Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Working for the Man

Up until 3-1/2 years ago I had always worked for someone else. “Working for the man” had its pluses and minuses. The most obvious benefit is a steady income which is important when you are raising a family and paying off a home mortgage. On the downside are both a limited, or narrow, opportunity for personal growth plus the many common elements of a corporate culture, like the numerous and sometimes seemingly endless stream of meetings, that gobble up your time. In addition there are all of the HR rules, regulations and forms one had to comply with and complete. And last but not least are the reporting relationships and the company politics that are part of every job when you are working for the man. Then at the start of 2010 I became the man. I formed my own limited liability company. I am the only employee. I do the marketing, systems work, accounting, material development, travel planning, workshop presentations, keynotes and anything else the business requires. It was liberating and unbelievably exciting to not only set my own path but to be successful on the journey. I truly am having the time of my life. Then about six weeks ago I received a call from “the man.”

The man, in this case, was the University of Illinois Business Innovations Services (UIUC-BIS) organization. After finding me on the web they called to ask if I could visit their office for an introductory meeting. After two meetings I was offered a part time position as a lean consultant. To be honest I was reluctant to accept the position for I really enjoyed my independence. Working for yourself will always beat working for the man. But finally I said I would give it a try. Our working arrangement was based on a hand shake agreement and I was assured there would be no meetings to attend. Not bad I thought! Then I received an email asking me to log into the University of Illinois HR database to complete the required employment forms. After a few frustrating attempts I was questioning the wisdom of agreeing to work for the man again. Yet something made me persevere. That was the promise of new opportunities to engage people and help them believe in themselves.

The day after the handshake I was given the names of contacts at two client companies. At the first I facilitated two 2-day Lean Safety workshops. I have facilitated enough of these events to know they will always be wildly successful. Attendee’s eyes are opened to a new way of viewing and improving employee safety while at the same time reducing the cycle time of their business processes. Feedback from the client site was all positive and one of the attendees sent a message stating,”there is a lot of good "Buzz" around the office regarding the training session - some really great results.” I left knowing the workshop attendees, with my guidance, had made work easier and safer for the employees working in the production areas. I also fully understood that the work processes that were improved was not the primary benefit of my four days spent there – it was the minds that were changed. I was confident the attendees would continue to observe and improve the work processes after I departed.

The second client was a smaller company with just over 50 employees. The current leaders were very interested in changing the culture of the business using the lean philosophy. They had, on their own, started with a 5-S effort that resulted in limited success. During my initial site visit we developed a training plan that would span 9 days. Over the 9 days the attendees would be exposed to 5-S, set-up reduction, plant/cell layout, process mapping, workflow improvement, kaizen events and of course the opportunity to make work safer and easier for themselves and their co-workers.

If you haven’t been in a manufacturing facility in the last ten years you may not know that Hispanics, just as they are in the US population, are becoming the majority. I often reflect on the fact that we are all children, or descendants, of immigrants. Each of us can search our family tree and be transported back to a time when our forefathers left some distant land and came to America for the promise of a better life. Many of them, just like the Hispanics today, worked in factories. Because language is an issue for all immigrants they prove their worth by working very hard. As the years pass and both their language skills increase and their work knowledge grows they are given leadership opportunities. This description describes four of the five trainees I worked with over the nine training days.

On day one they appeared to be a little nervous and unsure about what was in store for them. Rightly so for over the next 8 days I pushed not only them, but the leaders of the business, to think differently. They responded and grew in their confidence to the point that on the last day they were ready to conduct a report out to management on their training activities. Together we gave an overview and then they described the opportunities for improvement that had been identified and implemented. They did a wonderful job and were beaming with confidence when it ended. We shared lunch, I had a meetings with the business owners in which we talked about next steps and I then departed for home feeling like I had made a difference. That belief was validated the next day when I received an email thank you from one of the business owners. It read, “We have had many trainers come to our company though out the years but never have we had someone that cared the way you do. You have made a difference in everyone that was in the training, not only here at work, but in their (personal) life.”

What has been common in both of my careers, as a corporate (working for the man) employee and working as an independent consultant, has been the opportunity to touch the lives of people. Since my goal is to change the world, or at least how the world views safety in workplaces, this new work opportunity opened a new path that allows me to touch and engage even more people.

My next public workshop is an AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) sponsored event in Paso Robles, Ca. It will be hosted by Specialty Silicone Fabricators on July 24 – 25, 2013. You can visit the AME website for registration information. Stay safe.

“Working for the Man” is a song written and performed by Roy Orbison.