Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Eddie’s Bar Graph

Eddie announced there would be a series of meetings to discuss our productivity, or lack thereof. We would each be meeting with him and Cheryl. Cheryl was the latest in a series of people from upper management who’d dropped in briefly to try and improve the output of the staple pit. No one stuck around long enough to actually figure out what the problem was, or they limited their research to Eddie’s take on things. 

My impression is that the staple pit was falling short of management’s goals and they were all racking their brains trying to figure out how to fix us. The latest theory seemed to be that we lacked motivation. In response, it had been announced that there would be a prize at the end of each month for the staple person with the greatest output. Oh please, oh please, I thought, let it come with a certificate. It was a plant.

The lady who won the plant was also from clerical. She took her job seriously and was (rightfully) quite proud of her plant. By this time, the staple pit had grown by about a half-dozen new staple people. As a result, conditions were becoming a little crowded. We’d had to double-up work stations. It worked out fine, but we’d never had much extra room to begin with. I mention it because, although the productivity award was a very nice plant, it did look a little odd teetering on top of a stack of boxes at its owner’s station.

I found myself almost immediately on the defensive in my meeting with Eddie and Cheryl. Eddie had presented me with a colored graph charting my output for the past month. There were no dates, or labels, or even a scale explaining the chart. Just a bunch of colored bars that apparently looked very bad for me. He might as well have written “this does not equal” under the chart, and then drawn a picture of a plant.

I peppered Eddie with questions about the incriminating bar graph. I knew I wasn’t the finest staple-puller in the pit, but he was going to have to show me some hard data to prove to me that I was the worst. He dodged my questions, preferring to point to the bar graph in response, occasionally saying, “I’m sorry, but you’re just not doing very well...”

Eventually, Cheryl intervened. “Do you have anything to add?” she asked. I said that without knowing more about the data behind the bar graph, there was no way for me to comment on it. Then she asked what, if anything, I would do to improve things in the staple pit. I thought she’d never ask.

I told her about the lack of barcode sheets and how this was the single biggest obstacle to productivity. I explained the process of what we did every day, all day. It was not complex, the work we did in the staple pit. The only thing we could not do for ourselves was produce barcode sheets. Not coincidentally, the only major thing that consistently slowed us down was waiting on barcode sheets. I was really excited to see her suddenly become animated and scribbling down everything I said as fast as I said it. And I didn’t even have a graph.

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