Now FLY! An Adventure in Leadership

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I can’t sleep.  My mind is racing and it generates a continuous slideshow loop of what can go horribly wrong for me tonight.  It’s Sunday, New Years Day, I’m home trying to get some extra rest as tonight I fly solo and will be responsible for several million dollars worth of equipment and inventory not to mention the 100 lives that go along to operate it all after only a whole two weeks of whirlwind training, I’m managing the first production startup of the new year.

It turned out the rumors were true about a buyer for the company.  A much larger corporation that produces the same product under a well-known brand name and actually understands the manufacturing process has become our new benevolent masters. Right after the sale, they were all over our plant watching, writing, asking, observing, tallying, poking, prodding, and judging.  After a few weeks of intense scrutiny, the changes came down from the mountain top (corporate) and it began with the immediate disbanding of the three gangs that previously operated the territories. (For more info and history on the gangs read The Company Civil War).

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What was the Creatives gang had now become the Production Department and their management team was beefed up with the hiring of new superintendents.  Along with that word also came that the long-feuding DC and Wrappers gangs were to be combined into ONE department that controlled everything from the packaging of the product to palletizing, storage, and shipping so we all had to find a way to get along let alone learn to trust each other.  Our former leader, Raoul was quickly pushed into retirement and shoved out the door, along with one other longtime DC superintendents.  Pete the sweet was demoted from leader of the now-defunct Wrappers to a Packaging Superintendant and soon after that our new head of the new packaging department arrived. 

Back after the sale when they were reviewing us all it was decided that the other DC superintendent, Brad, and I were worth retaining for entertainment and torture purposes as we were now going to be trained and transformed into packaging superintendents.  Brad and I had an awful lot to learn especially since before this merger of the gangs we were always discouraged from entering or nosing around in Wrappers territory. 

I walked into the kitchen, “What are you doing up?”, my wife asked.  I can’t sleep and all I’m doing is just laying there and torturing myself.  “Do you want something to eat?”  Sure, I answered and while you do that I’ll put up some coffee.  I’m going to need a full thermos tonight.  As the coffee brewed I pulled out the drawings and notes that I quickly jotted during my so-called training.  My training consisted of me just barely keeping up with my trainer as I followed him around, up ladders and down man lifts, under moving conveyors and behind spinning dryers.  For a man 20 years my senior he moved with ninja like quality at an incredible speed but spoke even faster while giving me a running dialogue of the sights we were seeing just like a tour guide.  He had a heavy accent and I was behind him as he spoke 90 percent of the time while wearing earplugs and surrounded by loud machinery so I wasn’t really sure what he had pointed out or what he was telling me and before I could get my bearings as to exactly where I was in the plant he was off again.

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The most unfortunate aspect of our training was that good old Pete the Sweet was put in charge of it and he still carried a grudge against us so it wasn’t going to be easy.   He’d call Brad and I into his office and would roll out maps and diagrams of the areas we were supposedly in earlier but they never quite look the same on paper as in real life.  At the end of each day, he’d ask with a silly smirk on his face, so you got it now?  Every day I’d look at him straight in the eye and say, no.  He’d chuckle and say, well you don’t have much more time.  Whatever the hell that meant.  What helped me the most to learn and figure it all out was to wander around on my own usually during my lunch break and I’d come in a half-hour before and stay half-hour after my shift, making notes and asking the operators questions.  It’s amazing how much employees love showing off their knowledge of the operation to someone who shows a genuine interest.

Well, ready or not it all culminates tonight.  In my head I hear, “Now FLY!” and laugh at myself as the thought of a Monty Python cartoon where a giant foot kicks people off the top of a mountain as it yells, FLY!  Of course, all of them just drop straight down the side of the mountain and land with the loud sound of a splat!  Could be me tonight.  “Aren’t you going to eat that?”  My wife’s voice brought me back to reality.  Oh, yea, sorry.  I ate, packed my lunch, filled my thermos, grabbed my notes, kissed the family goodnight and drove to work for my solo flight.

As I drove down the road towards the plant it appeared to look larger than usual and could have been a distortion due to all the plant lights against the darkness of the night or just an overflow of adrenalin.  I parked and got out of the car.  Stood there for a moment, closed my eyes deeply inhaled the cool night air, and walked up to the guard post and checked in.  Since this was startup there was no previous shift to take a handoff from so after checking and finding no call-ins on the sick line, a positive, I walked packaging to check in and introduce myself to all the stations and make sure everyone was getting ready for the fun ahead.

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The first thing I realized during my rounds was that not only did Pete see to it that our training was less than stellar but the team he had assembled for my shift was scattered with a few experienced people but mostly those with the least amount of seniority as well as the least trained and then for good measure, threw in every misfit and malcontent from the other shifts.  Pete had stacked the deck against me and I would soon learn one of them was planted there so Pete could track my activities.

Back at the office and was worried about my green staff who were being led by a green superintendent and that my first day was going to be my last.  I sat in my chair, looked at the packaging schedule, actually just looking through it as my mind floated when I was Jared by the phone ringing.  Production was sending over the finished product to the bins and we could begin to pack.  I regrouped and remembered what had gotten me this far but also had something going for me that Pete or myself never imagined.  

We were scheduled to run seven packaging lines and now that the bins were full of product we were ready to go.  Most of the crew knew that I was brought over from the distribution/warehouse and had gained respect there for championing safety, in fact, shutting down a palletizer because it was missing a chain guard exposing employees to leg amputations and also generating work orders to be expedited for safety reasons then posting the work orders progress so all the employees could see it.  It was a great morale booster as most of the w/o were generated by issues employees pointed out.   

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It took a year there to get to that point of trust and it didn’t help that people like Pete the Sweet and most of the previous old management treated employees like crap.  They yelled, threatened, harassed, and discriminated against them, and if one of Pete’s spies could find something juicy they would blackmail on top of everything else.  That wasn’t my approach and it had worked very well for me.  As I touched base at each station I didn’t tell them what to do, I asked if they were aware of the schedule, did they have all the raw materials they needed or anything they needed.  Some of the operators were so welcoming, demonstrating how their machine worked and how it could work more efficiently.  It was the best education I could get and I was getting paid on top of it all. I took notes on issues brought to my attention so I could look into them.   

