One Man’s Lean Journey: Respect People and They Will Fight for You

RCA_TVMy internship with Thomson Consumer Electronics (TCE) gave me a lot of learning opportunities. One of the biggest learnings I had was around people.

The assignment was to oversee the completion of rebuilding several hundred television sets. This was back in the day of picture tubes and rear projection TVs. The sets would be sold in discount shops across the country.

The manufacturing facility was well known for its union and their insanity to horn-swaggle the company. The assignment typically takes 7-8 weeks. I was given a union crew and the production area was set up a good 1/4 mile from the nearest production area.

The first week went bye with no problem. Then in the second week we started encountering hiccups in our production. The typical stuff. We didn’t have the parts we needed, there was no one to move the product for us and even some good old-fashioned infighting in the group.

I pulled the team together and we discussed not having the parts we needed. I asked them how we should be producing the TVs. What sequence would work best? They commented they had never been asked for their ideas before. The team came up with a sequence based on their knowledge and a process to get the parts. Every afternoon, one of the employees and I would look at what we have completed and look at what was next on the schedule and determine what parts we would need. I would drive my car over the main plant, gather the parts with the employee and help her carry them back to my car.

I addressed the issue with fighting employees as well. We had one-on-ones and worked through their issues of working together.

Our production rate sky-rocketed. It was almost double what I was told we would be able to do based on past history.

Then came the bombshell. One afternoon, a union steward showed up in my area and proceeded to yell at me in the middle of the production area so everyone could hear. Apparently, helping someone carry heavy boxes so they don’t get hurt and helping my employees move TVs is going to put the union out of a job. He was threatening to file a grievance against me.

Being 21-years-old, I didn’t take too kindly to the yelling, especially in front of the employees. So, I proceeded to yell right back about how I will do whatever it takes to help my employees get the work done and he could….well you can use your imagination for the rest.

It wasn’t 45 minutes later, my manager for this project was out there trying to cool me off and telling me to play the union game. I was shocked at how quickly he collapsed to the union. Ridiculous! Truly pissed me off. I told him that if he wanted me to stop then the union needs to stop delaying my work.

This is a lot of back story to get to this. The union employees on my team went to the union head and got the steward to back off. When I asked them why they would do that, the response was “Because we like working for you and you stuck up for us. We should stick up for you.”

My parents had always instilled in me to treat everyone with respect. And this was a moment where that lesson truly became ingrained in me forever.

We finished the project in 4.5 weeks. Almost half the expected time. As a thank you, I gave them a half day “off” where we hung out in our production area and I bought pizza for the team. It really was something I will never forget.

Reflections:

* People appreciate being treated with respect more than anything else you could give them
* Involve the people in improving the work and they will work hard to make sure it gets implemented properly
* Once people feel safe in giving ideas, then the floodgates will open

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Posted on December 1, 2014, in One Man's Lean Journey, People, Respect for People and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Hi Matt

    I couldn’t agree more with you. In my late teens I was helping an uncle (a mechanical contractor) out for a few days doing some things around his new shop to get it ready for his employees (and yes they were unionized) non of them say me as a threat to their jobs because my uncle respected them and treated them fairly, in fact he often created jobs for them so he wouldn’t have to lay them off during a slow period. He felt that his people were an asset he could not afford to lose. Because of the way he acted toward them and the union leaders, the union leadership in fact respected him and often found ways to make life better for my uncle. Simple respect goes a long way in life, when the uncle died, everyone of the four major unions he worked with actually closed their halls so they could attend the funeral.

    A few years later I toured a unionized steel plant (its union local was consider to be one of the most militant locals of the United Steel Workers), yet in this plant workers and managers right up to the CEO all got along. You see the CEO cared that his people had a clean safe place to work, in fact he personally picked up errant items from the floor and clean the odd oil drops off the floor, and if something was leaking he had maintenance fix it instantly. His work force knew if they had an idea that would make the place better they could tell him and he would listen and take action. He also never tolerated any manager showing disrespect to the union workers. The result was a plant that never went of strike, and in which the workers were shown respect for their efforts to do a good job, by their managers, when a problem occurred the mangers always asked the workers for their ideas to help prevent the problem from reoccurring, workers knew that if they saw something going out of whack they could get the attention of any supervisor or manager and the issue would be dealt with fairly. They also knew that they didn’t have to start an all out fight if something came up, because the managers would always deal fairly with them.

    Union or not respect for people will solve most problems because in reality people need and want respect for doing a good job. It is only in those organizations that care nothing about people that unions truly become militant. In fact in a well managed company the union can in fact become a key partner in its success, because it can play a large role in helping maintain good worker-management relations, because it provides a clearly defined means of contact between the two groups.

    • Those are great examples of showing respect for people and the power it has. Thanks for sharing it, Robert. I would have liked to met your uncle. Sounds like a great guy to work for.

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