Thursday, September 4, 2014

Responsible parties

The other day, I presented a letter of reprimand to one of my employees.  He's worked for me for eight years and has been a mainstay of the business during that time.  He is a good person, a reliable employee and a good family man.  His attention to quality has been outstanding until the past year or so.  

He has ruined three large embroidery jobs during the past eight months.  The combined total loss has been greater than the rest of our embroiderers combined.   His most recent mistake was so bad that we had to order and send the replacement goods to another embroiderer because the customer had very little faith in our ability to do the job.

Only a week after the latest quality issue, he made the ultimate in foolish mistakes by putting a needle through his finger.  This became a worker’s compensation claim.  Normally this is something that is only committed by rookies and it only happens once.  The only way that a needle can pierce a finger is by putting that finger under a needle while the machine is running.  Rookies learn quickly that when the needles are going up and down at a rate of four hundred fifty and a thousand times per minute, the wise choice is to stop the machine before clearing a stray thread or adjusting fabric.  For a veteran to do this is unthinkable.  Turning off the machine before clearing threads becomes second nature to experienced embroiderers.

As a side note, in twenty two years, we have not paid out a worker’s comp claim on this sort of injury until this year.  This is not a common occurrence at all. 

So my employee and I had a conversation.  I read him the letter, we spoke of the issues at hand and I asked if something was wrong in his life that was causing him to slip up so much.  His answer was that there was nothing wrong. 

We discussed the most recent mistake.  I was informed that he had done a sample and that it was approved.  I asked why the rest of the order was not like the sample.  I received a shoulder shrug.

We moved on.  The needle-through-finger trick.    How did it happen?  He said that it was an accident.  I asked if maybe he wasn't a little bit responsible for the accident.  He said that he was not.  It was the machine's fault.

I asked who had pushed the start button?  He did.  Who had put his finger under the machine after it was moving?  He did.  "So", I asked, "didn't you have some responsibility for this happening?"

"No," he replied.  "It was an accident."

"How did you get married?" I asked.  Sometimes I'll change the subject.

"My wife and I decided to do so," he said.

"Who asked whom?"

"I asked her."

"So you are responsible?"

"Yes," he said.

"And how about the accident?" I asked.

"It was an accident."

I gave up.  Our conversation was finished, save for one final request on his part.  "Since I am agreeing to the letter of reprimand," he said, "I would like a raise of fifty cents an hour.  You should take some risks as well."

I am older and calmer than I once was.  I politely told him that we would consider a raise if he actually survives the next six months without an issue.  I did not commit an assault upon his person. 

As my employee talked, I discovered that he will take responsibility for the good things in his life.  He does not take any credit for the bad things.  They are someone else’s fault.  That was his consistent assertion throughout the course of our discussion.  At the end of our discussion, I learned two lessons. 

The first was that I could not help but consider him to be a Victim.  His life is a complete loss because he chooses to assert no control over the bad things that happen to him.  They are always the result of someone or something other than him. 

The second was something that I told him.  As he continued to take responsibility for the good and deny the bad, I mentioned to him that we live in the United States.  I said that one of the fundamentals of our country is something called Freedom.  When a person takes responsibility for the good AND the bad, they set themselves free. 

Think about it and get back to me, okay?
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