Even those that were deemed as trouble makers or non-redeemable approached me and only wanted to be heard and not told it’s none of their business or promise to get back to them and then didn’t.  It turned out they were capable and job knowledgable employees just no one gave them the opportunity to care before.   The one thing that Pete never counted on is that his dislike by all would help us bond together and as much as I empowered them they taught me manufacturing, maintenance and patients.  During the next six months, we became an amazing team out producing the other two shifts on a regular basis but this would spur jealously in Pete as he could never motivate a team to achieve what we were doing.  Luckily it was soon after he began cooking the production numbers before sending them to corporate to make us look bad that he would be caught.  In addition the team knew who his spy was and several of my staff quietly pointed him out to me from day one and sometimes for pure entertainment we would feed him all kinds of stuff which we knew would drive Pete crazy.  Soon Pete’s rhein would end as the company terminated his employment for several issues and the general culture generally improved to a more positive and productive one.  This was an exceptional team of people, from every spectrum of the human race and I was truly proud of them all.  We got through some tough spots but got it done through strong communication, training, trust, and respect.  

You don’t have to know everything to get the job done as long as you can motivate a team to navigate, you can learn to fly.

 

Learning to Fly
Well, I started out down a dirty road
Started out all alone
And the sun went down as I crossed the hill
And the town lit up and the world got still
I’m learning to fly, but I ain’t got wings
Coming down is the hardest thing
Now the good ol’ days may not return
And the rocks might melt, and the sea may burn
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
Yes, it is
Now some say life will beat you down
Yeah, it will break your heart, steal your crown
So I started out for God knows where
But I guess I’ll know when I get there
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Learning to fly)
And coming down is the hardest thing
(Learning to fly)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
But coming down is the hardest thing
Yeah, that’s
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(I’ll tell you one thing, baby, I’m gonna learn to fly)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, and fly over my troubles, fly over my worries)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Fly up high in the blue sky, lookin’ down on the world below)
Coming down is the hardest thing
(Yeah, above all my worries, and over my troubles)
I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings
(Yes, it is, yes it will, gonna work, fly)
Coming down
Baby, that’s the hardest thing
 
 
 

Downtime Can Be Good Time

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Downtime!  A word that can send chills down the most seasoned production manager’s spine especially when it’s unplanned.  These little headaches often arrive in the form of product packaging jams, a broken belt roller, a burned out motor or a blown fuse but are quick fixes with production back up and running usually at most within two hours, (as long as there is a spare motor in the storeroom which I can tell you from experience is not always the case).  Then there are those real shift killers of downtime when a pallet stacker has lost its memory and refuses to be reprogramed or the main screw conveyor that brings product from production snaps and a fire watch must be set up before it can be welded.

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When you encounter a long downtime period whether it is planned or out of the blue you can be the hero if you already have a list of projects ready at hand for just such an occasion.  Depending on contracts, company policies or other past practices when there is no product to pack or produce some employees are able to and may opt to go home, please check into your situation before assuming you’ll have the staffing to accomplish your lists of projects.  However, if you can and want to keep employees busy then you can use the opportunity to actually make your team stronger.  Some items you may want to include on your list are:

1 – Cross-training – One of my favorite things to do during downtime.  I expected my supervisors to work one level up and two levels down and all other staff to be able to accomplish at least two functions.  For a shipping forklift driver on the dock that meant they could also pick an order via voice or operate the bailer.  This helped greatly during peak season and was able to reward employees with higher hourly salaries based on the number of jobs they could perform.  Downtime is the best time to refresh or conduct training and the best people to train are the ones currently doing the job.

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2 – Drills – Great time to have an emergency drill and see if everyone responds to a spill, gas leak, fire or employee injury as they should and make sure they use all the emergency PPE required for those emergencies to ensure they properly function.  Breaking the group up into teams and competing in response times can make the training fun.  Rewards for winning teams can be pizza, sandwiches or one team serving breakfast to another.

3 – Walk Around (Gemba walk) – It’s also a great opportunity to walk your facility to see if there are any issues that may need to be addressed.   Sometimes when you are caught up in the day to day activities going on around you, it’s easy to miss small issues like bent rack support, missing fire extinguisher label or burnt-out light.  Make notes and get those things repaired immediately.  One thing I have found out over the years if your facility looks good people don’t look deeper as they have confidence you know what you are doing and besides you owe it to your employees to give them a clean organized place to work.  Don’t know if you’ve heard the term Gemba walk, but it’s part of Six Sigma a philosophy on improving and solving problems.  I love the sound of the name, Gemba but you can call it whatever you want.  Google Six Sigma, 5S, or Gemba when you get a chance it’s an interesting aspect to add to your repertoire.

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4 – Cleaning – One activity that never gets done enough especially since a lot of companies have severely reduced or totally eliminated their sanitation departments.  Keep a list of areas and equipment that would benefit from a good deep cleaning.  Other areas to consider would be dusting the racks, cleaning under the dock levelers (it’s amazing what collects under there), sorting pallets, washing ceilings, or dealing with the dreaded employee refrigerator.

What other tasks would you tackle during downtime?  When it comes to downtime for retooling, modifying changes to production lines or yearly maintenance that is another situation altogether as most employees considered non-essential for retooling must take their vacations like it or not.  Some companies track downtime for performance-related issues and determining future expenditures as well as longevity of equipment and materials but think how good your production report will look when you have downtime but demonstrate what you accomplished to make the company better.  Yes there are companies that understand stuff happens but more interested if you can make lemonade.  So far be it from me to tell you what to do with your employees during downtime but make sure you’re not missing out on that golden opportunity?

