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The Ledger - EST. 1978 - Nashville Edition

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VOL. 36 | NO. 34 | Friday, August 24, 2012

Lessons learned from Lucy, Ethel

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While preparing for a presentation recently, I remembered a scene from an old episode of the 1950s television show I Love Lucy. I looked it up on YouTube and sure enough the video clip of the scene is there (you can find it by putting the words “Lucy candy factory” in the search field).

In the scene Lucy and her best friend Ethel work on an assembly line in a candy factory. As the candy passes by on a conveyor belt, their job is to wrap it and get it ready for packaging.

In the beginning of the scene their boss walks in and announces, “If one piece of candy gets past you and into the packing room unwrapped – you’re fired!”

At first their job is easy. The conveyor belt moves past them slowly and contains just a few pieces of candy. However, as the scene unfolds, the conveyor belt speeds up and the quantity of candy passing by quickly increases. In order to deal with the onslaught of candy, Lucy and Ethel eventually begin stuffing the candy into their mouths, hats and blouses.

The scene is entertaining and hilarious. However, it also offers some interesting lessons in effective management. Many of the problems I hear about nowadays from clients are related to excessive workloads.

And quite honestly, many managers seem to be paying little attention to employee feedback. They often view legitimate feedback as inappropriate or unwarranted complaining.

Even worse, some managers seem to be causing the problems rather than trying to help employees solve them.

Good managers should be very concerned about workload issues. Each machine in an assembly-line process has a maximum capacity. If you are a plant manager, it is not a good idea to ignore the maximum capacity of the various machines on your assembly line.

Read “The Goal,” a great book by Eliyahu Goldratt, and you will clearly understand the perils of overloading a plant and creating manufacturing bottlenecks.

Think of designing the workload of the employees in a sales or service organization just as you might think of a plant assembly line.

Like the machines in an assembly line, each human being also has a maximum capacity.

Part of your job as a manager is to monitor and control the pace and flow of work. Failure to take such things seriously can quickly lead to fatigue, burnout, low productivity and costly turnover.

And if you are on the receiving end of an excessive workload, do your homework. Give managers specific feedback to help prove that an overload exists.

Recently I worked with a client who demonstrated that given the length of time it took to complete each phone call he was being asked to make, it was mathematically impossible to accomplish goals set by management.

And yes, there is always a possibility that a few employees might be goofing off.

But it is your job as a manger to find out the truth one way or another.

Chris Crouch is CEO of DME Training and Consulting and author of several books on improving productivity. Contact him through www.dmetraining.com.