How well are we adjusting to the new business conditions?
We have seen several economic disruptions over the longer span of history. We have seen rather significant changes caused by technology. More recently, as if we needed a reminder, we have seen the most serious economic challenge of our generations. We continue to be plagued with our ability to find talented people to work in our businesses. Yet the more things change the more they remain the same.
How well are we adjusting to the new business conditions?
One of the many things that has caused me trouble, over my career, is the different styles of work between different geographic areas. From Asia to Europe, from South American to the Middle East, and then North America. Things are very different according to the political and economic norms in the areas.
In North America we are taught through the use of obedience. As little people we are told to look both ways before crossing the street. As we get a little older we are told to respect our elders. In school we are taught with models such as flash cards in my day. Then we go to Technical Schools, Junior Schools or Universities where things are totally open. Finally we leave school and if we are lucky, in today’s work environment, we find a job that we hope one day will turn into a career. Then, as one of the bosses, we ask the new employees to do the job, we teach them how to do the job, and we ask them to do it over and over again until they become proficient.
In Asia they have a similar structure up until the job gets started. Then they employ kaizen. Yes the employers want the employees to get to be good at their jobs. But then they rely on the employee to make the job better. Kaizen means improving the job every day in some way. No matter how small the improvement. Make the job better every day. I find that a very important aspect of work.
The first thirteen years within the distribution industries I worked for two businesses; one in Eastern Canada the other in Western Canada. They were both large equipment dealers. They spanned the sale of new and used prime products, the machine itself, as well as providing the parts and service to keep the machine working and support their customers. Yet they both had different styles and cultures.
There was, however, a common bond. They both provided worthwhile work to their employees. The work that each and every person employed in those two companies felt that they were doing something that was significant to the world. Something that was worthwhile.
Each and every one of you do too. You are dealing in the single most important element on the planet. You are dealing with water in one way or another.
Do you suppose the person answering the telephone helping customers’ feels about their work is important? Absolutely. Their self-image will be good, their attitude will be upbeat. They will be the individuals that are happy to be at work and doing their jobs. And it will show. How do we transfer that culture to each and every new employee? That is the challenge. We are nothing without talented, well trained, hard-working, upbeat employees with the can do attitude. That is why I call them your heroes.
They are the ones that cause your customers to keep coming back to you. They make customer retention happen. They allow you to make money in doing something that you too, love.
So let’s take a page out of the 1980’s and the Asian culture and bring back Kaizen. Let’s bring back Continuous Quality Improvement, the CQI and TQI, business tools. Let’s ask the employees who are doing the job what needs to be done to make the job better.
One of the tools I use in my consulting business and in the classroom in training sessions is what it call “Five Things.” Each person in a department provides five things on three questions.
Five things to make the job better and more productive
Five things that are a pain in the butt to do
Five things that will make my day go faster, will make my job more fun.
It is interesting how the lists start taking on similar subjects. So the next step is to look at these lists with the team of people that provided the input and have them discuss them. You will see that an item that makes the job better is also currently a pain in the butt to do but if it could be made better would make the job more fun to do. Try it. You will be amazed how something so simple can be so revealing.
Now the group can pick one, any one, and go make the changes necessary to make the job better and more productive. At the same time it will get rid of something that is a pain in the butt to do and improving things will make the day go faster and the job more fun. Now who would say no to any of that?
That is the missing element to change isn’t it? People resist change. The team has a social balance in place. Everyone is comfortable in how things are done today. So why change. Why change indeed when they provided you with three lists of five items to make things better. Notice you didn’t contribute a list. It is NOT about you. It is about the employees, making their lives and jobs better.
So in this New Year, in these difficult and changing economic conditions, here is a tool for you to use that will allow you to adjust to the new business realities. It will also excite your employees. They will feel that they are in control of their own work. In fact they WILL be in charge of their own work. Wouldn’t you want to jump out of bed to get to a job like that?
The time is now.
by Ron Slee
Water Well Journal
About Water Well Journal
The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.
Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.