Some years back while working in an administrative department I encountered a curious condition. With about a half-dozen employees, I was following the information flow from sales order to shipping. Our spaghetti diagram kept looping back to an inbox on a table just outside John’s door. It was imposing. It looked a bit like this:
“Who is John?” I asked. He wasn’t asked to participate with us on this project.
“He’s the order supervisor,” I was told.
“What does he do with this information at this point?” I inquired.
“He makes a list of sales orders, checks for accuracy and then sends them to scheduling for release” was the answer.
“Where is he today?” I asked.
“He’s in a meeting,” came the reply.
A short time later, the spaghetti led back once again to John’s box.
“After the order is released to production, it goes to John for prioritizing,” I was told.
Order piles and files were mixed. “How does John get through all of this?” I asked.
“He works late,” was the answer.
By the third trip back John’s box there were a few smirks on people’s faces. An incongruous comment was offered by one of our team: “John’s a really good guy . . .”
I resolved to sit down with John when he was available.
John, who had been employed with this firm for over thirty years, greeted me cheerily when I finally got the opportunity to meet him. As I sat across the table from him a scene from Office Space flashed through my head. But unlike the character from Office Space, he was instantly likeable – really a people person. During his career, I gleaned he had held nearly every factory and scheduling position, and had at one time scheduled the factory entirely from a three-ring binder. He seemed to know about nearly every possible problem that might arise in the order process. And he knew everybody – employees, suppliers and customers. When I showed him our spaghetti diagram with many noodles pointing his way, he grimaced slightly, acknowledging, “I could be a bit of a bottleneck.” After a moment, however, he added, “but there are so many problems with this system. If I didn’t check constantly, we’d be in hot water with our customers."
I met with John’s manager later in the day to ask if John could join our team. “He’s retiring in the next eighteen months. He just sorts paper at this point,” said his manager.
“Exactly,” I responded, “and he has so much more capability. Why not engage him to help solve some of the problems he’s currently sorting? He’d be an asset to our team.”
“Okay, he’s all yours,” his manager said. “Good luck teaching an old dog new tricks.”
How do you think John ultimately contributed to this team? What do old dogs know? And what is the 8th waste?
Do you have a story to share about underutilized talent in your business? Please comment.