem to meet them get a goose egg, while those go-getters who always deliver get a five.

A more difficult question concerns task selection. Every team has some people who love challenges. If you never worry about what task you assign to a person, they get five points. Zero is reserved for the employee who can only be given the easy, routine assignments.

The final piece of the productivity puzzle is time management. No one wants a teammate who can’t stay “on task” without constant nagging. Zero points for those who have to be reminded constantly that there is work to be done, and five to the workers who stick to a project — regardless of distractions or interruptions.

These questions were selected because they have “metrics” that are recorded during the regular course of business or, in the case of the latter two, direct manager/employee interactions that will be remembered by both parties. We are all adults; and this isn’t self-esteem camp. When we disagree about something, we don’t have to be disagreeable.

When an employee disagrees with a particular score, it is a “teachable moment.” The first time this system is used, some employees are not aware metrics are being collected or that their work assignments were limited by perceptions of their skill level. Sometimes they do not realize that others notice the many breaks they take or the amount of time they spend on personal projects.

Honest evaluations are capable of changing peoples’ lives. Good employees are hard to find and costly to train. This first category of questions is the place where the results of their everyday performance are measured against what is needed for the company to compete in the worldwide marketplace. It isn’t just a matter of personalities or who gets along well. There are plenty of places for people to socialize. Most of us have only one job and we want to work for a thriving company.

That’s why good employees make for strong competitors.

Uncomfortable, but Necessary

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

I seldom dreaded report card day while in school, but found the annual review process in the workplace to be uncomfortable but necessary. In school the report cards started early, were unavoidable, and pretty predictable. In the workplace they were never on schedule, were sometimes filed with Human Resources without any chance for discussion or appeal, and had highly variable measuring scales. It really is no wonder why both employers and supervisors hate the whole process.

Over the years I experienced as many review systems as management training programs. People recognized that both topics needed work but couldn’t seem to get their arms around how to do it.

Perhaps because of my union steward father, I always tried to be “fair” to the people I reviewed. Sometimes that worked out great; other times I got played. Being “fair” put me at risk of being “soft” in management’s eyes, but when properly executed it could be a big win for me, the employee, and the company.

An example that comes to mind: The company president, a fitness buff, rejected my review of a direct report because said employee was a “fat slob who never leaves his desk.” Unlike his co-worker who was always running around the shop. I agreed to investigate further and provide some productivity numbers. It turned out the “fat slob” was out-producing everyone in the department, and the reason he was always at his desk was that his routings worked great the first time. Once made aware of the “facts,” the boss approved the guy’s salary increase — but still thought he needed more exercise.

Eventually I got tired of the six-page psychobabble forms corporate mandated for our use and developed my own, 20-question format that gave me a numerical score. The numerical score was tied to a chart with recommended actions to be taken. In the interest of fairness I even told employees ahead of time what they would be evaluated on. Over the next few blogs I’ll explain how the PEAC (Productivity, Effort, Attitude, & Creativity) system works. As always I look forward to your feedback.

A Day We Can Never Forget

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

Yesterday marked a day 13 years ago on which the world changed for all of us. Time forever more to be marked as “before” those terrible events and “after” them. Where my parents’ generation used “before” and “after” in referring to The War, and their parents remembered “The (stock market) Crash,” we and our children have had to adapt to the selfish and senseless brutality of a small group of fanatics determined to take the world back to a more primitive time when people were slaughtered because of their religious beliefs.

We remember vividly where we were and what we were doing as those events unfolded. I was sitting at my desk on Neville Island near downtown Pittsburgh. Local fears were concentrated on Flight 91, originally headed for the West Coast and then turned back east. Was it aimed at another symbol of American economic power, i.e., the U.S. Steel building? Its eventual crash near Shanksville, PA allowed us to breathe easier, but left us numb at the loss of even more of our fellow citizens.

Our crew elected to keep working, so I drove home and returned with a small television to be used in the cafeteria. Between that and the radio coverage we tried to keep informed, but information and misinformation were hard to separate. I recall being very angry, but frustrated as to where to direct that anger. Other than hugging your family and saying prayers for the dead and their loved ones, there wasn’t much to do but watch the depressing stories on television.

We had a prearranged visit to a customer facility in Dearborn, Michigan on Thursday, September 13th. As flying was not an option, we drove instead — through Ohio and into Michigan — past hundreds of flags flying at half-staff. Dearborn, as you may know, has the highest percentage of Islamic residents of any U.S. city. Detroit’s major airport is named after a former mayor — of Lebanese birth. Dearborn’s flags were flying low, too, and its citizens were as outraged as any other Americans. We were moved to participate in a moment of silence that morning with the multicultural staff of the steel mill.

Our country was united in mourning the dead and injured 13 years ago. Amazing stories of heroism and sacrifice raised our spirits in the days and weeks that followed. Unfortunately, we couldn’t sustain that sense of unity once the finger pointing and revenge-seeking started. Things were said and actions taken that are hard to put aside — even today. Time for us will always be cleaved into “before” September 11, 2001 — and “after.”

It will never be just another day on the calendar again. A lot of prayers are needed for our world to heal.

Have You Been to the Circus Yet?

Charles D. Schultz

President at Beyta Gear Service
Charles D. Schultz is President of Beyta Gear Service and one of Gear Technology's technical editors.

Latest posts by Charles D. Schultz (see all)

As mentioned before in this space, the bi-annual International Machine Tool Show (IMTS) is back in Chicago (September 8 – 3th). I’ll be in the Gear Technology booth (N-7214; North Hall) occasionally, to rest and visit with readers and the staff. My enthusiasm for this great event has remained high since my first visit back in 1977, but my stamina for walking the vast “Disneyland for Engineers” isn’t what it used to be. Ample periods of rest and conversation will be needed to allow a full appreciation for the new machines and technology on display.

As a youngster, IMTS attendance was an opportunity to get a glimpse of how parts might be made in the future. We had very few computer-controlled machines in the shop back then; we barely had access to computers in development engineering. Skeptics thought we “might” invest in a few “template” lathes, but computer-controlled lathes and milling machines were the stuff of science fiction — not prudent capital spending. And gear grinding? We still had faith in our through-hardened products and almost resented having to switch to carburized, hardened, and ground gearing.

Within five years, reliance on our huge inventory of manual turret lathes came to a screeching halt; NC lathes could out produce them by factors of eight or ten to one. Ground gears were the rule — not the exception — in customer specifications. It was a new day in the gear industry, and those who attended the IMTS shows in preceding years were hardly surprised.

I don’t know what “emerging” technology will be the star of IMTS 2014, but I plan to learn what I can about 3-D printing; grind burn and crack detection; water jet cutting; and new gear cutting techniques — in between rest periods in Booth N-7214, of course. We are looking forward to getting feedback from readers on how to make sure Gear Technology stays relevant for your company in the years ahead — no matter where the technology takes us.