The First Book of Management

Chapter 3 - Difficult Jack

I was only 24 and had just started as manager of the machine shop at Strachan Henshaw Machinery, makers of printing presses. I decided to do some Management By Wandering About, so I ventured out of my cosy, safe office, (with 6-wheeled swivel chair, with high back, twin-pedestal desk, rubber plant, dictaphone, and power phone) and entered the twilit world of the machine shop.

For you this might be a call centre, a drawing office, a hospital ward, or a sales office. The same situation would apply.  

At the end nearest my office it was easy - the flashy new CNC machines were making interesting components and were run by the young lads who I could easily chat to. But as I walked down the gangway (in my suit and tie) the machines and their operators got older. Past the millers, then the grinders, then the shaper, then the jig borers, and finally to the Capstan Lathes.

The Capstan Lathes made washers mostly - huge batches of 2000 washers at a time. The machine on the end was worked by Jack, a dour Yorkshire man who had made washers for the last 40 years. He was an expert.  

I wonder what he thought of me as I came up the aisle in my suit, aged 24?

I expect he was thinking “Here comes that jumped up waste-of-space posh Southerner thinks he knows it all from college so-called manager what can he possibly do for me he doesn’t even know how to work a capstan lathe” or something less polite.  

But it was OK, because I was thinking “There he is, that miserable Northerner who thinks he’s so great because he can make washers I could learn it in a couple of weeks if I wanted to, which I don’t, but what on earth shall I say to him?”.

So each morning I would say “Morning Jack” with a sort of weak smile and he’d glare at me with a look somewhere between despising and pitying and say nothing. Occasionally he might grunt at me contemptuously.  

Some days I would turn around and go back before reaching Jack, but most days I would submit myself to the humiliation of being ignored by him.

Then I read The One Minute Manager and it said “Catch Them Doing Something Right”. What a great piece of advice. I decided to try it on Jack.  

But what could I say to him? How about “Gosh Jack, you’re really good at that machine. I wish I was as good as you are at making washers”. No, I think he’ll know that I didn’t really mean it. How about “Jack, you’re the best at making washers, and I really appreciate your work”. No, too embarrassing, and too patronising. Praise should be based on facts. You’re supposed to praise the behaviour not the person. But all he does is make washers, he doesn’t do anything exceptional or different from one day to the next. Or does he?

I had a look at the figures, and he hadn’t scrapped a single washer for 3 months! Not a single one of his products had been rejected!  

So on the next morning I walked up the gangway as usual. “Morning Jack”. [Grunt]. Then, returning, Columbo-like: “Oh, Jack, I’ve been looking at the production figures (he starts to look defensive) and I couldn’t help noticing that you haven’t scrapped a single part for the last three months. No one else has achieved that, and I think it’s really impressive”.

You should have seen his face! Complete turmoil going on in his head. “I like this but I don’t want to like it”. “I’m damned if I’ll smile or thank this guy”. “But he does seem to know what’s going on”. “I’ve been given some recognition at last”.  

In the end he said “Well, that’s what I’m here for”.

I walked away thinking “Yes! Got him!” It felt good, like a victory for me. But later I realised it was also a victory for him.  

Each day after that I would joke with him saying “Scrapped anything yet?” or “Is that an oily mark on your machine there?” (he always kept his machine really clean). And because I’d put my finger on the one thing that mattered to him, and taken the time to check the facts, and made the effort to tell him (and believe me the words had nearly stuck in my throat) he knew that I really did appreciate him.

Jack was a man of pride, who really cared about the quality of his work. If only they’d all been like him!

So the lesson from this story is:

Message number 3: Catch them doing something right.
And this applies to everyone, even the people who you don’t like, or who never especially shine.
Make the effort. It will feel good!
Next Page
Chapter 1   - The Captain Of The Ship
Chapter 2   - Wandering About
Chapter 3   – Difficult Jack
Chapter 4   - Dr. Evil
Chapter 5   - Knowledge is Power
Chapter 6   - Destruction
Chapter 7   - A real friend
Chapter 8   - Teams from Hell
Chapter 9   - Dangerous Roy
Chapter 10 - Bob vs. Bob
Chapter 11 - Own Goals