Loss Gravitas

The Hamburg plant is closing June 8, 2010 and 126 people (white & blue collar) will be let go.  They will be released into the Michigan unemployment ranks in one of the toughest job markets our state has seen for a long time.  This is another bellwether event for our state and our union:  a plant, after existing for 40+ years of prosperity, has lost its way.   Design engineers, manufacturing engineers, quality engineers, managers, administrative clerics, CNC operators, supervisors, human resource personnel, maintenance managers & technicians, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, et al, will be unemployed.  There were over 240 people that worked at this plant as little as 2 years ago and that is a more accurate number of people unemployed as a result of this closing.

The employees of this plant are productive members of society.  These people exemplify what hard work in our American factories and markets mean to the health of our society as a whole.  There was never a time when there wasn’t a struggle at the Hamburg plant, but as I have said about markets and life before, there is always a struggle.  But, this time it’s different.  This time, the struggle will end for this plant that has seen 20% margins for decades.

Why did the plant die?  What are the internal and external factors that rang the death knell for this plant?  Our markets today are subjected to a confluence of events that make it impossible to name one cause to any one event.   We have to look at the prevailing head winds facing our manufacturing industry in America and our economy in general to understand the basic root causes.  That is to say, things like the export of labor to “low cost” nations.  And, the global purchasing strategies of our global business models that leverage the lowest possible price for any and all components in any given bill of materials.

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Netflix, Blockbuster, and Gandhi

GandhiYou can learn a lot from reading famous quotes.  A quote is usually inspirational in and of itself, but it will often times also lead you to learn about the person who said it.  And, learning about great people in history leads to even more inspiration and knowledge.  A lot of great quotes are analogies or metaphors for things you can relate to.  Some of the best resonate because of that fact.  The best analogies and metaphors relate to things that are observable in nature; this makes them universal because anyone can relate that has observed a natural phenomenon.

Gandhi once said “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win”.  This phenomenon can be observed again and again.  It is a standard natural process that happens all the time.  It happens in sports.  You can see it in business.  You can see it everywhere.  One thing about this quote and process is how you can see it unfold over time.  Spot it in the early stage and you can make predictions that might not come true for some length of time.  Then when they do, the affirmation serves to reinforce your beliefs and remind you to stay true to your convictions.

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Culture of Fear in the Workplace

Surprise

Why is there a culture of fear in the workplace?  Why do the people that generally rise to the top of the managerial org chart happen to be people who keep their disciples in line by keeping them fearful of retribution for breaking their rules?  Why do those who rise up the corporate ladder tend to exhibit sociopathic tendencies?

 The example I’m thinking of for this blog post is this:  I went back to ask a girl in accounts payable for some office supplies.  When I showed up at her desk and spoke her name, I had surprised her.  The look of surprise and fear on her face was so genuine.  It was if I had ‘busted’ her.  What was she doing wrong?  Nothing really.  She was surfing the internet which is done by everyone, but not condoned by management.  The look of surprise and fear stems from the usual judgment handed down by the very same people who practice the very same behavior.

In many companies, people have some liberties with regard to surfing the net, checking their facebook page, and reading a news story on the internet.  But there are still many companies that have access to many of those same things because business requires it, but at the same time are policing any recreational surfing.  And, it’s understandable that managers don’t want people to abuse their privledges, but management that does one thing and says another breeds contempt and gives people the jitters.  A lot of people can’t afford to lose their job, and it stinks to see people sweating the same behavior that their bosses are comfortable doing.  We all need a break sometimes and it’s healthy and actually boosts productivity.  And, as said earlier, there’s a fine line between a productive break and abuse, so it’s not easy to draw the line sometimes.  It’s just a little bit of a shame to see people so jittery about behavior that is not that out of line with what managers are doing too.  If someone is not getting their work done, that’s another story.  That’s when reprimand should occur.

 If someone that surfs the net in their free time punishes someone else for doing the same thing he’s a hypocrite.  There are many managers in many companies that breed this culture of fear to discourage people from doing the same things they do.  By doing this, they create employees that are unhappy, jittery, and unproductive.  Those managers are cowards.  Those managers are everywhere.