Cutting Tool Engineering
September 2011 / Volume 63 / Issue 9

Observant eyes, ears of a retired dad

By Keith Jennings

When running a machine shop, I’ve discovered that being on the premises day after day can gradually desensitize a manager to the point that it’s hard to notice problems or issues, even when they’re right in front of you. Just when I think the shop is running smoothly and it’s OK to relax, there’s likely something bubbling that will ruin the perfect image I’m envisioning at my desk. This isn’t necessarily an indication of failure, but proof an owner or manager can’t see or hear everything, and that being in the middle of the action can create blinders.

One of my dad’s most memorable stories from his shop past is an incident about 30 years ago when his own retired dad toured the shop. My dad was confident that his efforts as the company manager were going well and Grandpa would be impressed. While touring the shop, the old man asked, “When are you going to fix that air leak?” My dad listened for a few seconds but didn’t hear anything, finally responding with the astute, “What air leak?” My dad had to be convinced there really was an air leak. Grandpa may have been retired, but he still had the keen eyes and ears of an experienced shop veteran.

That incident left a memorable impression and lesson, which has been passed on to me. The air leak was fixed the next day and solved a problem that happened so gradually, the regular crew never noticed.

Fast forward to 2011. My dad is now the one who’s retired and no less observant than was his dad 30 years earlier. Throughout the year, our shop has undertaken an assortment of improvement projects, from the acquisition of new equipment to the addition of office space. At my request, my dad has helped plan, execute and oversee some of the projects. He’s usually anxious to be involved in a good project as long as it doesn’t disrupt his lunch break with the other retired guys at the watering hole. So, I still appreciate him handling a few things, knowing they’ll get done expeditiously.

When a shop experiences such a high level of activity, it can be distracting for an owner or manager to personally oversee every special project. You can become unknowingly desensitized to other issues, so lately my dad has been making observations similar to Grandpa’s air leak, for better or worse.

One evening at home, his observations evolved into a tiring discussion. He identified a list of items that needed attention, much of which I responded with my own profound, “Huh?” To an outsider, the discussion probably sounded like a negative assessment, but understanding his passion for a great shop, I viewed his rant as constructive criticism and wasn’t offended. A few of his items included operators who were leaving too much trash and personal items laying around their work areas, too many employees leaving work areas early for breaks and lunch, and washing hands and cleaning up on company time.

Thinking about it later, I decided to take his advice to heart and apply his “air-leak” lesson to my crew. It also became apparent to me how important it is for an owner or manager to be able to accept constructive criticism. Hopefully, your staff is professional enough to inform you when something is leaking, broken, rejected or missing and, hopefully, you are professional enough to handle hearing it. Many aren’t. Don’t underestimate the value of another set of eyes and ears in your shop. Sometimes they see and hear problems you miss. CTE

About the Author: Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping. Contact him at kjennings@jwr.com.
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