The First Line Manager: Back to Basics

Experience teaches senior first line managers when and how to “go back to basics.” Many times during my career I heard this statement, “we have to go back to basics.” When executive managers speak this phase, it comes with vague concepts. Most times nothing changes. Cecil Gaines, a financial advisor, told me, “most times when a company needs one thing to happen to survive, it never does.” This includes going back to basis, it never happens; because, most executive managers do not know how to get back. Here are my thoughts on getting back to basics.

Glenn Barber, a representive for Osment Paper, came into my office at the Admiral Benbow; he said, “I can not sell any garbage can liners. There is a shortage of plastic.” This was during the 1973 oil embargo. I said, “No problem.” He said, “You do not seem upset. The manager of the Rodeway Inn was very upset. What are you going to do?” I am going to do what we did before the can liners. We are going to wash out our garbage cans.

I took the general managers job for the bankrupt Ramada Inn Crest. I looked at the restaurant menu. The menu entree’s include Duck a l’Orange and Cherry’s Jubilee. The night cook is a full-time post office employee during the day. This is the time for our restaurant to get back to basics. I know what to do. I create an old southern menu; roast beef, prime rib, pork chops, fried chicken, steaks, and pecan pie. We serve food we know how to prepare. Now, we were back on track, the restaurant makes money. We are back to basics.

In 1999, our division starts central order dispatch to computers in our service workers trucks. We define how workers will complete the orders in a generic way. We will not work orders unless they match the work we do. Service workers will send the wrong order back to the office. Then, the service worker will create a generic order for the work they actually do. This created order will be manually completed by the office. This allows each business office to complete these orders as they would like. This leads to office complaints. We explain this is the best way for us to do this work. This works for a while.

In the last three years this generic completion of orders gave way to what each office wanted. Our service workers complete each order even though it is a wrong type order, just note what they actually did in the comments of the order. This situation creates confusion in our work force, to complete work orders that do not match their work. Most times the business office misses the order comments; thus, the wrong order works on the account. Our customer complains and billing problems increase. Our work force’s attempt to be someone for everybody does not work.

This brings us to the present. First line managers meet and formulate the plan to take our division “back to basics”. We review our work activities; then, go back to the basics. We return to the processes we did twelve years ago. Again, we train our men to complete a work order; only when the order is correct for the work they do. We cancel orders that do not match work we do. We create new orders in the field for the work we do. We communicate to the business offices how to work these orders. We return our process to the effective generic way for doing our work. Most of the customer problems go away.

This reminds me of a story I read. Republic Steel sent their furnace master to Japan to learn a new process. The Republic master asked the Japanese furnace master where he learned the process. He replied from Republic Steel years ago. If companies forget how to get back to basics there is a problem. This is a problem as the baby boomers leave with this first line manager experience. Companies must capture this experience.

Senior First line managers are fortunate to know how to “go back to basics.” We know what we did before garbage can liners. We will only prepare the food we know how to cook. We will not panic; going back to effectiveness will be an orderly retreat. As senior first line managers, we know what works.

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About OJ

I am a retired first line manager with over 40 years of experience. In operations management, accounting management, and central operations management. It is my wish to convey some of the experiences I have learned form over the years in the articles on my site.
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