The “Open Door” stories are all composites. Real situations I have faced in one form or another, but written with respect to those who have shared parts of their lives with me at work. And if you’ve worked in HR very long, you have dozens like these.
Through the corner of my eye, I had seen him walk past the door once or twice. Nathan didn’t like to interrupt, and standing in front of me would have been, in his mind, an interruption to my work. So I looked up from my work to make sure I could see him directly. On his third pass of the doorway, I called him over.
“You know that if my door is open, you can just speak up, don’t you?”
Nathan looked to his shoes (he always bounced on his feet when he was standing) and said that he didn’t know if what he wanted to talk to me about was all that important, so he didn’t really want to bother me.
“It’s never a bother. If something is on your mind you need to speak up. You might be harboring that next big innovation that will help us move this whole operation to a new level of performance!”
“Well, that’s not likely Mr. Tim. I just have been wanting to ask you about all these changes we seem to be makin’ to our teams, and I just wanted to tell you about a question some of us have.” By “some of us” I knew that he was talking about B shift and his crew. Sometimes I think they intentionally get him concerned about something that doesn’t matter, because they know he will eventually go looking for an answer.
I had to get him off those fidgety feet. “Sit down and let’s talk about it. What’s the concern?” By now he was a little more comfortable and was beginning to look me in the eye.
“We like most of the changes, we do. We’re all gettin’ more trainin’, and I can see that we’re able to run the machine better, which is good, right? I mean, we ain’t workin’ ourselves out of a job, are we? If we make too much product, are you gonna cut our schedule?”
There it was. The fear that I had run into countless times. If we keep running the machine well, won’t we need less time to operate it, and won’t that mean we lose shifts or even a whole crew? Nathan’s teammates were trying to get him to slow down on improvements, because they were worried about job security – or at least getting the full schedule.
I pulled a folder off my desk with the presentation we made to all the crews on this topic. “Nathan, I know we went over this with everyone, were you able to make the shift meetings last month? Let me show you why we need every ounce of improvement we can get, and why that will likely give us a better position than if we hold back.”
I proceeded through the deck with him, and showed him why our improvement was a big benefit for everyone, and would not hurt his schedule. In fact, if we met the improvement plan, we were likely to gain the new contract we needed. If we missed it, we could face some serious issues.
“I remember all that from the meeting,” he told me. “But Bucky says he don’t trust the plant manager, so we need to be careful that we don’t do this too good.”
“I see. Did Bucky tell you what his plan is if the plant manager is right? When the other supplier wins the contract because we under-delivered, does Bucky have the means to keep us all working somewhere else?”
Nathan shook his head. He understood what I was saying.
The next day I took my folder out to the control room. It’s funny how sometimes everyone has something they have to go check on the floor when I go in there. But that was good, because it was just me and Bucky left alone.
“Buck,” I said, “I understand you have a problem with our current operating plan….”
Sometimes, the job is full-time sales.