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Reclamation . . . part 2

Another view of some of the wood . . . notice the reclaimed shelving and original Depot floor mixed with the new quarter-sawn oak cabinets and Maple “butcher block” counter top in the foreground. Oh, yeah, then there is the Flair stove . . . made in 1964 by General Motors. But that’s another story!

Another view of some of the wood . . . notice the reclaimed shelving and original Depot floor mixed with the new quarter-sawn oak cabinets and Maple “butcher block” counter top in the foreground. Oh, yeah, then there is the Flair stove . . . made in 1964 by General Motors. But that’s another story!

Reclaiming Employees — Part 2

I recently wrote a post about reclaiming wood . . . and . . . well, retaining employees . . . valuable ones who may have some flaws. (I also shared several pictures of projects I made out of the reclaimed redwood from an old deck.) If you read that post, you know that I, for one, have learned to find value in trying to reclaim things . . . be it wood or employees. But let’s talk about what it really takes to engage in a reclamation project . . . because

Reclaiming is not the easiest path . . . if your focus is short-term solutions not quality ones.

Reclamation is not a quick or easy process! As an example, in reclaiming wood from the old deck I mentioned in the first post I had to . . .

  1. Tear apart the deck.

  2. Pull all the nails, screws, scrape off glue, etc. and cut off and discard pieces with imbedded metal.

  3. Plane the rough boards to reveal the wood underneath the weathered/stained exterior and further reveal any parts of the boards that were damaged or unusable..

  4. Carefully choose boards that would work for each project—boards that had the right length of “good wood,” ones where the knots or knot holes would not interfere, boards that matched other boards to minimize additional ripping, cross-cutting, etc.

  5. Remove rotting areas, broken spots in the board, places where the board had split, been notched, or ripped to be narrower than other boards.

  6. Re-plane, rip, and/or cross-cut then sand as necessary so the boards were be properly sized and ready to used to build the project.

Finished baton case.

Finished baton case.

Six steps to get these boards usable “like new” boards. Obviously, you wouldn’t go to this much trouble for just “any old boards”—boards that have little of no value. It’s often easier and better with “poor quality” boards to just tear out and replace. But often, people tear out old wood (or employees) that have great value and replace it with something of inferior quality. Why? Leaders may see employees as “expendable.” Either because they haven’t learned to value the older, more valuable resource or they don’t have the “know how” or tools to turn the old wood into a beautifully restored piece of usable lumber. Other leader’s just don’t want to go to the trouble because, once again, reclamation in the short term, takes more time and effort.

Years ago, I ran across a “leader” who recommended that leaders taking on a new team or organization find the one “indispensable” employee and fire them. The point being that no one is above the team or organization. I get the point. I abhor the practice. Maybe there are times where the arrogant, self-serving, “hero” types are causing so much damage to a team that getting rid of them is the only option. But, in my world, an employee once seen as ”indispensable” in the past should be given the opportunity, and tools, to change before being terminated. To do otherwise is reprehensible . . .and poor leadership.

It may “fix the problem” for the moment, but in the long-run this leadership practice will only be tolerated in environments where the leader has strong control, and incentives, over the employees. If the leader doesn’t possess this strong hold, employees will begin to undermine the leader who will have lost their respect and trust—or they will simply move on. Often this leads to s “simmering resentment” a loss of trust and an eventual “eruption”—often immediately after experiencing some sort of crisis—reduction in revenue, job injury, key employee resigning—just when the leadership needs to count on employee support.

What do you do for a door stop when you live in an old Depot? A railroad spike of course! Here’s one more use of the old redwood.

What do you do for a door stop when you live in an old Depot? A railroad spike of course! Here’s one more use of the old redwood.

The best defense is a good offense
— Jack Dempsey

Steps in reclaiming a valued employee.

So what exactly is involved in reclaiming a valuable employee?

  1. It starts with robust honest conversations and deep listening. Communication is one step that most leaders think they do well . . . and often the one they neglect the most. In woodworking you need to carefully inspect the wood. With employees you need a very rigorous process to really understand the experience of the employee. As we have demonstrated in other posts, people generally listen very poorly. Leaders are no exception. To resolve long-standing issues your understanding must go beyond the surface. You need to really “get in their shoes” and understand the territory of this particular employee. Any progress on this journey must start where the employee is now.

