Get out of their way

Get Out Of Their Way

old bootsThis little story from my past was inspired by a recent post on the Safety Differently blog: From the Road Less Travelled – worth a read.

I will never forget one of the most valuable lessons taught to me at work. I was a 23 year old Engineering Graduate thrown in the deep end to manage a couple of concrete plants in the late 80s and expected to sink or swim – probably sink like all the others. I walked in the front gates and there were 2 bins full of empty VB (Victoria Bitter) cans. I said “awww isn’t that good they are recycling aluminium cans”. My boss said: “that’s just from yesterday!” Then I noticed several drivers, many ex pro football players, whom I had worshipped as a kid, openly sucking on beer tinnies – at 9am!.

“Harry” (not his real name) was the batcher, had been for over 20 years. No-one knew how old he was but he was an ex-Jocky, ex-Shearer, local Delegate for the AWU, lived at the local Pub and, despite his size, was tough as nails and took crap from nobody. He fronted me and said: “Don’t bother hanging up your fancy bloody Degree and thinking you are King Shit, we’ve seen them come and go. We don’t work for you – YOU WORK FOR US” I was just a tad stunned but happened to glance down at his company issue boots. They were the cheapest you could buy and I could see the odd toe poking out of gaping holes.

He had been avoided, ignored and treated with neglect and disdain by previous Managers, probably because of his seemingly militant and unco-operative attitude? He had unflattering names for them all: Pantyhose, London Fog, Parcels, Numb Nuts and Vinegar Tits! and I knew they were scared of him. In a moment of either brilliance or madness I said “come on let’s go get you some new boots”. Then a “miracle” happened…………”Harry” said: “You are the first Company Man who gets it”. He then went on to tell me, with a big proud grin, about all the things they had done for many years to intrinsically motivate themselves (due to almost non-existent extrinsic ones): Claiming extra overtime, sabotaging equipment, setting up Managers to fail or look stupid, giving every customer more than they ordered, spreading rumours to incite industrial unrest, excessive drinking during work hours etc etc.

Yet still, they were proud of the service they provided, the quality of their product and the relationship they had with their customers (a steady flow of whom would visit the plant throughout the day to have a beer and chew the fat). After buying “Harry” some new boots, a new nozzle for his beloved hose, a chair for his batching room and some cheap quick fixes to the neglected plant, things changed dramatically. Stocktakes worked out correct, overtime and sick leave decreased by heaps, we made a profit (back then concrete was just an outlet for quarry products and budgeted to lose money – real motivating!), drinking became discrete, we won a national environment award, had no injuries in 3 years AND they shouted my partner and I to the Company Ball.

When they replaced “Harry’s” old manual batch plant with a computerised version, I mounted his old levers on a plaque and we held a special presentation to acknowledge his contributions – that tough old bastard cried his eyes out – real tears where we thought there was only dust!!!

The lessons learned?

  1. Treat everyone with respect, despite their differences in background or appearance
  2. Talk to them and find out what makes them tick, don’t rely on what others tell you
  3. Realise that everybody wants to do a good job – if they can
  4. Think about and meet peoples basic needs before stressing about the big stuff
  5. Despite what you think, “workers” are smart and resourceful, treat them like crap and they will find a way to bring down you and your plans – provided they can get away with it!
  6. Find out what other hidden talents and ideas they have and let them use them
  7. Realise that if you are a Manager then you work for those in your team – NOT the traditional arrogant arrangement
  8. Give people goals and objectives, give them what they need and break down any barriers.
  9. See their mistakes as learning experiences for everybody, support them – don’t punish them

I am guessing that “Harry” is no longer with us but I owe him a huge gratitude Smile R.I.P. mate

I would love to hear about some of the valuable lessons you have learned in your career.

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