The factory model

Mr. Brumley looked out of the window and to the crowd gathered outside the gates. He squinted as he tried to make out the words on the placards being waved enthusiastically at passing cars. He saw the words ‘SCHOOLS’ and ‘FACTORIES’ repeated a dozen times, as well as various iterations urging people to ‘SAY NO!’

He turned to the group gathered around the table in the meeting room.

“What do we do about this?” Mr. Brumley urged. “The staff have all walked out in support of this protest. How can we get them back into work? How can we get this place going again.” He looked around at the nervous faces looking back at him. “Anyone?”

Silence. A few furtive glances were exchanged between those sat at the table. Then, an anxious voice spoke.

“They’ve, er… they’ve kind of got a point, though, haven’t they, sir?”

“What? Who said that? Was that you, Mr. Perkins? What do you mean? Don’t be nervous – I want to know what we can do to get back on track. Your voice is important here, as you know.”

“Well, they are kind of right, aren’t they?” replied Mr. Perkins. “Things could be done a bit better in order to make it less stressful for everyone, couldn’t it? I mean, the current model makes it very difficult for everyone out on the chalkface. There’s a lot of really anxious little faces out there every day.”

“Go on… how could we improve things? What do you think we are getting wrong? Do you think there is something in this whole ‘factory / school’ thing?”

“Well, yes. The fact of the matter is that this place shouldn’t really be run on the model it does. After all, we are a factory. I mean, we manufacture plastics to sell to industry. The protesters are right: this factory really does seem to run on ‘a school model’.”

“How so?”

“Well, the inefficiency for a start. We spend an awful lot of time and money on things that don’t really need to be done. All the filling out of forms. All the time spent on the latest industry fad before it is never heard of again. And what’s the point of all the data collection? I collect the data from all the departments every month and it just sits in filing cabinets. Someone told me it is only produced in case the auditors come in. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There’s a lot of time spent writing commentaries, explanations and analyses of the data. And then there’s all the meetings….”

“Interesting. Mrs. Sanderson, will you look into this for us? Go on, Mr. Perkins…”

“There’s also the excessive managerialism. Just look around this table. No offence to anyone, but do we really need this many managers? I mean, in every department, there are as many managers as there are entry level workers. Have you seen the amount of company-wide emails and the excessive workload that this sort of thing generates?”

“Right… yes, that is a problem. What else?”

“Well, the worst of all is the waste. I mean, we have lots and lots of materials that we buy in, that then leave the factory without ever having been enhanced in any way. They just end up in the same state that they arrived at us in. It’s like these materials never even came to the factory in the first place. In my last factory, we were really efficient about waste. We made sure all materials were refined.”

“Okay. You seem to speak from a place of experience. How should we go about things here?”

“Well, I propose we run this plant on what I call ‘a factory model’. It’s based on efficiency and fair accountability.”

“Yes, but we do want everyone to enjoy working here. We don’t want to take the fun out of the job, do we?”

“Well, actually, in my experience, when everything runs efficiently and with fair accountability, there is room for lots more joy. Efficiency doesn’t mean ‘cold and unfeeling’. In fact, it means quite the opposite. Because all the systems are structured around effectiveness and efficiency, it means we can take more time for the personal touch. We actually care more about causing damage, not less. Achievement goes up. Morale goes up. Try it and you’ll see.”

“Right. It sounds like a model worth trying.” Mr. Brumley had a glint of excitement in his eye. “We’ll put together some analysis of current systems and then come up with a strategic plan. We’ll start testing this model within a few weeks.”

“Testing?” replied Mr. Perkins. “Testing? Are you some kind of monster?”

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