Most New Englanders have had two jobs for month of January, one of them being shoveling. Record snowfalls have strained muscles, jostled schedules, tried patience and compressed perspectives. So is there a silver lining to this snow cloud? Here are a few lean-related thoughts:
First, there is a reminder that ‘snow happens.’ It may manifest its wrath in the inconvenience of daily shoveling and long traffic snarls, or it may be as serious as a collapsed roof – more than four dozen to date this month. Our best-laid plans occasionally must be modified or delayed due to conditions that we can’t control. For lean change leaders there is a challenge as Baden Powel said to “be prepared.” Expect snow; plan for it. When things go wrong and tempers grow short, people look for someone more even keeled to lead the way. Where Mura and Muri abound, the person who keeps his cool will be seen to be as a leader. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs,” you are a change agent. (If you haven’t read this Rudyard Kipling poem, take a moment now. It’s pertinent.) Take this opportunity in times of adversity, and your leadership will be recalled in calmer times.
Secondly, as I pull my snowblower from the garage, I appreciate the power of machines. To understand the meaning of “Muri” (overburden), shovel by hand. Thank goodness for Arthur Sicard, inventor in 1925 of the snowblower. It treats me well by removing snow while I walk behind and steer. But I must also treat it well: Oil and spark plugs should be changed at least once per season depending upon frequency of use, tires properly inflated, fresh gas at hand, auger lubricated, and so forth – a little preventative maintenance is an ounce of prevention. I keep a spare shear pin and starter cord on hand. Why? Because both have previously broken at inopportune times. It amazes me that I take better care of my snowblower than many factories do of machines with far bigger price tags. Several years back, walking through a large machine shop, I noticed many machines stopped. “Why,” I asked, “are so many machines down?” A worker on the line blurted out “Because they fired the oilers to save money.”
Finally, I think about safety when I’m walking behind my snowblower. I have several friends with less than ten fingers who were not thoroughly acquainted with safety procedures. An untrained equipment operator – or worse a machine without clear safety standards – is a tragedy waiting to happen. When it does happen, we may call it an accident, even though it was perfectly preventable. When we turn a blind eye to safety concerns, we are not change leaders but unintentioned ministers of the status quo, keepers of crappy working conditions that disrespect employees. Hence the expression “S_ _ _ Happens.” (Snow Happens)
What are the problems in your operation that are just waiting to happen? Engage your employees and make the list. Then propose some countermeasures as contingencies. Remember: The worst time to buy a snowblower is in the middle of a blizzard.