These beauties are my baby chilli plants, grown from seeds I cut out of chillies during my Mexican cooking efforts a few weeks ago. As you can see, they are only about an inch high at the moment, but if they end up anything like last year’s crop then I fully expect to be surrounded by the chilli version of The Day of the Triffids.
Anyway, the time is near that I’ll need to plant these little seedlings in bigger pots, so yesterday I visited a well-known local gardening store to buy some. Amongst other things, I bought six packs of small pots at 98p each. Bargain. The gent at the till scanned the items (I can verify this – I heard the ‘beep’) and I paid up then left the store. Back at the car I glanced at the till receipt and noticed that none of the plant pots had been charged for, so being an honest sort of chap I went straight back in and told the man on the till that they hadn’t registered and needed paying for.
To say he was grateful is an understatement. His first words were, “Thank you so much – you’ve saved me from getting in trouble”. He then went on to explain that every single transaction is retrospectively scrutinised by management and till operators are held personally responsible for any anomalies. As soon as I had paid for the pots he left the till area, explaining that even though the discrepancy had now been rectified, he was duty-bound to report the ‘incident’ to his supervisor. This was so his mistakes could be recorded.
I pointed out that I had seen and heard him scan the pots so it must have been a problem with the scanner or the till, but the poor guy genuinely believed it was his error and therefore needed to tell management before they found out. He told me that till operators were constantly monitored on CCTV, so I might have been picked up returning to the till and bosses might ask why.
This episode disturbed me. The gent was of an age where there was a possibility he might well have served his country, yet today he wasn’t trusted to operate a till. It’s possible that he might have somehow made a mistake when scanning the plant pots, although I suspect it was more likely to have been faulty equipment. In any case, there was no harm done. Even in the worst case scenario that I hadn’t noticed the pots were missing from my receipt, the store would have been out by £5.88. It wouldn’t have forced them to close.
As ever, a few things about this experience reminded me of how traditional management practice works against the system and can harm the workers-
- 100% inspection in these circumstances represents waste. It is disproportionate and costly. Deming says, “Cease dependence on mass inspection”.
- Deming also talks about ‘Joy in work’. How can you enjoy your job when you are being constantly spied on and know that everything you do will be retrospectively checked?
- Why is there an underlying assumption that workers need to be extrinsically ‘motivated’ by carrots, sticks, fear and control mechanisms? Maybe some just want to do a good job. There’s a thought.
- If the system is responsible for 94% of productivity, why is the emphasis on looking for individual’s mistakes and holding them to account?
- Finally, as Harold Dodge puts it, “You can not inspect quality into a product”.
None of this policy of looking for mistakes, micromanaging the workers, reporting back, retrospective scrutiny and personal blame actually achieves anything that the management anticipates it will. It demoralises the workers, drives up costs, and cripples the system. It sends the message that management doesn’t trust the workers. Moreover, it doesn’t solve the ‘problem’. That nice chap I met yesterday will probably be working on the same till today, with the same dodgy scanner. Someone won’t get charged for plant pots again and he will get the blame.
The scanner and the management are the 94% of the system.
They’re the ones that need fixing.