 

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Companies Behaving Badly-Rules? We Don’t Need No Stinkin Rules

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As it is workplace safety is not the most glamorous topic around the world and when it comes to personal safety in general it’s not something most people talk about at all unless a major incident has been recently covered on television or the internet.  It doesn’t help when safety managers and other professionals are perceived and portrayed as scolding mothers reminding the kids to wear their mittens or put away their toys.  The reality is it’s not easy walking that fine line between what the regulators proclaim, what the company wants, what the employees comply with and what YOU know is right.
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What the recent defiant acts of the people, opening a salon by the owner while quarantine ‘stay at home’ orders were in effect or protests by other members of the pubic serve as a perfect example as to why workplace safety is so difficult to prevent 100% of accidents.  When you are dealing with people, as we are witnessing when it comes to the health and safety of others let alone their own health and wellbeing, they’re going to do what they want to do even if what they believe to be their right is wrong and dangerous.
So your company spends all the money in the world on high-quality training manuals full of detailed glossy colorful 8 x 10 photos, along with the best quality professionally produced videos possible and enlist the most elegant and entertaining silver voiced of all motivational speakers and after all that plus the additional training reminders, slogans, contest, drills, toolbox meetings, tailgate meetings, monthly meetings and huddles if that worker has it in their head they can still beat the machine and grab that jammed package out of the way without doing a proper Lock Out Tag Out, they’re going to do it, consequences be damned, not when a challenge is right there in my face.

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p>Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Unfortunately the consequences of this employees actions are a reality no one wants.    The employee wound up with a serious injury (total of 15 stitches on two fingers), the company issued a written reprimand along with a 5-day suspension without pay so the employee could contemplate the error of their ways and then upon their return must suffer further indignity by going throught the company safety orientation and safety training on his machine again before being allowed back to work.  Do you now have.a loyal happy employee?  Was a suspension necessary? I didn’t think so, I thought the injury and safety refresher was enough.  Why did he do it and will he be careful and use better judgement next time?  Only the shadow knows. We’ll come back to this later on.
When the people openly protested the stay at home quarantine and gathered close in proximity while not wearing masks or other protections they did so because they believed their freedom to do what they wanted was being taken away.  Their freedom to expose themselves and innocent people to the virus.  Isn’t it funny how people pick and choose which freedoms they want but damn everyone else.  What if a manager or supervisor believed repairs on a piece of equipment needed for production was taking too long and he wanted to sped it up and decided to unlock the LOTO in place at the power source and get things going while a worker was still finishing up on it.  Is he wrong?  He did justify his actions by stating his concerns that his bonus may be reduced for not meeting production goals or as we used to call it making quota?  Because of that, he would not be able to feed or properly care for his family and so he cut safety corners even though someones life could have been at stake.
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Let’s take it further.  A manager is tired of the production line stopping and starting due to a safety mechanism.  The device is doing the job it was intended for and that is stopping the high-speed production line so employees don’t get injured or worse, caught in the conveyor and killed.  However, this manager is concerned about losing his job due to problems beyond and within his control at the plant.  So to get ahead on production he disables the electronic eye from stopping the machine and keeps the line going, that is until an employee got a sleeve caught and was pulled in to the machine and now ironically the line is down and production halted until OSHA can finish their investigation.  As he told the grieving widow, “Yes he’s gone but we met quota and hey, you’ll meet someone else, no big deal.”
In actuality these two stories are OSHA violations and would be willful violations at that but hopefully it bothered you that people were purposely put in danger.  It is against the law to tamper with safety devices and yet like everything else in life there are those who will obey the law and do proper LOTO and then there are those who only care about themselves and their own greed and that’s why more than ever we need to watch each others back.  Now back to our machine operator with the stitches.  Did the company really do justice in that situation?  Did they look at all the facts including his previous record in which he was given increased responsibilities over the 5 years he worked there and improved his skills and abilities without an accident until now?  No, they did not, only pointed out he had an attendance problem over a year ago as they didn’t care it was due to issues he had with childcare.  So what motivated him to do what he did?  Could being pushed to make quota be a partial cause for his accident?  Was it to close to break or end of shift and his blood sugar was off?  Was it boredom or just a case of poor judgment?  The truth is he was was going to hit a new personal high on the number of cases packed on his machine during a shift.  He was very proud of himself in how well he had the machine tuned and got lost in all the excitement and really wanted to hit that number.  The good news is he will set a new record on that machine and he won’t lose any body parts to achieve it.

 

So as we see contrary to popular belief, rules are not meant to be broken.  It’s actually records, records are meant to be broken.  Rules are put into place for a reason and not just because Mom said so, or your teacher is mean, or your boss is a jerk but to keep you safe from yourself and the world. So before you decide to change or ignore them be sure you are ready to suffer the consequences.
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Companies Behaving Badly-The Return

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Yes! Because of your many fabulous comments and requests, which was so greatly appreciated- This is the return of Companies Behaving Badly which will now be published the third Thursday of each month.

This means I will have to add something new and make adjustments my routine so I can dedicate time to writing this series which is a good thing since it’s nice to change up one’s routine so it doesn’t get too stale and predictable but it’s also bad in that I absolutely hate changing my routine.  Once I get a routine all nicely broken in, comfy and predictable I’m set and can carry on for months if not years.  However, when it comes to safety in the workplace getting into a set routine can be very dangerous.

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When we fall into a set routine we develop a false sense of security and then complacency develops and focus is lost.  You’ve backed up your forklift hundreds of times when loading, unloading trucks or storage racks and you have always looked behind before moving and in all those times not once, did anyone walk behind you.  Complacency begins to woo you over to their ways and letting your guard down as your new false security is reason to believe people know better than to go behind you and they need to watch for you.  So now you backup your forklift without even so much as a slight swivel of your head.

One day it happens – 

So how do we combat complacency in the workplace?  We could hire cheerleaders shouting out encouragement to pay attention to the movement on the shop floor but that could become very impractical and costly overtime not to mention distracting.  We could use the grief and guilt generated from the accident to motivate workers to avoid complacency but unfortunately, that has a short shelf-life as the memory will soon fade.

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It’s not easy to be on the top of your game every day.  Even athletes have off days.  You didn’t sleep, you’re worried about a sick family member, you’re ill, you have money problems, but you do your best to stay focused.   You can’t be a helicopter manager walking alongside your employees every minute of the workday but you can have a huddle at the beginning of each shift.  It’s the best time to communicate with your staff about what to expect, what to watch for and any other reminders you want to convey.

