A Stressful Week

Have you ever had your boss decide to shake things up just for the sake of doing so, even though things were running smoothly and people, if not necessarily happy, weren't angry or unhappy either? Well, that's my week in a nutshell.

Starting on Tuesday, he decided that we would start rotating people onto different machines than the ones that they have worked on almost exclusively for the past several years. In my case, I had been on my machine since early 2000, when efficiency experts had been brought into the plant to make suggestions, and they had suggested putting people on specific machines and leaving them there. This was recommended in order to develop a sense of "ownership" as well as to allow the operators to become so familiar with the day-to-day operations of that machine and its sort plans that it would become second-nature to them. This worked extremely well.

When you've worked on a machine for nine years, you know what kinds of mail cause problems, any little quirks in the sort plans, what needs to be done with special holdouts, etc.

It is, of course, possible to gain that sort of information about multiple machines over a period of time, but there's really no reason to do it. If a person is an expert at a particular job, it is best to leave him on it, rather than trying to make him a utility guy.

It's like a baseball manager telling his star shortstop that today, he wants him to pitch, and tomorrow, he's going to play catcher. This despite the fact that the team has experienced pitchers and catchers, and could best make use of his skills at his best position, shortstop. No, the manager wants everyone to be able to play every position.

The problem with this fallacious idea is that while I can give a yeoman effort on any machine in Automation, I am an expert on the machine that I've run for the past nine years. I could run it without even having to think about it, because I knew at a bone-deep level what needed to be done at all times. I don't have that instinctive knowledge on any other machine, and it means that I have to stop and take time to think about how to do things. During a slow period like the middle of the week in the summer off-season, we can get away with that kind of inefficiency. On a busy Monday or Friday in season, we can't. It may be the difference between making dispatches on time and not making dispatches on time.

Even worse, this violation of the classic rule of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" has adversely affected morale. A lot of people are unhappy with the changes. Morale is in the toilet. People who would go the extra mile, make the extra effort on their regular machines are saying, "Hey, it's not my problem" when they're assigned somewhere else. People who previously strove for excellence are now willing to settle for adequacy.

My own personal observation: Working on a different, unfamiliar machine is like wearing someone else's clothes -- and they don't fit very well.