Cutting Tool Engineering
August 2012 / Volume 64 / Issue 8

Managing in the middle

By Keith Jennings

As president of a small company, the fire-drill situations I typically encounter include having to make decisions other supervisors do not have the authority to make or aren’t comfortable making. So, my involvement is required, regardless of what I have scheduled. Between these bookend crises, hopefully, you have time to get some tasks accomplished in a nonemergency manner. Effective management during calm periods is still as important as crisis management even though it’s tempting to take advantage of the time and not be as aggressively involved with certain issues.

I’ve had my share of annoying matters to deal with recently, including some discussed in previous columns. Like clockwork, my June vacation was disrupted by work problems, which I still had to resolve when I returned. It didn’t stop there, with equipment problems and similar issues consuming my time.

Then, when things calmed down after a hectic several days, I found myself having to resist the temptation to postpone or ignore working on nonurgent projects. Then in July, we had out-of-town guests visit, spent time with our daughters while they were home from college for the summer and celebrated the Fourth of July. All of this combined made it tempting to forego other duties that weren’t emergencies—even though it was an ideal time to tackle some of them.

After all, fire drills are tiring and if the shop is functioning OK, a quiet day of writing, organizing or strategizing can be a welcome endeavor. However, if no one is screaming about something, visions of pointlessly surfing the Internet or going home early to hang with guests can creep onto the scene and be a distraction from utilizing that very valuable “middle time.”

As I’ve instructed my hard-working shop guys, just because you’re frantically running around, sweating and seeking a crisis to manage doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being productive. Some management gurus claim that scenario indicates other problems. Perhaps if your management acumen was better, those incidents would be less frequent. But, when you’re transitioning an established company from a crisis-driven, quick-turnaround environment to a more organized and predictable one, that mindset is difficult to break. Plus, some people like the adrenaline rush of a crisis situation. So, while I’ve not yet rid our company of senseless, distracting events, this summer has been more defined by fighting the temptation to be lazy when there isn’t a crisis.

Thankfully, I have not allowed myself to slip into such a situation too frequently, but it’s hard at times. After all, when the shop is quiet and seems to be running smoothly, isn’t it OK to disappear and enjoy a margarita? Every now and again, yes it is, assuming your shop has enough people who can handle matters in your absence.

However, if you fail to take advantage of the periods of calm between the bookend predicaments, you’re likely missing a great opportunity to truly organize your shop, fix what needs fixing, meet with important clients or read more about those new CNC machines you want to buy. Don’t forget to manage in the middle. A future “fire” may be averted because you did. 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
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