Thursday 15 October 2015

We can really clean up!

BQ Industries have recently taken over one of our rivals. They put themselves up for sale in 2012. And we made a bid. Which they rejected. They went with someone else. 

But that someone else couldn't raise the funds they were promising. And the sale dragged on. Then off. Then on again. And finally the other party pulled out altogether this September and a week later our rival went bankrupt. So we stepped in and took it over. Kept most of the staff on temporary contracts.. reopened and got going again.. while we try and decide what to do with it.

This was a business about twice the size of ours back in 2010. The owner has not had any involvement with it directly since 2012. Just contact by email and phone to the manager.

 Walking around this new-old business a lot of little things caught my eye.
Firstly, Its filthy. Every surface has grime and dirt. The bins were overflowing. Cardboard piled up like a tower block. This is common among failing business. Bills stop being paid. So the cleaners don't come. The recycling collections stop ..etc etc. 

But what struck me was the sink, with the staff's own cups was dirty. Cups unwashed. Surfaces uncleaned.100 year old dishcloth.. These are the workers own belongings. 

- The warehouse workstations are knee deep in the sort of rubbish that accumulates from packing and picking. Buried in the rubbish were pens, and cutters. Parcel tape. Boxes of labels etc.

I counted fifteen packing tape rollers for 8 workstations. About 20 box cutters for the same - Not including those discovered that have simply fallen on the floor. Most workstations have a box of 36 x 6 clear-tape. Don't use that very much. That's enough for each station for 6 months.

This is the public-private debate in micro. Although this business was a private business, its manager was allowing it to be run like a public one. A 'take what you want' instead of 'take what you need' attitude to basic supplies.
Whether the company made a profit or not was important to the manager. Make a loss and the job is gone. But the degree of profit was completely immaterial.

The savings in this case are minimal. 20 box cutters or 200 isn't going to make a dent in the losses this business had. But, as it appears to my casual eye, that 20 box cutters example is going to be repeated all across the organisation in every area. Costs...are not properly monitored. They probably aren't even measured.

When a worker drops a marker pen and it rolls under a pallet - they go and get another one. Because its simpler than lying on the floor to hunt it out. Or they get another one when they can't find the one that was there yesterday. And eventually, they will have a box full.

The manager doesn't get anything for making more profit. The manager is on a salary. The manager's job is easier if all the employees have all the tools they need to hand. So that's what happens.

That, in my private, but public sector dealing world is what I see. Take what you want. Order what you want. And have as much as you want. Until the budget cuts. When you suddenly run short of the actual things you need but have an excess of things rarely required.

Because, although its simple to sort this particular supplies issue, its also, hard. 
Hard because it requires some discipline. Some proper management of people. Some change of attitudes and additional personal responsibilities that will produce a fair amount of grumbling but minimal tangible results. 

Easy, because the answer to the workstation issue is simply to ensure the floor is properly swept.  
A clean environment and a box to put away all the equipment the employee needs is all that's required. And a manager that will say "what did you do with the last one?"

Its far easier said than done.
And I don't think this particular new manager of mine - who put down on their time sheet the 10 minutes before they began work and the 10 minutes after they are due to go, is going to be able to do it.


Mark Wadsworth said...

"When a worker drops a marker pen and it rolls under a pallet - they go and get another one. Because its simpler than lying on the floor to hunt it out."

That depends on how much a pen costs, how long it will take to find and what his hourly pay/output is.

If he is worth/generates income of £12 an hour, that's 20p a minute. If it would take him longer five minutes rummaging to find a £1 pen, it's not worth doing.

chaingangcharlie said...

predictably terrible the way these pampered public sector operations are run .... o wait a minute ....

Bill Quango MP said...

I understand what you say MW. Dishing out excess isn't a bad policy in time precious situations. A nurse shouldn't need to have to phone for a bandage. Just in time isn't for everything But it is worth doing.
Because otherwise The Slide.

chaingangcharlie: poor management in the private is just as common. Possibly even much worse as training is often far less. the private sector some one will address it or the organisation will make enough that it doesn't matter..or it will cease to be there.

Nick Drew said...

it's always the way, isn't it - the bloody Human Condition (organisational chapter)

new idea, new business, tight little partnership, everyone onside, upbeat, efficient, dynamic, collaborative, bright; success, growth, new staff, momentum, self-reinforcing, upwards spiral, stellar returns, more success, more growth, more staff ...

diluted commitment, diluted efficiency, diluted ethos ... better-than-average returns, momentum, more staff ... the first couple of bad apples, inefficiency around the margins, things going on in corners that nobody notices, founders too busy, frustrations, fire-fighting, two-steps-forward-one-step-back, average returns, waste, Waste, WASTE ...

pessimist? moi?

good luck BQ! bon courage!

