Office Politics 1, Lean 0

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.

A chemist apologized to me on my first day of work at this company. They usually do not complain all day. She was not truthful. For six years, I listened to nonstop complaining. I loved my job; I hated the toxic environment. The boss liked the complainers. They were being groomed for management.

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 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.

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 brought 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, amongst 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. On the other hand, the gemba guys were my friends and were helpful. I hunted and partied with them. The only salaried employees I trusted were newbies. Should I apply for the plant manager’s job the lean expert vacated? 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.

The research chemists asked me to help make a new chemist look bad. Otherwise he’ll be promoted instead of one of us. When I refused, a hangman’s noose appeared above my desk.

There are two types of people. One type works hard to get ahead. The other type is political; they get ahead by proving everyone else is incompetent. Six months after I was labeled a lab assistant, I quit my job. Upper management never knew about my efforts before I quit.

I was popular outside the research lab. People must have stood up for me after I left. Most of the research lab was terminated.

How could we have caught this problem sooner?

Asking each employee for a list of lean achievements and a list of helpful people would have changed the outcome. This is an easy way to start a conversation.

When one person makes the promotion decision, office politics trumps lean manufacturing.

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