Observant eyes and ears can keep problems in check

Author Keith Jennings
October 18, 2018 - 02:30pm

When running a busy shop, I’ve discovered that being on the premises day after day can desensitize a manager to obvious problems, even when they’re right in front of you. Just when I think the shop is running smoothly, 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 that an owner or manager can’t see or hear everything, and constantly being in the middle of the action can create blinders. 

One of my dad’s most memorable shop stories is an incident from 35 years ago when his own retired dad, who previously owned our shop, visited my dad at our shop and took a tour. My dad was confident that his efforts as the company owner 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, didn’t hear anything and finally responded, “What air leak?” My dad had to be convinced that there really was a leak. Grandpa may have been retired, but he still had the keen eyes and ears of a shop veteran. His observation was spot on: An air leak needed attention. 

That incident left a memorable impression and taught an important lesson, which has been passed on to me. The leak was fixed the next day, but it had occurred so gradually that the regular crew never noticed.

Fast forward to 2018. My dad is now the retired one and no less observant than was his dad 35 years earlier.

When a shop experiences a high level of activity, it can overwhelm 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.

One evening at home, Dad’s observations evolved into a long discussion. He identified a list of items that needed attention. To an outsider, the conversation probably would have sounded like a negative assessment. But understanding his passion for achieving a great operation, I viewed his list as constructive criticism and made notes accordingly. 

Thinking about it later, I decided to take his advice to heart and applied his “air leak” lesson to my crew. We made it a point to have everyone more carefully listen, monitor and observe in a preventive manner, including small things, addressing them before they could become bigger problems. 

It also became apparent to me how important it is to accept constructive criticism. Hopefully, your staff is professional enough to inform you when something is leaking, broken, rejected or missing and you are professional enough to handle hearing about it. Many people can’t. Don’t underestimate the value of another set of eyes and ears in your shop. Sometimes they see and hear problems you miss.   



Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.