Friend of mine recently told me a story. It went like this. Decades ago, when he was first hired by a major company in this industry, his boss sat him down and said, "We have your salary wrong." This was a startling revelation. The boss went on, "When we hire young folks like you, we slot you into the system based on lots of studies and identifying attributes. But it is all just a guess. For sure, what you are worth is not reflected in your salary right now, for we are just not that smart. In a few months, we'll have a better idea of what you are worth. We may be overpaying you or underpaying you now, but the truth will come out in time..."
As we continue to talk about management issues this month, I want to bring up something that has been bothering me for a long time. It is simply this...in the human resources area I think well developed countries may be losing a competitive edge when it comes to thinking about the newer generations of employees, hourly and salaried, entering our mills these days. My thoughts are these...
Especially when I was a younger manager, I would lose sight of the objectives at hand. After all, forces are tugging you in a million different directions at once, it is easily to become distracted. Print this column and carry it around in your pocket if you need to for a while.
We will cover three topics this week.
I returned to the convention and another case was just wrapping up. Missed it. Sorry. The Great Mother said, "Any more cases?" The clerk responded, "Gup is here and has something to say about project management." "Come on up, Gup!"
Well, while the convention continues, I wanted to take some time to tell you a story I witnessed firsthand. This happened many lights, ago, so many I can't count them. What Mr. Jim doesn't know is that I have been following him around for a very long time, since he was a young man. One time, on a certain project, it was his job to escort Big Things called "contractors" across the sea to check out some equipment that was to be installed at his papermill. When I heard about this, I was certain I did not want to miss it. So, I slid in his briefcase, went home with him, and then along on the trip.
Our convention had finally settled down and we were getting a number of interesting stories. The Great Mother, after a break, ask if anyone had a story to relate, perhaps not from the pulp and paper industry, but that would be a lesson learned. Old Soc raised his tail...
Well, we finally got relocated to the new location. Much safer here than it was in that crazy city. The Great Mother called us to order. "Okay, rats, what do we have on the docket for today?"
Since last year, the Great Mother has passed on to Rat Heaven and we have a new cadre in charge. The word came out early in the year that we will be convening in a big city on a big lake in the middle of the country. There is a lot of pulp and paper business there and so many rats live fairly close at hand.
Environmental policies and other regulations are the cost of doing business in the modern civilized world. If you are going to operate a business in today's world, you must do it legally, it is part of the job. I have seen a number of excuses made over the years that do nothing to endear customers to businesses when such matters are used as excuses.
I don't think there has ever been a time in my fifty years in industry that I have seen more potential hazards distracting us from our primary purpose in business which is, of course (all together), "spinning the invoice printer." We have been forced to step beyond the traditional corporate responsibilities (environment, regulations, equal opportunity employment and so forth).
I have met no one who doesn't want clean soil, water and air for themselves, their families and succeeding generations. How could anyone be against such attributes? Yet there are portions of the environmental movement that hinge on the invisible. The whole discussion on the proper balance of carbon dioxide that is appropriate in the atmosphere, for instance, is a discussion best left to learned scientists and mathematicians. Carbon dioxide, in its gaseous form is invisible. Just like Covid-19. The effects of Covid-19 are visible and timely while Covid-19 is just as invisible as Carbon Dioxide.
As we find ourselves mid-year 2020, our standard editorial topics for the month, Environmental/Regulations seem almost naïve. I have not heard anyone talk about the environment for months. There is plenty of talk about regulations, but they are not the kinds of regulations we normally talk about. The world of 2020 is something we have not seen before, and, on top of that, it is not a local thing--it is worldwide.
The purchasing department should not only set the example for dealing with suppliers, the purchasing department should be the department that sets the policy for the entire mill. And, then, they should be the one that polices it, too. What is the right limit to be allowed for favors brought in by suppliers?
Granted, it is a long time since I was internal to a mill as an employee and just maybe this probably has been fixed by now, but I doubt it. I am talking about expediting services. By the way, Amazon provides expediting updates for free on the tiniest of orders--it is part of their overall service. So, do not tell me, purchasing department, you cannot do this.
Once in a while, a purchasing department decides to get clever and extend payment terms. You can pull this stunt about once with each supplier. For when they figure it out, your prices are going up. Your suppliers and their competitors do not have to collude to raise your prices, they all instinctively know that if you are doing this to everyone, all your suppliers are going to pay you back in kind.
Last week we talked about the role of purchasing. I never once brought up negotiating a good price. I am not going to bring up negotiating a good price this week, either. This week, we will talk about educating the purchasing department. And we are not going to talk about contract writing as we talk about education.
Purchasing experiences in my career are legion and become cuter and cuter as time goes by. I have the whole month of June (5 columns) to explain this statement, so I'll not bother doing so now, but faithful readers will see it unfold as we go along. What is the first and most important job of purchasing?
Energy is saved by the milliliter, not the liter or dekaliter. In order to do this, you must have everyone looking for the opportunities.
This month, I have been telling you, when it comes to energy trends, what you do not control you cannot predict. Thus, I have been admonishing you to know what you control, control it, and then miserly buy what other energy you may need. I thought I would give you a couple of examples, one new, one old, demonstrating energy matters you cannot predict.
In a world where every storage tank, every ocean-going tanker, every cavern or old mine that can be modified for oil storage is full to overflowing, what can we say about energy trends? Add to this the popular public anathema to fossil fuels, and one can find themselves in a tight box with no way virtually no way out. In these times, energy trends become what you can control. What you can control means what you own. It was pretty clear in my Mennonite example last week how they control their energy costs. You, mill manager, have to do the same thing.
In July of 2018, I received a letter from a gentleman who lives in a Mennonite community in southern Ohio. He had been reading my opinion column in a small southern Ohio town's newspaper for several years. He, and the leaders of the community, liked my viewpoints. They invited me to visit them. We corresponded a bit and I arranged to come see his family and the community in October of that year. I got off the bus (the method of travel he recommended) at another small southern Ohio town and he was there to meet me with a buggy. It took us a couple of hours to make the ten-mile trip from the bus stop to his farm. Our method of propulsion for this buggy journey was, I kid you not, "Rocket"--a small middle-aged black gelding, about thirteen hands high.
Safety failures seem to fall into two categories.
In the current pandemic, we are seeing grocery stores accelerate their adoption of robots to restock store shelves. Once done, this will never go back to the old ways. The world of maintenance in our pulp and paper mills (and downstream plants) can work the same way.
If there is one thing the current COVID-19 crisis should teach us, if taken as an allegorical experience, is that dangers affecting safety are not always out in the open. I've told this story many times before, but perhaps you have not heard it...