It’s also why you as the manager/supervisor want to be on the shop floor 80% of your time.  Watching for signs of complacency and touching base with workers in real-time.  Let’s face it, workplace safety is not glamorous, at times it seems like your parents scolding but maybe if we think of it as a form of communication instead of safety where we discuss ways to ensure we go home in one piece and understand you are just as responsible for your safety as the company you work for, maybe even more so.

PREVENTABLE – Beer delivery firm fined £800,000 after a worker was run over by forklift truck at Dagenham depot https://buff.ly/2Uzutsx  Here’s a case where a forklift backed up and hit a worker.

PREVENTABLE WORKING TOGETHER –  Workplace fatalities are at their highest levels since 2008. What’s going on?  More than ever we need to watch each other back at work. Stay focused and don’t be afraid to speak up.

PREVENTABLE –  Ever wonder what an accident waiting to happen looks like?  Inside a chaotic warehouse where Hermes staff were ‘buried in parcels. https://buff.ly/36XHzTb Wonder what the customers are thinking.  Housekeeping is an important part of safety in the workplace.  It prevents trips, slips and falls not to mention makes the facility look really good too and keeps the brass from looking deeper.

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PREVENTABLE –  This is not complacency related but is a distraction issue which is just as bad. Jobsites’ most universal hazard is the personal cellphone  https://buff.ly/2UwtZU0: We really are our own worst enemy.

Why you need to inspect

PREVENTABLE – A worker was killed in a wood drying kiln because he couldn’t exit as over time corrosion prevented the door from being opened with the push bar from inside.  A routine inspection could have caught that.  The manufacturer was fined $281,250 https://buff.ly/39xcyY3

PREVENTABLE – Widow of a construction worker killed in light rail site fall sues maker of protection device https://buff.ly/2SrUCXx All safety equipment must be inspected on a regular and consistent basis to prevent tragedies. Make sure it’s being done.

Who’d a thought

We are an interesting species.  We love to solve problems even though the solutions make cause more problems like this one.  WIND turbine blades can’t be recycled so they’re piling up in landfills — https://buff.ly/2v6yI4e Just like all the spent nuclear rods we have piling up.  Eventually, we’re going to run out of space.  Do you have any suggestions for reuse?

Well, that brings this episode to a close and thank you all for stopping by.  Remember you are in charge of your safety.  Don’t let anyone threaten or bully you into doing unsafe acts.  Until next month, take care

monkeyfallgearposter

 

 

It’s 9 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contractors Are?

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As your company grows in sales and expands to accommodate more SKUs, greater inventory, new machinery, and additional employees at one time or another, your business is going to need help from an outside contractor.  They may be in the form of an engineering consultant, general contractor, painter or other types of specialists needed for a project well beyond your or your staffs’ current expertise.

When you make that final selection on your outside contractor before you sign anything make sure to do your homework and check up on their history.  If it all comes back good and you’re ready to offer a contract for the work to be done, on their first day at your facility they should be treated like any other new or temporary/seasonal worker that you bring in and participate in a safety orientation before doing anything. 

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Why?  They don’t know what your expectations are on safety and you don’t want to assume they do.  They don’t know your facility very well and you want to make sure as heck that they don’t contaminate your staff with their bad habits.  You also want to make sure they know that if their workers don’t follow those rules at your facility they’ll be banned from entering.  It’s your facility, your rules and you don’t need additional headaches because an outside contractor couldn’t follow direction and is now in need of medical attention.

You’d be amazed how many outside contractors are injured or killed every year on the job because they either cut corners on safety procedures, were traveling (via foot, electric cart, forklift) in an unfamiliar layout, lack of training or the company didn’t communicate instructions to them properly or incorrectly.  Here’s a contractor who’s paying a hefty fine for not following safety rules.  OSHA Fines Contractor $94K After Worker Burned At McDavid Sawmill and here’s another contractor being investigated for a chemical spill, OSHA investigating contractor B.L. Harbert over Birmingham Water Works chemical spill

As I stated earlier, it’s amazing the number of contractors injured or killed and it appears this is becoming a more serious problem as the numbers have increased.  A sharp rise in US contract workers killed on the job

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We hired an outside contractor to do some work on a new production line we were installing and it involved electrical and concrete work.  The main mode of transport within the facility was by man-lift, elevator or stairs with man-lift being the main one and the rule was if you rode the man-lift you didn’t carry a backpack, tools or other cumbersome items.  If you dropped it someone could be injured below or if it got caught riding up you could fall.  Our maintenance crew knew to take their carts and equipment up by the elevator.  The outside contractor didn’t go through any safety orientation as the company assumed all would be well.

A few days after the work began there was a commotion on one of the upper levels in the facility and our in-house emergency team responded to a call at the north man-lift where someone had fallen.  It was one of the contractors and it was bad enough that a call was made to 911 for an ambulance.  He was in a rush and had decided he didn’t want to wait for the elevator but took his tools up the lift with him and wound up falling two stories.  He broke both ankles, a leg, two ribs, a shoulder and sustained back and head injuries.

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The very next day the company had every manager doing recertification on every employee in their department.  I had to watch all 60 of my staff get on the lift, one at a time go up one flight, get off and then come back down one flight.  Documented it for all and then had myself recertified.  A fun evening was had by all.  Here lies the problem.  When you don’t take care of business the right way the first time, by proper training, proper documentation, you wind up spending and wasting time documenting while trying to keep production going full speed just to cover the company’s ass.

However, this will not be a problem at your facility and you will be in full control if you follow these guidelines:

  1. This is your facility, your rules, you are in charge!  As the supreme leader responsible for what goes on, it’s your rules of the road that are followed to protect everyone from employees to outside visitors.
  2. Any individual from the outside contractor must complete your in-house safety orientation. This is important especially if your facility has man lifts, elevators, confined spaces, danger areas, and flammables.
  3. Constant sustained communication between the contractor and you, the hiring company is critical to everyone’s safety.  What equipment will they be using that day, noise level, dust level and so on?
  4. To achieve #3 designate a point person at your company for the contractor to communicate with, answering any questions at any time while the contractors are physically on-site.
  5. Check-in and check out daily with the contractor.  Greet them upon arrival, go over any new details and see them when they leave.
  6. Stop by periodically to touch base and see how the work is progressing and that the contractor’s workers are not wondering anywhere they shouldn’t be.
  7. Don’t hesitate to ban any outside worker not following the rules or committing an unsafe act.
  8. It’s your facility, you are in charge, be in charge.

