July, 2013

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Bottlenecks And Political Inefficiency

Have you ever thought there was an employee who knew so much and had so much experience, they could not be replaced?  We encounter this frequently in smaller manufacturing companies because maintaining the status quo is so easy to do.  If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, right?

Wrong!  It actually is broken.  What you have is a bottleneck.  Your organization is only as good as that person.  You will never get better with that one employee holding the reins.

Large corporations take care of this problem through attrition, overkill, and rotation.  Ever wonder why folks are moved from department to department?  It simply keeps the system in motion and reduces the likelihood of a bottleneck.

Politicians, quite possibly the largest collection of bottlenecks, exist because they create their own rules.  iManage4Results says if you want to fix the problem just implement term limits.  But politicians know if you fix the problem they are out of a job.  Bottleneck workers are just as smart.  They typically will feed information to the owner or general manager in hopes of maintaining their “protected” status.  They will also undermine other managers if they feel threatened.  Time spent protecting their job results in lower productivity.

Bottlenecks cause all sorts of problems.  High priority projects slow to a crawl.  Mini-bottlenecks grow because bottlenecks protect their own.  Be aware that fraud and embezzlement like to hide in bottlenecks.  (We will cover illegal activities and how to spot them in a later post.)

Fixing a bottleneck is easy, transfer the employee, manage them to expectations, or terminate them.  Identifying the bottleneck takes observation and common sense.  Look for employees that make others nervous.  Find out who has lots of vacation banked.  Listen for someone to say, “Bob won’t share his secrets,” or “Nancy is the only worker who can run that piece of equipment,” or “This place would shut down without Henry.”

And finally, watch out for managers that have skip relationships with the owners.  Owners commonly skip their GM’s and go right to the source.  This break in communication encourages the bottleneck.  The owner does not always realize their managerial shortcomings when doing this.  They recognized it enough to hire a GM, but not enough to use the GM for maximum productivity, thus creating a bottleneck.

So, bust the bottlenecks and watch your organization prosper.  And remember, those bottlenecks are likely good employees.  A change for them may be just what they need for a productivity boost.