My employer made a promotional video which included an introduction of Research and Development personnel. I was shocked when I watched the video; I was a lab assistant! My business card read Research Chemist, same as the others. The lab assistant washed the glassware.
The goal was to average seven days or less in answering customer complaints/inquiries. Before me, tech service had never reached this yearly goal, even when two chemists worked full time in tech service. The first year, by myself, I averaged six days per inquiry. In eleven months, I completed more inquiries than any other chemist ever. More than two chemists routinely completed in a year. In the second year, my response time dropped to five days.
The reason for my success was innovation. I refined lab procedures, testing was accurate and consistent. Quality was as impressive as quantity. Of course, the performance of the entire lab increased as my procedures became the lab’s procedures. Accurate testing leads to better products. With better products leaving the facility, the severity of complaints decreased. There were fewer disasters.
When I asked my boss why I was labeled an assistant, he blamed upper management. They decided. I did not believe him. However, when I wanted to extend my vacation, human resources thought I was an hourly employee. It did not help that upper management was not approachable. Never came to the R&D lab. Never saw them at the gemba. This video came out as the company was teaching lean. Of course, being a lab assistant, I was assigned to the last class.
The lean expert they hired was not lean. When they fired him, I decided to give a little help. All of the lean steering committee’s members were upper management. I anonymously suggested they include some employees on the committee. This was done.
Feeling a little more optimistic, I volunteered to be a facilitator. I figured when they interviewed me, everything would work out. At the last teaching seminar, facilitators were selected by pulling names out of a hat. I was not selected. No one ever talked to me or reviewed my resume.
After a couple months, nothing happened. The manager called a meeting and went round robin around the table to find out why no one was participating in lean. I was halfway around the table. When it was my turn, the boss changed the subject! He knew I would have listed my achievements. After the meeting, half the room thanked me for stopping the round robin.
I like lean. It reduces irritations. I was irritated with the department that relays complaints from the customer to me. They were not adequately prioritizing projects. Customers were waiting while I was working on projects that were not needed for weeks or months, if ever. I suggested we meet. It did not go well. The guy who taunted me daily when he brings up work, sat in the blocking position and never uttered a word for an hour. After some words on how it would be beneficial to open communications, the woman who tripped me on the stairs among other things tried to read from a list. Her boss stopped her. I wish I could go back in time and say, “It’s okay. Read from your list.” That was our last meeting.
This was a difficult and ironic time. The only thing all my hard lean work did was make my manager look great. Was I the reason he was not terminated? His annual bonus was huge. On the other hand, the gemba guys were my friends and were helpful. The only salaried employees I trusted were newbies. Should I apply for the plant manager’s job the lean expert vacated? I would have to converse with upper management. These guys were starting lean when I was running out of problems to solve. No one ever said “Thank you Kevin.” Would this company give me a favorable job recommendation? In the end, I decided it would be best for them to hire another lean guy to help out. Bad decision.
Gail asked if her gum popping bothered anyone. Others heard me say it diverts my attention away from my experiment. The next day three research chemists started popping gum. Nine months after I learned I was a lab assistant, I quit my job. That got the ball rolling. Two research chemists were canned; one was reassigned. This bought the manager a few more years. The company’s lean program quickly failed and they lost a lean practitioner.
Asking each employee for a list of lean achievements would have changed the outcome. This is an easy way to start a conversation.