 

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The TopTen OSHA Violations Before Christmas.

santaworkshopsantaSanta received an OSHA violation and pending inspection notice.

Right now, as you are reading this, Santa’s elves are hard at work putting the finishing touches on the toys and other gifts made for girls and boys around the world.  But friends, I’m here to tell you that those kids may never see those gifts.  Santa’s secret workshop is in danger from the dastardly efforts of a whistleblower (we suspect the Grinch) up at the North Pole and now the workshop is going to be inspected and in danger of being shut down by OSHA!

WE NEED YOUR HELP to prevent this from happening.  Help Santa find all the violations in his workshop and how we can clean them up.  Each workday until Christmas eve we will solve another violation and each time we find and solve the issue the Grinch fades away.  If we fix all 10, the Grinch will be gone and Santa will be able to do his thing.

TOMORROW – On the first day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Company Civil War

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Everyone wants to think they’re in charge.  Some sales and marketing departments think they’re in charge.  Some think manufacturing is in charge and some think purchasing and supply chain is in charge.

In the vast city known as Candy-Land (protecting the real company name) there existed but only three gangs who had divvy-up the city and totally controlled it.  All three not only ruled their territories with tyrannical deceit and ruthlessness but were often at war with each other at one time or another.  If only the feuds were about something constructive but always more personal between the gang leaders then anything else.  There was one gang known as Creations and they were ruthless but more civilized of the three in their approach.  Their mission was to make the “product” and dry it before transporting the product to the bins.

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The other two gangs were constantly at each other’s throats with skirmishes popping up a few times a week not so much from the gang members hating each other, they did but the leaders despised each other.  The leader of the gang called the Wrappers was Pete the sweet a very ugly, short and vulgar man.  Across town, where the gang the DC ruled their leader, Raoul who was tall, muscular and good looking spoke softly since he was a former boxer and often let his fists carry the conversation.  As I said, the two didn’t get along at all and were constantly in full-blown shouting matches right in full view of everyone mano y mano.

The Wrappers were an interesting bunch.  They would take the dried product from the bins and get it ready for transport to the buyers by packaging it in nice colorful paper of all sizes from one pound boxes to 100 pounds bags to attract as many buyers as possible.  Pete the sweet had illusions of grandeur as he believed he could tell people in the other gangs what to do or how to do it so it wouldn’t affect his gang in their quest to meet packaging goals and his bonus.  This interference enraged the other leaders but really angered Raoul no end who may have taken a punch to many as he believed he should be in charge of all the territories.

The games afoot:

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When the DC was having problems with the ASRS (read The Company Hostage) and stopped the putaway of pallets of packaged product into storage this enraged Pete the sweet as having people standing around drove him crazy.  So he decided to go to the DC and tell them how to fix the problem and get it going.  He huffed and he puffed, he threatened and he intimidated, but it all fell on deaf ears since we were already busy doing what we needed to do.  It was easy to ignore him since Raoul had told us earlier to ignore Pete and then call to update him but what really made it easy was our gang really didn’t like the Wrappers so when he went directly to the workers they took pleasure in ignoring him as well and made Pete even angrier when he heard, you’re not my boss.

On the off shifts, when Pete wasn’t around had instructed his lieutenants to climb out of their trees and confront us on what was happening in the DC every time the packaging lines stopped.  We ignored them too or just outright lied on how long it would be down just to really send them into a frenzy as they then had to call and wake Pete at home to update him and he wasn’t so sweet.  He would call the ASRS room where of course they also ignored him but more because they were busy working to get the system back up and running.

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There was no team building going on here unless you want to call telling your gang to ignore the leaders of other gangs team building.  I watched as lots of walls were erected between departments as each was surrounded in its own secrecy and not daring to allow anyone else to know their plans for that day, week or month all within the same plant.  The current owners, an investment company, still searching for a buyer had no idea how to handle the situation and didn’t want to invest let alone lose any more money and sent out this one and only in edict in early October as production numbers took a dive, “work things out”.

As with a lot of other companies, the holidays, Thanksgiving thru Christmas were our biggest season for sales, so much so to keep up with the orders we had to begin to produce and stockpile inventory right after labor day in September or we’d never meet the demand and lose sales.  For some reason, each gang leader interrupted the edict from the owner as giving them the authority to be in charge to get things done which turned ugly later in the month.

The day started like any other day.  A quick huddle with my crew and we laid out several scenarios that could happen and how we would respond.  We had spent the weekend clearing out a large storage area in the back of the facility where we could stack pallets of product in the event of the ASRS going down.  The holidays were on the horizon and sales and marketing people were loudly crying about not enough product out in the stores.  We were all trying.  The Creations were having issues cooking up the product, The Wrappers had packaging machine issues and the DC had the ASRS.  We were literally holding things together with chewing gum, baling wire, and duct tape.

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As fate would have it our luck and the duct tape didn’t hold out.  Something fell from a pallet jamming the conveyor in the ASRS and snapping the drive chain and taking out a license plate reader.  The DC gang began moving the product by forklift as fast as we could but the hallway that led to the makeshift storage area was narrow and we couldn’t go very fast but we were keeping the factory going.  Raoul came to assess the situation and told the palletizers to slow down so we could keep up with the product coming out and take it to storage.  Emergency repairs to the ASRS were beginning but we knew it’d be down for the day if not longer.  Raoul also knew it was going to be a long day and as he had done before and one of the reasons I liked him had pizza delivered to feed his gang as we were in constant motion to keep the other gangs happy and busy as well.