  2. It validates the employee’s experience but challenges them to present their best effort. Employees will change their behavior if confronted or threatened. But they will sustain those changes only if they feel understood and challenged to move toward what most of them want . . . to be their best, most successful, selves. Remember, employees tell themselves stories about themselves that my enable or exhibit their performance. Sustainable change starts where the employee is now. Leaders who generally manage and make decisions can be effective. Great leaders though inspire employees to give discretionary effort to making their teams the best.

  3. It sets clear goals. You won’t get there if you don’t know where “there” is. Don’t assume the employee knows what changes they need to make. Spell them out. An honest dialogue with a focus on the employee’s value—and the need of the team or organization to have that value realized, is critical. It is here that you can acknowledge that the employee may not want to strive to reach the goals—they may be burned out, have personal issues impending their performance, or other outside factors may influence their motivation. This is the time to determine if they need to move on or if they will engage and be a part of the reclamation process.

  4. It takes investing in time, resources, training, etc. If they are willing to focus on the challenges and goals, give some thought to what it will take for the employee to successfully become an engaged part of the team. Do they need more mentoring or coaching? A new work challenge? Reassignment/ More resources or training? Just like “cleaning up” and preparing the old boards, valuable employees need to be “prepped” for their new purpose.

  5. It requires frequent and consistent monitoring. Unlike boards, people' have complex motivations. Employees that agree to setting goals, who seem to be open to re-engaging, may through their behavior prove that they are not. Remember, employees lie. A leader needs to stay in close contact through this process. Is the employee making effort? Are they improving their fit into the team’s needs?

  6. It requires transparency from the leader. Leader’s need to model and demonstrate the behavior they want to see from the employee. Honesty, integrity, and courage to be truthful. Traits that world-wide demonstrate good and affective leadership. They need to speak “truth” meaning both highlighting the value of the employee (not playing games) and clearly defining how they are performing at any given time (timely feedback). No employee, if they are reasonably emotionally and mentally healthy, should ever be surprised by how the leader sees their performance—they should already know given the feedback they have received from their supervisor.

If a leader sees the value in trying to reclaim valuable employees, there will be some significant steps involved. The leader will need to exercise patience but also close monitor, continue to communicate, and evaluate the progress of lack of progress. Yes, they will likely have moments when the thoughts of “just buying new boards” float up in their minds. But as I mentioned in the previous post, once a leader has successfully completed a reclamation project, the leader will, themselves, have changed and will know the value of restoring old boards.



What the expert doesn't do . . . CAN hurt you!

The old MS 260 on bottom. (See the new screw in the brake handle just above the label?) The new saw, a 251C, on top. Now, I'm good to go!

The old MS 260 on bottom. (See the new screw in the brake handle just above the label?) The new saw, a 251C, on top. Now, I'm good to go!

A "Not So Old" Saw

I had a problem. My chainsaw, a new-ish purchase in the last few years, suddenly had the anti-kickback bar (the mechanism that cuts the power to the chain if your saw recoils toward you) dangling by one end. The problem? It had lost a screw . . . or so I thought. Therefore, I dutifully quit cutting and made the trip to, let's call it, the Local Shop that sells, among other things, Stihl saws.

I go to this Local Shop because it is convenient--it takes 10 minutes to get there. It's in a moderate-sized town and they have sold me oil, chains, and other chain-saw essentials. I didn't buy my saw from them but had noticed that they sell Stihl saws and do have a shop.  (A few years ago I took my first Stihl saw to them for a repair and they pronounced it "dead"-now I'm wondering about that diagnosis . . . based on the experience in the rest of this story!)

The store where I bought the current Stihl, Nick's Farm Store, is a one-and-a-half hour round trip. It's in a very small town (which may disguise their true expertise . . . or expose my bias toward larger town repair shops), since they have always seemed very knowledgeable, very service-oriented, and their shop looks like a serious shop--for instance I noticed this time that they have a wall full of 55-gallon drums filled with various weights of oil and a large sign that reads, "Notice: Do NOT leave while filling!" (I immediately looked at the floor for signs of a past deluge of oil but if there was one there is no evidence. The shop floor looks clean and dry.)

I arrived at the local shop and tell them about my problem. The helpful clerk immediately consulted the computer, located the needed screw, secured the part and we attempted to install it. No go. He got a flashlight and we investigated further, "It looks like the screw broke off down in there," he said. I groaned inwardly. "This isn't good," I said to myself. He began to take apart the housing . . .  .

