Sit down, Shut up and Do what I say

I don’t actually recall ever saying this exactly, but that’s generally what I meant.

You see for many years I was a turnaround specialist. I went were it was broke and fixed it. I started when I was very young and to be quite honest in the beginning, I was often very scared either of what I was doing or losing my job.

I was so concerned with getting the job done and learning everything I could about the work that I was often not very concerned with people’s feelings. In the beginning the meaner I was, the more respect I seemed to get from my fellow foreman.

But after I sent a mechanic to medical for going to the bathroom during the work day I stopped. I realized that I was probably going a bit too far. I wasn’t Ivan the terrible anymore but I was far from warm and fuzzy.

Later in my career, I graduated from project turnarounds to whole plant turnarounds. Where ever a plant was underperforming I went. I generally worked directly for the president, oh I had other bosses in between him and I, but my phone rang directly when performance wasn’t up to par.

So when I showed up to either a project or a plant, things were not going right, hence the shut up, sit down and do what I say. It wasn’t pretty but it worked.

Power plants and power plant people are not soft pliable individuals, you can’t be. To run, operate or maintain a plant takes a mental and physical toughness that few understand. That steeliness of character often does not lend itself to open and free thinking about new things which is the problem.

Looking back on all that now, I could have had more tack, patience and concern for my fellow employees.  Something my father used to say to me “the water as soft as it is eventually wears away the rock”. I’m more like the water now, a flash flood or tidal wave, but more like the water.

THE POINT:  Whether it be Sun Tzu, Napoleon Hill, Six Sigma or others I will write about later, the point is if you want better performance you have to change what you are doing.

Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity according to Einstein.

So the problem is how do we change risk adverse, hard headed people.  Like I stated earlier, I used to do it by sheer force of will and by being the meanest guy in the room however, there is another way.

I have found that by implementing a new process, one can create habits that you desire in a plant. Those habits then become your culture. Plant performance is the direct result of the habits of the plant personnel. By installing new processes that grow new habits, you can change plant performance faster with less angst and with longer lasting results.

THE STORY: I have a great story that illustrates this point very well but it is still too fresh a happening and I’m concerned it would offend too many people at this time.

So for the story this week I’ll just tell you about…well let’s call him Aristotle.  At the time of developing all of these processes (I didn’t know at the time they were going to be processes, I was just doing what I always did to turn a plants performance around) I had a many great assets, Aristotle being one of them.

We turned the plants performance from worst to first in just a year. The operating committee wanted to distill what we did to do this and then export those things to all the other plants in the company. So the operating committee flew up to spend time with me and my team to understand, memorialize and export our ideas, at the time, to the rest of the company.  Our processes became measuring sticks that the other plants were judged against.  It didn’t go well. Immediately, everyone else started to defend their way of doing things. They were right and these processes were wrong and because the processes came from me I was wrong. It became quite a mess and eventually I left the company. A few months later the president got fired and a few month after that the CEO go canned as well. That company doesn’t even exist anymore.

But this is about Aristotle; you see in the midst of this, he was banished to a plant that was off the radar screen. Because he was a acolyte of mine he was not treated well for many years after I left the company. However like the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down. Aristotle is now a plant manager and he uses the processes we developed. His plant maintains top performance year after year, for years, which is better proof that these processes work, than anything I could write.

5 thoughts on “Sit down, Shut up and Do what I say

  1. HLB Engineering

    I use to utter those words all the time when running large electric power systems. Now I’m into forensics and I just ask questions. Until we all go to trial: where I answer them.

    Professional engineering: pay me now and do what I tell you to. Or pay me a lot more at the true-up.

    Thanks much.

    Reply
  2. Linda Galindo

    Loved it. Telling the straight truth and treating people like capable human beings is a skill. Too often, with engineers in particular, who are, in fact exceptionally skilled at engineering, my experience is that they got where they are in management by rescuing, fixing and saving the poor performance of those beneath them, instead of holding them accountable and taking the time to manage, coach or mentor as needed. Now we have a huge group retiring with a very scared group coming behind because they are not prepared and they know it.

    Reply
  3. Frank Zaappala

    I have found that this sort of direct and dictorial approach does not work with driven highly motibviated people. With them it is better to say sit down, tell what needs to improve, and tell me how to do it better. Then give them what they need to get the job done, and recognize their stellar accomplishiments with public praise, and superior compensation,

    Reply

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