Pete the sweet was having none of it.  He didn’t care what was happening in the DC and that we were making every effort to keep the factory going.  He didn’t like the palletizers were slowed and even though the packaging was able to continue it wasn’t at the pace Pete wanted.  Pete only cared about Pete and how all this was personally directed at him.  He believed what happened was only intended to hurt him and him alone.  He didn’t care whether the company made the goal or not, he didn’t care for training or safety either and was known to order others to cut corners on safety.  If they got away with it he applauded them for their ingenuity but if they got caught he’d throw them under the bus.  Yet his gang knew in order to survive in the Wrappers you had to do what he wanted or suffer the consequences with abuse and bullying.

The showdown finally came, right there in the middle of the facility.  Pete and Raoul face to face yelling, screaming, cursing and threatening each other.  Pete loudly criticized Raoul for buying pizza, not a time to eat!  Raoul disagreed and told Pete he didn’t have to defend his actions to anyone let alone a little dictator.  The louder they got the more people from all the gangs lined the floor, the mezzanine, and the rafters until it looked and sounded like a sell-out crowd at a Golden State Warriors game with various shouts of encouragement from the crowd.  Hit him!  Don’t take that crap, Pete!  Punch him out, Raoul.  The cheers, the chants, the calls for blood, if I didn’t know better I could have been at the Colosseum in Rome watching gladiators.  We could see that Raoul was getting ready to end the conversation and let his fists speak.  There was no production going on at all.

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Finally, another lieutenant from the DC and myself decided to end this and jumped between the two combatants and while Carl began trying to calm down Pete while he backed him up I was pleading with our leader, Raoul to take this discussion to an office, in private.  The adrenalin was surging through my body and my heart racing as I started to think of things to say and babbled, You’re better than this. You don’t want to hit him here there are too many witnesses.  At one point in desperation, I supposedly said to him, the pizza is getting cold, I don’t remember this with all the excitement going on but it actually made him stop, look at me and brought a smile to his face as he caught his composure.  He chuckled and said, You’re right Phil, the pizza is getting cold and we walked to his office.

It took a day and a half before the ASRS was fully operational and even then still continued with the usual ups and downs.  With the efforts and hard work of staff, we were able to meet most of the demand with some late shipments going out at discounted rates as make it up to the customers for previous short shipments.  Raoul and Pete continued their feud and that alone was more of a disruption to the plant than any equipment failures.  It even became more difficult for the Superintendents and forepeople to manage the day to day activities not knowing what would break down next.  Sick calls increased and people just didn’t want to come to work and I can’t say I blame them but now, that all didn’t matter as rumors of a new buyer for the plant began to swirl and we could all feel the change in the air.

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The Company As Hostage

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The company had a very old ASRS, Automated Storage and Retrieval System to store the majority of it’s finished product inventory.  We were in transition as the company had gone into receivership and was run by an investment corporation that was trying to keep overall costs as low as possible while they prayed and searched for a buyer.  The system was so old that in the era of CD drives it still used floppy disc to operate the system that was, to say the least, fragile.  It could freeze up due to trouble reading a dirty license plate or from a loud sneeze or other inexplicable reason and have to be rebooted.

The cost to upgrade was enough that our benevolent keepers felt hiding their heads in the sand and ignoring the problem would magically make it stop hurting the bottom line but it was every time the ASRS was down.  It interfered with production in that when you can’t put the product into storage you can’t keep packaging it and when you can’t retrieve product to ship you can’t invoice.  In addition, a lot of overtime was spent on having workers move and stack products anywhere they could in the facility so the packaging of the product could continue but that also led to inventory issues of lost and misplaced products which became a nightmare for our production scheduler. 

Our keepers also didn’t see how over time the leadership on-site had surrendered its authority and through attrition and neglect, there was only a handful of employees left who not only knew how to operate the ASRS but how to keep it going and no one in management noticed the pending issue or thought to make plans for rectifying the situation because they were too busy putting out fires or pointing fingers at one another. 

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Things had actually been moving along pretty well during the last few weeks with only a few minor hiccups of the ASRS and word the company may have found a new owner but on this particular warm sunny afternoon, a few employees were caught smoking a joint in the back of the shipping building.  Marijuana was not yet legal in any form in any state and in accordance with the company zero-tolerance policy, they were terminated on the spot. The problem was of the five caught smoking, three were ASRS operators which was more than half the staff as well half the only people who could operate the system.  

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The “IT” really hit the fan, of course, during the graveyard shift after they had forced swing shift for four hours, allowable by contract no one else showed up to operate the ASRS.  Management hadn’t realized that there was no one else available that had been trained to operate the system.  They had screwed-up royally and were behind the eight ball.  No communication or verification nothing but an all night long battle of survival as pallets of product were stacked five high down corridors, hallways any open space was fair game as production had to pack out the product already produced within a specific time frame.  The company in a word had been taken, hostage.

The ASRS operators still available were refusing over time even the forced four hours and the union was standing up for them pointing out the safety issues of working all the extra hours and demanding the return of the fired workers while not allowing the training of any additional ASRS personnel keeping the company hostage.  After a few days of keeping on their game face, and saying everything was all right the company quietly began to negotiate an end to the hostage situation along with dealing with the backlog of the finished product all over the facility.  The deal eventually worked out after hours of negotiating brought back all the terminated employees, they all had to attend drug and alcohol rehabilitation, were on a one-year probation for drug use, had to train additional employees and management as well as document procedures on the ASRS while the company promised and began the painful process of upgrading the system to twenty-first-century technology.

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This is a lesson that was not cheap.  The overtime alone to count inventory and to get all the finished products into the ASRS system was ridiculous and it took weeks to get shipping and invoicing back to normal.  A binder was created with all the information needed so that even a caveman could operate the ASRS and the cost of the upgrade was hovering at $One Million.  This all could have been avoided and not an issue if upper management kept their eye on the big picture and allowed their supervisors and managers to do their job of training and documenting training but they had no experience in manufacturing and were lost in all the complexities of an aging system and ancient techniques while trying to meet the demands of today.

As I’ve said many times you reap what you sow.  You don’t have to be a boss hogs taskmaster but you must hold people accountable for their actions after a thorough explanation of the rules, expectations, and consequences.  You are in charge of your realm of the kingdom that makes up the company so RUN IT!  Be proactive, do a yearly hazard inspection, check emergency gear, create a safety committee, do your walk and be on the floor 80% of the time so you know what’s going on and what your workers are dealing with.  For more tips and ideas on leadership or if you have questions please don’t hesitate to contact me.

