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Minimum Effort, Minimum Reward

, , , , | Working | October 25, 2021

The company has two sides: the computer numerical control machining half and the material sales. Customers can pay us to machine the parts for them or buy the materials and do it themselves. It isn’t hard to figure out that the materials side isn’t that profitable. We have racks and racks of material; some only move every three years for the stocktake.

It is also the area with the most problems, despite being such an easy job. The order gets printed and you go to the rack and pick it up. There are big colour-coded labels. There is no rush, and there are no targets apart from getting it right.

However, after a number of complaints, I call the guys in the office to talk.

Me: “Look, we keep getting complaints. Customers keep getting the wrong stock. I thought we fixed it with the scanners. Don’t they work?”

Worker #1: “Well, yeah, most of the time.”

Worker #2: “It does take a long time.”

Me: “Guys, no one is making you run around. You should have loads of time. I spent a week on the floor proving them with no complaints from anyone. I want everyone to use the scanners every time.”

There are murmurs of complaints as the guys go back to work. But it’s only a few weeks before another load of complaints comes in. Again, I call them in.

Me: “Listen, yesterday, I used the scanners all day. They worked fine and stopped me from messing up at least a dozen times. I asked around and no one has any issues. We had fewer orders than ever. Why all the mistakes?”

There’s silence.

Me: “I don’t think you realise that if we lose this customer, we lose the materials business.”

Worker #1: “Well, if you pay people minimum wage, what do you expect?”

Me: “So, is that what you all think? You all know the company isn’t making money at the moment from this side of the business. We all talked about turning it around and trying to make fewer mistakes.”

There was general disagreement across the group. I let them get back to work, but they went to break instead. Then, they went on to work slow as a protest. A load of orders didn’t go out the door. The main customer told us the next day they wouldn’t be back.

A picking and baling robot replaced twelve people’s jobs and made none of the mistakes. I hate to see it happen, but some people are intent on digging their own graves.