I will spare you the details of the process, however, the result was that he called the "shop-guy" who looked it over and tried a few things while making a few comments such as, "I thought we might be able to get to it, but it's broken off down in the aluminum block.." later, "I guess a guy could try to use a reverse drill-bit and see if they could get it out of there," then, "I not sure it's going to be easy to find a small enough bit and getting it centered so that it might back out could be tricky." His final solution? To suggest that I could try to drill it out myself or they could repair it but they might have to get a new block and the labor would be expensive enough that "you might as well buy a new saw."

It didn't seem right to me. They are after all  . . . the experts. it seemed reasonable to assume that they, unlike me, who has only dealt with this kind of problem once before, would have some experience with "broken-off screws" and a few "tricks up their sleeve" on how to approach the problem.

They didn't seem to be very interested in finding a solution or, perhaps, they were not confident that their solution would avoid spending a lot of time for which they would want to be paid (no argument there).

So, with great trepidation (I am not overly-optimistic about my mechanical skills) i went home, found some 1/16th inch left-handed drill-bits (not an easy find) on Amazon and ordered them.  When they came, I began, aided by my wife, to try and get the drill-bit centered and to drill out the offending screw. Ringing in my head were comments made by the expert . . . "It would be easy to ruin the aluminum block," and "it's not going to be easy to get a small-enough bit or to get it centered," and "you might get lucky!" 

After an hour, or more, we had made no real progress.  There were two holes in the screw stud. One, a bit off-center, and deeper. The second, more central, but shallow. I got the feeling we were going to keep slipping into the deeper hole which was getting dangerously close to the threads I feared. The screw had not moved at all.

My wife, no more confident in my skills than I have in myself (having a father with Svengali-like knowledge, skills, and tools in all handy-man areas), said, "Maybe you should just take it back to where you bought it and see what they say." That was all I needed. It is what I had been thinking but I had not wanted to admit defeat, or make the time-consuming and potentially costly trip--remember it was going to cost as much as a new saw according to the expert! But the lack of success and my wife's encouragement ended the doubt. I packed it up and left immediately.

I'll spare you the rest of the painful journey, except to say that at Nick's I bought a back-up saw so now I have two in case one breaks down again, and I'll jump to the end of the story.  They looked at the broken screw, said "Yep, we''ll have to drill that out of there." Kept the saw for a week. Called that it was finished and I went down to fetch it.  The bill? $43. Yes, $43!  To replace the saw I had would have been almost $700. The "back up saw I purchased was only $400 plus change.

Moral of the story? Not all experts are the same. Nick's Farm Store have experts in repairing Stihl saws. My local guys? Not so much.  Undoubtably they are experts in other things but I won't consult them on my saws again. In fact, the next time I make the trip to Nick's I may take that old broken saw (I've kept it out of nostalgia . . . it was my first!) and see what they think of it. Maybe it's not dead. 

A Business Parallel

A parallel? In the consulting work I do, it is always interesting to me who leaders rely upon to help them with "people issues." Usually, it is a business consultant from a one-man shop or a large corporate consulting business. What expertise do they really have in understanding human systems?  Often, based on the recommended solutions, they remind me of the "local guys" they propose generic solutions that leaders themselves could implement, they warn that the solutions might be "too costly," they are content with-or limited to-proposing a solution that requires the leader to do the work and they leave them with a solution that may or may not work.

Leaders, if your problem is a business problem then by all means find a real expert who knows business.  But if your problem is a people problem then don't trust the "local" expert who knows about business, finances, legalities . . . and works with people . . . find someone who knows about people.  You see I need an expert in chain-saw repairs not in chain-saw sales. Get over the fear. Finding the right expert may NOT cost you more time and money.  A real expert knows how to solve the problem. They have the tools, knowledge, and skills to work efficiently which helps the bottom line. In the end, a $43 repair to salvage a good saw is better than "junking it" and making a $700 purchase-especially when it leaves you with only one good saw..


By the way, I mentioned that I bought a back-up saw at Nick's. Since they knew how to repair my MS 260, I knew my "second saw" did not need to be a professional grade saw. So I bought a "step down" from my original saw--a savings of over $240. For less than $500 I now have two quality saws.

The Local Store didn't totally lose out entirely. They sold me the screw for the handle and some oil. But they could have sold me a new saw and a repair. While I'll continue to buy my emergency bar oil and 2-cycle oil at the Local Store, I will continue to make the trip to Nick's Farm Store for any "important" purchases!

The day I finished this blog post I got a postcard in the mail.  Here it is . . .

Postmark . . .

Postmark . . .

Message . . . what a great store!

Message . . . what a great store!