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How to Survive Your “Go-To” Guy Getting Hit By a Bus

Author: Kathy Barthelt/Tuesday, September 30, 2014/Categories: Because I Care

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Have you ever wondered what you would do if that guy you depend upon – your “go-to”, your right-arm is suddenly gone?

Let’s call your franchise player “Steve”. He’s your shipping/receiving supervisor, or your warehouse guy, or your top engineer, or (gulp) the guy who works in the office who has been with you for 35 years and just knows EVERYTHING about EVERYTHING.

What happens when Steve gets hit by a bus, or decides that warm sandy beaches are calling his name, and he just doesn’t want to work anymore?

Are you prepared for his departure? Is your business prepared? For many manufacturing companies, that answer would be “NO”.

I’m not talking about being prepared for the emotional goodbye. I’m talking about being prepared to carry on without him….to thrive without him. He’s got tribal knowledge in his head that no one else in your company has.  He knows more about the business than the president of the company. He is the reason that you were successful in securing that big order a year ago. He’s your rock star….then……POOF! He’s gone. 

Meet the New Guy

So the new guy, “Joe”, will go through the motions, doing Steve’s job for days…weeks. He’ll experience a problem with one of the machines on the shop floor breaking down at least every other day, and Joe will have no clue why. He’ll try to fix the problem himself, and fail. He’ll involve 4 other people from the plant, and they will give him ideas, but the problem will still not go away. He’ll call the manufacturer of the machine and they will give him other things to try. Still the machine breaks down. You’ll lose a big order from your best customer because Joe couldn’t get the part he needed in time. Joe will also get a sudden influx of returns from your customers, and your customer service department will receive numerous complaints about orders, all for one particular item.  Everyone will point the finger at Joe.

What the heck happened? Joe is a good worker, shows up on time, does his job without complaining, and is eager. He’s perfect, right? Yeah, he is perfect….and you hosed him.

The Big Five (5) Questions:

Do I have the right replacement?  Is Joe really the right guy, or was he just the guy standing next to you when you heard the news about Steve?

Does he have a clue? Does Joe really know what Steve did every day? Does he know that the main machine on the production line needs to have maintenance work done on it after every 42nd run to prevent breakdowns? Does he know what 3 alternate items can be substituted for a given part when it is out of stock, so you don’t lose a critical order from one of your best customers?

Does he understand context?  Does Joe know what defect to look for when receiving a particular subcomponent from one of your subcontractors?  Remember, this is the very same one who messed up when you placed an order with them a year ago for this same part.

Does he know what I want from him? Does Joe know what efficiency level you expect from him and from his department? Does he understand how his job impacts the rest of the company?  Have you defined his responsibilities for him?

Did I give him a chance at success? Did you equip him with the same tools that Steve used that made him so successful? Did you make sure Joe was properly trained on the software used to run your business? Does he know the reports that he needs to run that will tell him if he’s on target?

I’m betting that the answer to at least one of these questions is probably “NO”.  Yeah, that’s bad

Capturing Real Genius

Things will go terribly wrong and problems you thought had been overcome years ago will rear their ugly heads again unless you’ve taken the time to preserve Steve’s brain.  Do I mean preserve it in formaldehyde? No. I mean preserve it by documenting Steve’s job and the knowledge in Steve’s head while Steve is still your rock star employee. How do you do this?

8 Ways to Manage the Pain of Losing a Key Employee Before It Ever Happens

  1. Sit down with your management team. Make sure management is on board with this plan. Explain to them the benefits and the potential risks if this is not done.

  2. Sit down with your IT team. Decide how the information will be captured and where it will be stored so that employees have access to it. What software tools need to be used to capture the information? How does it need to be organized? Create a repeatable process to make this easy for your staff.
  3. Interview Steve. Have him talk you through his job. What are the things he does every day? What are his biggest challenges? How does he overcome them?  (Don’t wait to do this until he’s being strapped to the ambulance gurney.)

  4. Have someone shadow him for a week. Watch what he does and how he does it. Ask questions. Who does he interact with in his department? Outside of his department? Why?

  5. Find out what tools he uses to perform his job? Are there spreadsheets?  Reports within your ERP / outside of your ERP? Separate stand-alone databases? Drawings? Websites? Why does he use them?
  6. Video record how he does his job. Is Steve’s technique critical to “doing it right” the first time and not ending up with a bunch of scrap that you can’t reuse?

  7. Figure out if Steve does anything special on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis that might not come up during the observation period or interview. 

  8. Map how Steve uses your business system and how that impacts the rest of the company. Understand both the “what” and the “why”. Without this, new employees may end up figuring out what they need to do, but never understand why they need to do it.

Is Everything Ready?

Once you’ve done all of these things….DOCUMENT EVERYTHING. Create a process flow and a training manual such that a new employee would be able to walk in and have a fighting chance to be successful in this role. Use this documentation as a training guide for new employees. All of this can be done on paper, or electronically. There are software tools to help with this as well that could incorporate text documents, videos, drawings, etc.

Don’t have the resources to do the interviewing, job shadowing and process mapping? Work with outside consultants who have a background in manufacturing and the ERP system you use to run your business.

Yes, I know that all of this takes time and effort and money, but this is your business we’re talking about here. Take the time to understand it as well as your employees do. Realize the knowledge that you have within your employees’ brains, and the challenges your business will face if that knowledge walks out your door.

Manage pain now so it doesn’t manage you later. 

About the author:

Kathy Barthelt is the vice president of Crossroads RMC, which helps optimize manufacturing systems. She cares deeply about bringing the human side into manufacturing. One can often find her writing and speaking about stress and shop floor workers, job skill, or employee motivation and production improvement. You can find even more insights from her past blog posts.

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Kathy Barthelt

Kathy Barthelt

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2 comments on article "How to Survive Your “Go-To” Guy Getting Hit By a Bus"


Sue B.

11/3/2014 2:38 PM

Thanks for the article, I really enjoyed it, and it has given me a lot to think about.


Sue Buchelt

11/6/2014 11:46 AM

Great Article!

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