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Bad Hair Day

(September 2000) posted on Wed Nov 15, 2000

Tale of a day gone awry


By Bron Wolff

Let's define a "bad hair day." For starters, hair has nothing to do with a bad hair day. You don't even need hair to have a bad hair day, and if you have enough of them, you probably won't have any hair left after a few months anyway. For some people, getting up in the morning and having to go to work is bad enough, but when they get to work and anything that can go wrong does go wrong--that's a classic bad hair day. The fact is, only two things can cause a bad hair day: the things we do to ourselves and the things we allow other people to do to us. I'll talk more about these issues later. First, let's get the horror stories out of the way. When you're in business, you always will have to deal with quick-turnaround jobs, impossible drop-dead dates, and last-minute changes to the art, order quantities, and press proofs. That's the nature of the screen-printing game, folks. If you can't accept it, get out of the business--which is exactly what a friend of mine did when he couldn't take it anymore. He's now driving a cookie truck, and he loves it. Who's next for the cookie truck? Sometimes it seems as though the planets are in a certain alignment that sets the entire world against you. These are the days when nothing goes right, and they usually start out when the company truck refuses to start, just as you are about to make a critical pickup or delivery. Being a professional, you grit your teeth and take on the rest of the day, but things don't seem to get any better. While you're dealing with the dead truck, you are informed that three people just called in sick--again. "Well, that's okay," you think to yourself. "It's such a fun challenge to work shorthanded!" The first shift starts, and you discover yet another employee hasn't shown up. What is it this time? Car trouble? A sick grandmother? Food poisoning again? You can't possibly know when the employee doesn't call, can you? And as your fuse becomes shorter and shorter, you realize that the game is still on. In spite of the rain showers, you still need to go on hitting. You have a rush job to print, but the screens are not good and must be remade. But hey, that's okay because the ink for said job didn't arrive anyway. You ask your shipping people to track down the ink while the screens are being reshot. So far, so good. Then the phone rings. It's the customer you were supposed to ship a job to yesterday, but didn't. You dance around the subject, make promises you hope you can keep, and then pick up the next caller. It's the customer you were supposed to deliver an order to this morning when your truck wouldn't start. By this time, you're tap dancing, and you're getting pretty good at it. For a blessed few minutes, you are treated to the sounds of normal production. Things seem to have quieted down. Then you hear the press stop and see some production people at your door. In their hands are parts printed with the wrong color. But hey, that's okay, because it's the second color! You are thankful they didn't wait until the last color to mess up the job! Then you remember that this job was for the customer you were supposed to deliver to yesterday and you wonder how you're going to smooth over those waters a second time. Now it's back to the screen room to look at those screens that are being remade. One of them is no good, but hey, that's okay, because they got one out of the two screens right--and hitting 0.500 in baseball will get you into the Hall of Fame! Unfortunately, it occurs to you that screen printing is not baseball. The good news is, the shipper has found your missing ink. The bad news is, it's in New Hampshire, and you're not. But hey, that's okay, because you still don't have screens for the job anyway. With any luck, you'll have a good set of screens by the time the shipping company locates New Hampshire on a map! The fuse is now down to the housing of the bomb. The volcano is about to erupt. The dam is going to burst. And your wife calls. You forgot your lunch, you forgot to take out the garbage, and don't forget to stop and pick up something-or-other on the way home. Just as you're hanging up the phone, one of the few employees in the building is punching out for the day. "Oh, I guess I forgot to tell you about my doctor's appointment...." And you reply: "You guess? Custer guessed!!" In the middle of all this fun, another customer call, demanding a job quote in a ridiculously short amount of time. It's for an outrageous project with quantities of fifteen and twelve different printing options. Mind you, the quote is only for budgetary considerations, but the customer needs it for tomorrow's board meeting. You hang up the phone and mumble, "Idiot." That customer is the straw that broke the camel's back. You are now over the edge, and everyone is feeling your wrath. Depending on the type of person you are, you might jump in your car and drive around until you cool off. Or you might play "ostrich," burying your head in the hopes that today's problems will vanish at 5 o'clock and everything will be different in the morning. When most of us face these bad hair days, we do the most unproductive thing of all. It's what I refer to as "posterior" management. As long as we have someone else's posterior in our sites, we have somewhere else to level the blame. When we pass off the blame, our sins are absolved! We vent our frustrations on any poor soul who gets in our way--usually an innocent bystander. We can deal with the fallout later because, after all, it's not personal. At least, not to us. Where the fault lies In situations like this, whose posterior really deserves a good kicking? Let's examine that question closely. Remember the truck that broke down? When was the last time it was serviced? Does the company have a service policy and schedule, and is anyone keeping track of the service records? If not, why not? Remember all those employees who called in sick or left early? Do you have a policy for absences or advance notice for leaving early? When you have no policy, you tend to be too flexible, and when employees know you're flexible, they can bend you into knots. Do you have a limit for tardiness, sick days or personal days? And do you cross-train employees so all bases are still covered even when people take time off? More self-inflicted wounds are found in the screenmaking department. How well are your people trained, and are they responsible for doing quality checks before the screens are scheduled to go on the press? No? Why not? The delivery service responsible for the late ink shipment presents another serious problem with a simple solution. Work only with those services that are dependable or get yourself another vendor. Establish a list of criteria your suppliers must meet in order to do business with you. It's called a "vendor certification program." Make sure your suppliers know what's expected of them, and monitor their performance to keep them in line. As for that job that was printed with the wrong color, look at the system you use for writing orders and communicating production specifications to the people on the shop floor. Are your orders clear, concise, and easy to understand? Do they leave room for judgment calls, or do they spell out in no uncertain terms exactly how the job should be produced? Who checks the production orders for accuracy? Who signs off on the color and the print quality? Do all your people, including the sales people, understand the role they play in getting the job done? What about that last-minute quote request? Well, deal with it, because that's just part of doing business. The best corrective action is preventive action. If we deal with these little problems when they are still little, we can put out the fire and take steps to keep it from igniting into another full-blown crisis. Next time you have a "bad hair day," think about what caused it in the first place. Was it everyone and everything out to get you, or were you just your own worst enemy?


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