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That’s the Spirit!

By Randall Schaefer, CPIM | July/August 2012 | 22 | 4

That's the Spirit!Some unusual advice to motivate young workers

I recently was the professional development speaker for an APICS chapter and found myself sharing a table with several students. Many of them asked what counsel I had for people just starting to enter the workforce. Not wanting to tell them a bunch of things they already knew, I offered two pieces of advice they probably had not heard before.
1. Never doubt the validity of what you were taught. This will not be a problem if you are lucky enough to land a job at a company where processes are under control and procedures and disciplines are woven into the very fabric of the organization. But such organizations usually promote from within, as lower-level employees are already indoctrinated in the culture. Chances are, you will be hired by a business that has lots of problems—the idea being that you can help sort out a few of them. This will not be easy; after all, the people who hire you likely are the very reasons things are out of control.
Remember: The buck stops at the top. When a high-level executive does not insist upon processes and procedures, does not enforce disciplines, and tolerates unachievable delivery promises and lots of panic expediting, this attitude tends to replicate through the ranks. The attitude “do what’s necessary today and don’t worry about tomorrow” will get a few hot orders out the door on time, but also will result in late shipments for the majority and encourage a culture of chaos. Again, remember what you learned. Establish and enforce procedures and disciplines to achieve a profitable and sustainable operation. 

2. Understand what engages your boss. Don’t assume that just because your boss has many areas of responsibility, he affords each of them equal attention. Learn what excites and interests your boss and what does not. My first white-collar job after college was in 1969 as a personnel manager. My new company was growing fast, and it was difficult to keep up with the necessary hiring. This was aggravated by the fact that the shop supervisors had final say over who worked for them. 

It quickly became apparent that the supervisors did not care about the state laws on hiring practices. Soon enough, the state employment agency contacted me. They had sent job seekers our way and kept records of whom we hired and who we did not—and those records were damning, indeed. The agency intended to write a letter to the company president demanding our hiring practices be brought in sync with the law. But I knew he would not respond well to such a threat.
Instead, I suggested they just annoy him. I wrote the letter for them under their letterhead, and the head of the agency signed it. It calmly laid out the facts and insisted on a series of face-to-face meetings with him to discuss the situation. I counted on our president cringing at the thought of meeting with young, socially liberal bureaucrats, who would criticize him for tolerating illegal hiring practices.  

A few days later, the letter arrived, and I was summoned to his office. He asked whether the allegations were true, and I confirmed they were and reminded him that most manufacturers avoided these troubles by giving the personnel manager final hiring authority. He did, and six months later, my new hires brought our minority employment in line. 

I was just 23 years old, but managed to successfully orchestrate a resolution because I knew my boss did not want to engage in thorny personnel issues and would fight if confronted. I was also certain that, if irritated just a bit, he would look for the quickest way out.

Randall Schaefer, CPIM, is an industrial philosopher and independent consultant. He may be contacted at randallschaefer@att.net.

Do you have an anecdote that teaches, enlightens, or amuses? Consider sharing it with the readers of APICS magazine. Stories should be approximately 700 words. Email submissions to “Lessons Learned” editor Randall Schaefer at randallschaefer@att.net.

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