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The Hawaiian Shirt Rebellion

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Some times the best way to improve morale in a company is with a subversive action especially if it just ever so slightly breaks a rule and has been coordinated with the entire staff.

Our family-owned company had recently been bought by a large corporation.  We were their new shining addition to the family and after a long grueling process of upgrading our systems and intercommunications, we learned the new rules of the road.  New training, new reports, new programs, new ways of doing things and new dress code.  Morale was very low and our new corporate masters were not seeing it at all and just kept pushing without stopping even for a second so we could catch our breath. 

The leaders of the resistance were all young professionals in their late 20’s to early ’30s. Even though we each worked in a different department, (engineering, maintenance, production, quality control, and facilities) we had become pretty tight over the years not only because we were close in age but our eclectic mix of personalities worked so well and our positions naturally had us working together to resolve production issues.  We also went to ballgames after work together, Oakland A’s were only a few BART stations away and we shared drinks on Fridays to celebrate our victories and console our loses that week.  

Even though the statute of limitations has long expired I still will not reveal the other members of the resistance but admit that I was one of the members.  On one particular Friday, while drinking and complaining, it came up that July 1st was around the corner and the beginning of the new fiscal year.  What could we do to celebrate the occasion and help break up the funk at work and get morale back to where it needed to be.  There was a definite correlation between the number of drinks consumed and the innovation and creativity of ideas put forward by the group.  Silliness turned to anger and then anger back again to silliness.  The drinks and hours went by until we broke for the night and our weekend.

Monday morning seemingly came around too fast and at our morning break, we again went over our plan to make sure this is the statement we wanted to make.  The six of us talking just above whispers and constantly looking over our shoulders so no one else could hear us or most importantly know we were behind what was about to happen.  We thought a strategic strike against the new dress code would get a smile out of almost everyone.  Previously there was no dress code except the unwritten rule of, when we had visitors at the plant we had to wear slacks and a button shirt and now we had to dress that way every day.  They wouldn’t even listen to having a dress down Friday.  We swore our allegiance to each other after the break and each put their part of the plan into play.

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The fake memo was completed by one member and the copies made late at night by another and I came in extremely early to place memos directly on the employees desk.  The company leadership such as the President, VP’s and Plant Manager were left off the distribution list.  The memo on the usual company letterhead was plain and simple.  A picture of a Hawaiian shirt and the following,  “To Celebrate the new fiscal year, Friday has been declared as Hawaiian shirt day!  Wear your best Hawaiian shirt and be ready to party.”

The rest of the week we monitored all gossip and conversations to make sure this was still a secret, really going to happen and be a pleasant surprise for all.  Friday came and we met in the employee lot, donning our Hawaiian shirts and to no surprise, all of us had brought a backup outfit just in case it really went south as we had no idea what kind of participation we would get from the rest of the staff.  People sounded excited about the idea but would it carry all week?  We huddled, put our hands in and shouted, “GO HAWAII”!  

The six of us walked in together to meet our destiny, but were stopped in our tracks by our dropped jaws and were totally blown away!  Not only did most of the staff arrive wearing Hawaiian shirts, but the rest had brought them and changed into them here.  Some really embraced the spirit of the day and were wearing leis or playing ukeleles and a few had plastic blow-up palm trees and one surfboard.  Then there was a sound coming from the lunchroom that we hadn’t heard in a while.  Laughter.  People were laughing, talking, smiling and enjoying themselves. WE did it! 

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Then the inquisition came. Our VP of Human Resources was a particularly special stick in the mud.  No sense of humor, no jokes, no laughs and extremely pompous.  If you had the misfortune of a meeting with him they always took twice as long as with anyone else since he constantly took phone calls during the meeting so you can add rude to the list as well.  Our VP of HR began his investigation into Hawaiigate and seek out the culprit or culprits responsible!  First, the usual suspects’ were interrogated and then other people were summoned to the office and asked, “Where did this memo come from?”  They all answered as we hoped, it was on my desk when I arrived.  Each member of the resistance was also called into his office, one at a time and asked if we knew or heard anything?  We all responded in kind, as shocked as he was that this could happen but had no clue as to who.

Mr. VP of HR eventually gave up his witch hunt and no one was ever punished for the crime but a flurry of new policies followed along with the consequences for future infractions of HR law. The President of the company actually loved the Hawaiian shirt idea so much,  every Friday was now a dress-down day and the second Friday of each month was a different themed employee day. 

Sometimes the only way to shake a culture up is with a little internal rebellion.   

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A Tale of Two Ships

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During a recent vacation, I was unexpectedly presented with a unique opportunity to observe first hand how a company benefits from a solid hiring/recruiting strategy that’s reinforced by a thorough training program and tied together with strong leadership.  I have not been paid to write this article for or to endorse Viking River Cruises.  This is the second river cruise my wife and I have taken with Viking and have enjoyed them immensely and wanted to give the fantastic crews of the Bragi and the Skadi a shout out!   You are all amazing!

The chance came up quickly but not unexpected as we were warned well before the trip that due to the lack of rain during the summer the river water levels in a few spots were low and may not allow for safe passage so there existed a possibility of exchanging ships.  Exchanging ships!?  Really?  Sure enough, halfway through we couldn’t continue but Viking had their plan in place and ready to go.  The day we left Budapest up the Danube on Ship A, Ship B was leaving Amsterdam and traveling Southeast.  The ships were exactly the same so at the designated point we packed and left Room 233 on Ship A, took a three an a half hour bus ride got on board Ship B to Room 233.  Meanwhile like an alternate universe, the folks on Ship B were doing the exact same thing.  It was seamless as we gained a new captain, new waiters, new bartenders, new housekeepers, and new crew with only one exception and the one constant in our experiment, we kept the same social director.  All said and done I spent one week with Ship A’s team and one week with Ship B’s team and two weeks with Joey.

