Bill, a hard-working laborer who had been laid off from his job of 20 years when the local mill shut down, was restless to return to work and thankful to find a job at a manufacturing plant in the next town.
On Bill’s first day at the plant, his new supervisor went over his job duties inside the facility. Then, he took Bill outside and walked about a quarter mile to the end of a pipeline.
“Every morning when you get to work, the first thing you need to do is open this valve,” the supervisor said. “It’s very important that you do it at the start of your shift. Then, at the end of your shift, you need to come out here and shut the valve. You can’t forget to do it!”
Bill, eager to please his new boss, said he would never forget, and he never did. Every day for 10 years, he started his day by walking to the end of the pipeline and opening the value. Eight hours later, he walked back to the end of the pipeline, and closed the valve. He took this part of his job seriously, never forgetting the importance his supervisor had placed on the task.
After 10 years, Bill decided it was time to retire. During his last week on the job, his supervisor asked him to train his replacement. On the new worker’s first day, Bill walked him down to the end of the pipeline, and said, “This is a very important part of the job. Every day, you must come out here first thing in the morning and open this valve. At the end of your shift, come back and close the valve. Never forget.”
The young man looked at the valve and said, “Sure. I’ll do it, but why? What does the valve do?”
Bill was startled by the question. He had never thought about the valve’s purpose. Bemused, he said, “I don’t know. Let’s find out.”
The two workers walked back to the facility and found the supervisor. Bill asked, “My first day on the job 10 years ago, you told me to open that pipeline valve at the start of the day and close it at the end of the shift. Why is it important to turn it on and then off every day?”
Puzzled, the supervisor asked, “What valve?” Bill and the new worker led the supervisor back to the valve to show him. The supervisor shook his head in disappointment. “Didn’t anyone tell you? That pipeline hasn’t been used for the last five years!”
Evolution should lead to better efficiency
It is all too easy to get into a daily routine and continue to complete duties that may no longer be necessary. While you may not have any irrelevant valves in your workplace, are you sure you don’t have any outdated tasks your employees are performing?
To ensure that you and your team are not turning valves for no good reason, you may want consider taking the following actions:
▶ Make sure job descriptions are up-to-date and employees understand the reasons for performing specific job duties;
▶ Encourage employees to ask questions and take ownership of how their responsibilities fit into overall processes;
▶ When changes occur in the workplace, consider all the parties who might be affected, and take the time to re-evaluate processes involving all stakeholders.
As workplaces evolve, so might the duties and responsibilities of employees. Fostering an environment of clear communication and encouraging participation in continuous improvement will ensure that evolution doesn’t result in accidental inefficiencies.
Kyra Kudick is an associate editor at J. J. Keller &Associates, Inc., a national compliance resource company with more than 200 clients in the Las Vergas market. Kudick specializes in employment law/HR issues such as employee relations, hiring and recruiting, and training and development. She is the author of J. J. Keller’s Employee Relations Essentials manual and SUPER adVISOR newsletter. Reach her through www.jjkeller.com/hr.