Thinking “Inside the Box”


“Being busy does not always mean real work.
The object of all work is production or accomplishment
and to either of these ends there must be forethought,
system, planning, intelligence,
and honest purpose, as well as perspiration.
Seeming to do is not doing.
Thomas A. Edison 

While growing up, some of us wanted to be a fireman.  And… many of us who do not currently drive around in a big red truck have succeeded.   “How?” you ask? 

Often I encounter folks that are fighting fires daily in their workplace.  They are so busy they cannot fit one more project or process into their schedule.  They long for the 26 hour day, while admitting the extra time probably wouldn’t make a difference. 

Much of their time pressure comes from the daily work schedule surrounding their job, whether it’s printing books, making widgets or providing a service.  Often, people are so focused on keeping things running, they do not step back and look to see how things could run better.   What’s keeping them from taking the time to search for improvements is the need to fight fires that are a result of problems that never go away because they are never addressed. 

Can’t See the Forest for the Trees 

Consider this scenario.  The production manager of a small 14 person parts company comes in one morning to find his shipping and receiving person has not come into work…again.  Unfortunately no one else knows how the shipping area runs because they are always too badly needed in production and quality to be pulled from their positions to learn.  However, each time shipping is left unmanned someone needs to get things out the door. 

Today it’s especially important because production is finishing up a large order for a new customer.  It has to go out on time today because this is the company’s chance to prove itself.  If awarded a long-term contract, the work that results would be a huge shot in the arm for this small company.  Failure is not an option. 

It’s also the end of the quarter and there are quarterly reports to be handed in.  The production manager knows that the owner expects his numbers on time but now they’ll be late.  He will need to pull someone from production to work with him to attempt to get the customer’s order shipped by 3 PM today.   That’s when the truck arrives that will drive cross-country to get the order to the customer on time.   That deadline will be a challenge because they’ll be one down in production and limping along in shipping.  The fires are burning and everyone has their firefighter hats on. 

Firefighting 101; Eliminate the Fuel and the Fire Goes Out 

Choosing to take the time to provide some cross training in shipping and receiving would allow others to be up to speed and fill in when shipping is unmanned.  Taking the time to sit down with the shipping person and discuss his attendance would address the attendance problem and possibly salvage a perfectly good employee.  Or maybe a change needs to be made and a more conscientious person hired to fill the shipping position.  Regardless, making the choice to do some planning and investing some time can eliminate these two chronic problems and free up more time that can be used to work on improvements, not fighting fires. 

As contrived as this scenario may seem it’s not uncommon in many companies today.  Issues like the ones above as well as a myriad of others occur in workplaces all the time and everyone habitually reacts.  They are regularly too busy fighting fires to eliminate the causes of those fires. 

Thinking Inside the Box 

No matter what’s happening with the economy or whether sales are through the roof or slower than molasses often those are areas where control is likely out of your hands.  However, inside the walls of your company (inside the box) is the place you have the most control.  You can make changes to increase efficiency, production and your employees’ knowledge and skills that will allow all of you to be proactive and think outside the box. 

Start looking inside your organization for the fires.  They will indicate areas that, once addressed, can eliminate chronic issues and free up time to undertake other improvements and innovations.  You can stop fighting fires by eliminating the kindling – assuming you choose to take the time…

Here to serve, 

John Duba 

Next month:   Being Intentional

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