Anonymous said...

I think (for larger established companies) in the private sector it's cyclical - with the cycle being multi-year and in-line with what's happening with sales.

The company I work for is currently globally seeing negative sales and the new (British) CEO has recognised the level of bureaucracy and waste that's built up over the years and so has had a massive restructure, taking out massive levels of mid-management, announced a $300 million per year reduction in G+A spend and is focusing on ensuring agility across the business so the right ideas can get implemented whilst still relevant.

Jan said...

I've worked in public and private sector. The dirtiest cups I found were in the nurses kitchen in the haematology dept of a national hospital. Everywhere I worked seemed to revel in their own filth and in one place (a university admissions dept) I cleared a corner of years of accumulated junk only for it to creep in again. Peoples' desks are usually a mess except in a call centre where everyone hot-desked. I came to the conclusion the clear desk thing is about people not having to account for themselves as anything missing could be blamed on work overload. It's a fear thing to seem as if you're a bit useless then no-one bothers you. Not only public sector as the same thing applied in a well-known insurance company.

So it doesn't surprise me in the least. The cleaning issue isn't so hard to fix but the attitudes are a bit of a problem.

Bill Quango MP said...

Workplaces are so filthy. Its the 'not my property' syndrome. Public/private - no different.

I think we've all assessed the underlying issue. Its not the clean spaces that is important. Its not even the individual costs of minuscule expenses..Its someone recognising that it improves efficiency.
Its a management issue.

And Mr Drew summed up the eternal problem perfectly.

*My day one snap decision to order a piece of machinery, that turns out isn't compatible with existing, has cost far more than all the packs of marigolds under the sink ever will.
So..does it even matter?

chaingangcharlie said...

I'll never forget an old pearl of wisdom my grandfather used to always come out with whenever a restructuring was on the cards.
He would sit back in his old rocking chair , take a sip of bourbon and he'd look you right in the eye with his steely blues & say something like this :

" Ok, guys. Hard stop. I gotta reach out to you."

"Granpaw?" we would say , knowing something was coming but not knowing what it was.

" Son - at the bleeding edge of the next level but one , core corporate values empowered, check - ok let's just open the damn kimono - heck !!"

( His mind's eye seemed to drift a little here for some reason)

"There are a LOT of moving parts here, sure - but this sure is a BEAUTIFUL business heh heh .. and don't the SCALABLE URGE to make SWEET MUSIC where the ROAD DIVIDES - I'm talking LEVERAGE here - can go WAAAAYYYYY past ..... PRICE ....point......" and here he ROSE in the rocker like some old testament prophet.. ..

" .. it ..j..j..jjust ...g..g goes ....p- para....BALL....IQUE........!!!! Lord A'mighty !!!"

And he would sink back slowly exhausted into sweet slumber, an enigmatic smile on his wise old toothless


"110%-WISE GRANPAW !!!!" we all cried, an that's how we been operatin' ever since .

Nick Drew said...

it's management ... (the officers are always to blame, i mean that seriously not sarcastically)

management + ethos + morale

which then fosters a confident self-policing / peer-policing regime, which is the only way it ever really works (- "this is what we all do around here" - and the new recruit looks around and sees it's true)

[the army routinely does this brilliantly, of course - NCOs who are confident of support from the top will ruthlessly instill (+ enforce) the ethos on a layer of humanity not at all accustomed to cleanliness etc]

in 2 of the organisations (aside from the army) I have worked in, we were all so (productively) busy it would have been easy to justify the "don't spend a second of your precious time looking for lost pencils" - but the ethos was strong and good housekeeping was effortlessly part of "this is what we all do" - senior people would take the extra 10 seconds to rinse their mug and stick it somewhere sensible

(PS it also involves firing anyone who clearly isn't getting the message, in their first few weeks. or - in the army - a very large corporal giving them a kicking)

Anonymous said...

Interesting sets of opinions here. A few of you may actually be accountants and would perhaps have a more circumspect view of the matter of the NHS, for example, if you downloaded as set of accounts which are freely available.

I would try to colour your view save for check out the charges being made by the private sector to the public sector. Then have a look at the owners of those private companies with these lucrative contracts.

James Higham said...

How can "a" manager be a "they"? Is it a woman?