Production Management Part 4: Man Management

October 20, 2011 at 5:17 am 3 comments

This is undoubtedly the trickiest part in labor intensive industries. Laborers have become more and more demanding in recent years in India. If you don’t meet their demands, there are units waiting which will.

There are a few things that I’ve come to believe matter most in this aspect of production management

  1. Hierarchy – Dealing via the right channels
  2. Tone and Language
  3. Assigning responsibility, power to execute and accountability
  4. Fault identification
  1. Hierarchy – Dealing via the right channels

Most corporates pride in the fact that they have a flat organization and people can walk right into any room they want. However, when it comes to production units, this idea might backfire.

“A worker needed a leave so he asked his supervisor for one. The supervisor was short of resources to run machines in his unit so he denied the leave. The worker bypassed the supervisor and walked into the owner’s room and the owner unknowingly approved the leave. The supervisor was left stranded and was not able to arrange for a backup operator leading to machine shutdown for the entire leave duration. Each time he was questioned on low efficiency levels by the owner, he alluded to the leave granted by the owner.”

In production units, it is important to ask and take into confidence the supervisor/technician when making any decision about the labor they are handling/ involved with.

  1. Tone and Language

“A listed company’s production unit manager slapped and abused a couple of laborers for mishandling a machine. This led to a large-scale walkout. Nearly all of the workers found opportunities in nearby SME production units who were willing takers for them.”

Language and tone have to be kept in check when handling labor. A smart man manager taught me how to make the worker admit himself that he committed a fault. He used to do a detailed fact-finding and Q&A session with the labor. He raised his voice at times but was careful not to get personal or use instigating words. At the end of the fact-finding, he used to ask the laborer “You’ve seen how much loss we have suffered because of the mistake.” Laborers responded to him.

It is important not to get too analytical with workers. Sometimes you have to let the little mistakes go so that one can question and raise objections on bigger mistakes.

“A large textile processing unit manager made it a point to help out workers in time of need. He used to constantly ask his labor if they needed help with anything. Labor respected him a lot and would agree to anything the manager said. They treated the unit as their home.”

“A 65 year old man once came and resigned in front of an owner saying the owner’s son didn’t respect him. The owner asked what did his son say that instigated the resignation. He said the son said to him “Beta aise nahin karte (Son don’t do this). His objection was on the word “Son”. He said he could take that from the owner but not from his son who was much younger.”

Tone and Language tends to be critical when handling labor and any slip-up can be very costly.

  1. Assigning responsibility, power to execute and accountability

In a production unit, one needs to assign responsibilities to the right person and give him sufficient rights to execute the same. This is important since this lets you raise questions later on any faults/defects without getting the answer that there wasn’t enough authority given to prevent the fault/defect.

“A quality checker in a factory was told to ensure that as soon as he found more than 100 meters of fabric on the machine, he was to cut the fabric so that it can be checked on a continuous basis and defects can be avoided in running fabric. However, for this the checker needed helpers. The helpers came under the purview of the technician who first focused on efficiency and then on such “trivial” issues. The helpers would turn their backs on the checkers as soon as the technician called them and they would be away for hours. The checker was not able to control the cut and was reprimanded by the factory owner who had issued the order. The checker responded asking for a couple of helpers under him. The issue was resolved by asking the technician to assign couple of his helpers permanently to the checker.”

Accountability can only be placed on a person if he has the powers needed to execute his duty. Very few employees in production units go out of their way to ensure work gets one. Most would try once or twice and then use the lack of a response as a reason that they couldn’t do as asked. The conditions for performing one’s duty have to be created by the production manager.

Once one has created conditions one can raise questions in case of shortcomings/defects. However, even in this case “tone and language” have to be kept in mind while doing so.

  1. Fault Identification

The most amusing and frustrating time is when a fault occurs in production units. Fingers point in all directions. Figuring out who is responsible can become very difficult at times. One needs complete knowledge of the production process to know where and who is responsible and whether the defect could have been avoided at any level. The manager gets promoted to a “detective” in this case

“In a production unit, a machine went awry and started producing defective products. The process continued for 10 hours. The technician responded saying he was busy handling something else and the quality checkers should have raised the issue with him. The checkers said they mentioned it to the technician who ignored them. The owner had created a rule that the quality log was to be signed by the technician and it was his duty to review it every 10 hours. The owner checked the log and it had a clear mention of the event. He immediately reprimanded the technician and cancelled off all production incentives to the technician that month.”    


I’ll end this section with an amusing incident:

“A worker walked to the owner of a weaving unit and said, “I need some leave and an advance since my grandmother died”. The owner replied, “I have three written applications which suggest that your grandmother has died repeatedly in the past. At least kill someone else this time.” The worker replied “Sir, please clear my dues. I’m leaving permanently.” The owner replied “Go ahead and take your leave” and gave the worker an advance. I asked him why, “You know he’s lying and you’re encouraging it !” He said “The worker’s good. I can’t lose him. There’s already a huge shortage. He’s probably going to have to kill many more grandmothers before I let him leave ! ”

Large capital expansions have ensured increasing opportunities for workers. This is the age of the worker (Karl Marx wouldn’t have imagined capitalists ending up with a socialist outcome) and one has to be smart to ensure his workforce stays with him.


To be continued….



Vibhor Tikiya

Entry filed under: Observations, Production Management. Tags: , , , , , .

Production Management Part 3 – Quality Control Feel-good Ads for a Festive Weekend

3 Comments Add your own

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