on waste

Here I am not thinking about green issues or recycling in particular, although these are important and do form part of my thinking on this subject, but the overall issue is of wasting anything. Taking offence has become an international pastime, but we choose whether or not to be offended and my preference is not to take umbrage at almost everything, why, because it is a waste of my time and emotions and the one thing that does offend me is waste.

My earliest experiences, as far as I can remember them, are peppered with instances where the grown ups in my life were always on my case about jobs half done, if done at all. It drove me nuts at the time, but it was my choice to skimp and it was the gradual realisation that not doing something properly had consequences whereas doing it right first time brought praise and, now and again, reward. Finding out about the carrot and stick method is part of growing up or, at least, in my youth it was.

The full impact of how wasteful re-work is did not really strike home in those days of short trousers. It was simply annoying when, having, say, been asked to do some chores I had only done half a job so as to get out to play sooner I had to do the job again only taking longer and thus further delaying playtime, even to the point whereby my pals had got fed top with waiting for me and gone off somewhere. 

It was only when I got to work that I really got to grips with doing it right first time because there I would often find myself having to stay late, working unpaid, to properly complete tasks. It was also obvious that being a slacker had a longer term impact on prospects for advancement, but these were very self centred reasons and the impact on my employer was less obvious until I got involved in customer facing roles. There the consequences of not doing to job well first time brought not just the wrath of my supervisor, but also that of the person paying for the job. The cost of losing the company business is that customer took their trade elsewhere was obvious.

Peer pressure played a part too, because any failings that impacted on my colleagues would result in confrontation. There was a balance between fear of failure and pride in working well as a team and quite where the line was I don’t think any of us quite knew, but I would not describe any of it a bullying, even if today I am sure that it would fall into that category, but back then it was about building a team that would cover each other’s backs. The facts that almost all of my colleagues in the generations before me had all served in the armed forces may have had something to do with the belief that we were a unit and committed to mutual success.

As I got into management training the importance of profit, loss and turnover began to sink in, and the general principle that every pound saved was a pound of profit grabbed my attention. One of the easy ways for me to save money in my job was not to damage product and I became almost evangelical on the subject. Linking the cost of waste to the cost of re-work took a few weeks longer, but that too became a hobby horse and long before I knew about things like Sigma 6 I had become a passionate advocate of eliminating waste in all forms that I could find.

Once I got into management the pressing need was to learn how to handle a team and manage people, but one of the ways that I got people to follow me was through being efficient, and therefore cheap, both of which get favourable attention from above. It stood be in good stead throughout my career in management until one time when Lean became the buzz word in the large organisation for which I worked and my operation could not match the Lean targets being set because we were already better; you can’t make a 10% reduction when you have no fat to spare.

Avoiding wasted time and effort and reducing the cost of managing the waste material that we had to dispose of were just becoming known as Green initiatives about that time and I found it ironic that much of what we had been doing for years had been upgraded from slightly nutty and obsessive, even career inhibiting at times, to something that was being championed and lauded. Sadly there was a lot of waste involved in the efforts to reduce it, a classic example being the purchase of especially branded four in binders for the manuals that were being sent out to units. We already had a supply contract for plain white binders in various sizes that had pockets on the spine and front cover for branding to be inserted, but the “Green” project bought printed ones and spent almost £25,000 pounds more than was necessary and I made myself unpopular for a while for having pointed this out.

There will always be some waste, but minimising it can be one of the easiest things to manage and a lot of it can be done without spending anything: Pure profit is a wonderful thing.

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