February 16, 2024
Continuing my rant on disruptive employees: a few posts ago I mentioned the ill will I engendered early in a new job by questioning the large percentage of shipments that were returned for quality problems. The manufacturing, quality, and accounting managers took the question way too personally, and rather than investigate the root causes they doubled down on their existing methods. That company no longer exists; the doors closed after over eight decades of business. Some employees had never worked anywhere else and found themselves too many years away from retirement in a terrible job market. Being from a shuttered company didn’t help get interviews, either. If you have employees who ask questions about why things are done the way they are, consider yourself blessed. If you can’t explain the logic behind the current process, it is an excellent opportunity for process improvement. The American gear industry has suffered over the years from its resistance to new methods and processes. We fought “hard gears” longer than made sense. We didn’t invest in modern machine tools until we had no choice. Our embrace of quality control systems was late and half-hearted. This “but that is the way it has always been” attitude cost market share, profits, and ultimately jobs. I hear a lot of grumbling from people my age that younger employees aren’t up to previous standards. If that were actually true, we would have no one to blame but ourselves. My own interactions with post-1980 kids started at home with my children and extended — via school, church, scouts, and sports — to the children of others. Later, I got to employ a few as interns. With few exceptions they were smart, hard-working, and very curious. They weren’t happy with “that’s the way it is” answers and we should be glad for that. A great future can be built on even a shaky past if the lessons are properly learned. We may never know how much our “students” can achieve if we don’t take the extra time to explain things well today. What better legacy can you leave your firm than a well-trained team?