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All hands on deck

A few years ago I worked for a large manufacturing company. Every year in March they processed thousands of Annual Reports, Notice and Proxy Statements and Form 10-Ks and Form 10-Qs. These documents had to be assembled, filed (electronically with the US Government), printed and distributed (mailed, posted to websites and emailed) by March 31st.

This was financial printings' “March Madness” no leave allowed in that month, 12 hour shifts and 7 day weeks. The “Peak” (the last 7 or 8 days before the month end) was like Dante meets “The Office”. Every line on every phone busy, every fax machine sending pages out or receiving incoming transmissions, every printer churning out proofs. Sales people customers and service staff attempting to stay on top of multiple projects.

Those of us in “line” positions found it a tiring stressful period. Those in staff roles really didn’t notice that much.

Then our CI (Continuous Improvement) Director joined. He observed the “madness” in his first year and made notes. In year two he announced “All Hands on Deck” – a simple but brilliant plan. You see almost all of the staff at the company at one time or another had held line positions. They had started at the company within the press room, composition, proofreading, customer service or logistics groups and then moved onto staff roles. By bringing them back temporarily we could add more than 25% to our customer facing workforce. Depending on your grade (individual contributor, supervisor/manager, or director) you were asked to work on “the line” for five, three or one days – usually in that last week to ease the stain on the organization.

A “name and shame” campaign was started letting the whole organization know where each staff member was working. If you weren’t on the list, your boss (and more significantly your peers) wanted to know why…

My VP went (back) into the Composition department for 3 days (he only had to do one day but had so much fun he went back), the Division Director spent a day answering the phones. One finance manager ran a press team, I went back into Customer Service for a week; my boss proof read. Across the organization the workload was shared by another 250 employees. We missed fewer deadlines, had fewer printing problems and lower burnout rates. But even more significantly in the aftermath of the “peak”, we found that putting the leadership team back into the line meant there was a fresh appreciation for the need for better equipment, smoother processes and cleaner reporting.

The next year saw us even better positioned to deliver results as the 25% increase in workforce was improved by the myriad process and procedure and technology improvements that had been put in place over the previous year.

All hands on deck – could your organization do that?

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