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My first thought was this was going to be more difficult for the service crew on both ships to adjust and handle as they had already established relationships with the various passengers and cliques which had formed over the first 3 nights during a speed dating like process aboard ship, which is considered a sacred ritual on all cruise ships. It’s interesting to watch the groups slowly develop like cultures in a Petrie dish as the open auditions have now ended and the “who they want to spend the rest of the cruise hanging with” is decided and the crew now quickly re-learns all the new preferences and idiosyncrasies.  The selection of folks to choose from on this cruise was tantalizing as just about every state was represented including California, Washington, Oregon, Michigan, Alaska, Virginia, Texas, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Illinois, Connecticut, Tennessee, and Florida as well as a few Canadians and Australians tossed in for good measure. 

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Now, before we continue, let’s get this out of the way right now.  The rooms were not “identical” as we were lead to believe.  We noticed almost immediately one glaring difference between Ship A room #233 (on the right) and Ship B room #233 (on the left). The paintings were not the same!  So now we know the truth, the rooms are just very similar.

When you look at the overall operation of both ships, which was equal, you see the benefits of the recruiting and screening process of applicants, (finding the talent) and a great training program (sharpening skills) to ensure consistent uniform perfection in service, actually, it’s more what you don’t see as they all work seamlessly.  The level of thoughtfulness, professionalism, attention to detail and passenger safety provided by both ships crews was second to none as every wish one could have, was immediately handled with grace and flair, all accomplished by a diverse workforce of Hungarians, Slovakians, Bulgarians, Romanians, Filipinos, Serbs, Germans, Dutch, Italians, French all working together as one team. No issues of borders or politics, just one focus, one goal in mind, service extraordinaire. 

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As uniform, as the two ships were in performance, there were also lovely expressions of individuality by the staff in their flair and presentation. The way they greeted you, the way they poured, the way they took orders, the way they joked and the way they smiled and the longer you spend time with them they open up more as who they are.  However, there were some glaring differences in individual performances.  The breakfast omelet maker on one ship was the best of them all.  His technique was absolutely entertaining and fun to watch.  As he listened to your request he placed butter in the pan and as it melted he then placed the ingredients you ordered in as well.  He knew exactly when to flip and fold it which he did with one quick jerk of the pan and it came out perfect every time.  You can tell he really enjoyed what he was doing as he was always upbeat and had an infectious smile which was awesome to begin the day.  On the other ship, the breakfast omelet maker was nowhere near as good.  He always looked like he was having a bad day and unceremoniously tossed the ingredients into the pan, letting it get too hot and always over browning the bottom of the omelet and he had absolutely no zip in his flip.  The experience was such a put off I had cereal.

While in the lounge/bar area on one ship, we never had anyone in our group or overheard anyone complain about their drinks but on the other ship, we not only heard someone at the bar complain about how their old fashion tasted but later one in our group was having the same issue with their old fashion.  By all accounts, it seems someone was leaving out an ingredient.  I’m sure in both instances through the feedback received from guests, steps were taken in the manner of a refresher training for those individuals.  I did mention that the operation and service of both ships were equal but in my opinion, the food overall, especially the dinners were much better on one ship than the other.  It was more flavorful, seasoned well and better prepared.

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There was some outstanding service as well.  A server on one of the ships was very bright and caught on right away that I always had coffee after dinner, every night without skipping a beat.  As soon as the dessert orders began rolling out he was ready with coffee in hand and a smile on his face.  Then there is the “my phone” story that is a great tale of Going That Extra Mile.  I had left my phone on one of the tour buses.  In my defense, I was dazed and confused having just woken up after nodding out during the bus ride from a tour of the town.  When we arrived back at the ship I totally ditzed and forgot to check the seat pocket.  As soon as I stepped back on to the ship I realized I didn’t have it!  What must have looked like a crazy man on the lam I ran off the boat but the tour bus had just left.  I went to the concierge desk and Joey was there so I explained what had happened.  Joey told me he understood and would reach out to the bus company but the ship had to leave on schedule and couldn’t wait for the bus to return.  I told him I understood and thanked him on whatever they could do and went back to my room.  Having given up on ever seeing my phone again and enjoyed an extra drink to help ease the pain. After the evening presentation for the next day’s tours, we were walking from the bar area to the dining room when the concierge called to me.  As I turned around he stopped, smiled and handed me my phone.  I wanted to kiss the entire bus company and everybody on board.

But the glue that bound it all together, the training, screening, and service was Joey.  He was our social director who had established a rapport with everyone even before we boarded the ship as he introduced himself as we checked in.  He was the voice we would come to trust through his nightly presentations that were not to be missed as they were always delivered stand-up comedic style, upbeat and full of energy with a dry sense of humor.  After we had a cocktail or two he’d make his entrance into the lounge and quickly review and critique that days highlights followed by the weather report for tomorrow and then the introduction of the chef who’d give us the menu rundown followed up with Joey covering the next day’s cities and tours and other planned activities.  Joey became the voice of the ship, he was the voice of Viking as he was the one who had to deliver the bad news that we had to switch ships but did it so it sounded more positive than negative.  He was always around making sure everything went like clockwork.  He was there as the tour groups formed and boarded buses, boarded bicycles or walked to town.  He checked in and up on the guides, always interested in feedback.  In addition to our entertainment, he was just as responsible for the safety of all the guests on their land tours as the captain is aboard ship.  What I admired most was no matter how many fires he was putting out, finding passengers lost in the local town, listening to unhappy guests, answering questions about local stores, reuniting lost belongings including phones to guests you never saw it in his face, you never heard it in his voice, there was always a smile and he always had time to listen.  The last day aboard ship as we were waiting for our transportation, I got to watch Joey in action as he was in constant motion, saying goodbye to his leaving flock while simultaneously welcoming new busloads of guests to their journey.  Still full of positive energy.  

My high school football coach used to tell us to give 110 percent or you weren’t committed.  I used to think that was a ridiculous statement since you can’t really give more than 100% but if anyone could give 110% that would be Viking river cruises.  What I have learned from this experience is more a confirmation of what I have always believed that when talent gets the proper consistent training and nurturing leadership you can accomplish any goal. 

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