Describe the most difficult decision you have made and its personal effect on you.
The above question reminds of the month of November 2007 when I was entrusted with the task of further driving efficiencies in my department. Our company had (and continues to maintain) a strong reputation for manufacturing premium quality electric motors. However, changing market conditions in 2007 resulted in increased pressure on pricing. As a result, the focus was on achieving the required production at reduced operating costs.
Rotors are crucial components of such industrial motors and my department was responsible for their precision manufacturing. Once produced, these rotors would undergo a separate “Quality inspection” stage which consumed almost 20% of the total production time. I realized we could reduce this time and associated costs if operators in my team could “self-inspect” each of their assigned units.
In theory, the idea was very workable. However, it success was dependent on the response and attitude of my 25-strong workforce and the inspection team. The new alignment would result in the transfer of the inspection personnel to other divisions and alter the work profile my 25-strong production team. In a strongly unionized industrial setting, this change required very careful consideration.
My first reaction was to assess the risks and opportunities associated with this operation. I also sought the counsel of my seniors who, in my opinion, mentored me in the best possible way: I was given extensive inputs on organizing the changes; however the final decision had to be mine!
I went ahead with a two-pronged approach. Firstly, the production team was trained on various self-inspection methods. As this production team gained a foothold on these tasks, we conducted a series of meetings with the inspection team. I had individual and team meetings to clarify the intent: (1) There was no possibility of retrenchment since we valued the skills and abilities (2) The ongoing changes were for the overall win-win between the corporate goals (efficiency and reduced costs) and personnel since the inspection team would now be handling other important manufacturing tasks that had evolved with time. The initial discomfort and insecurity was displaced with agreement as the meetings gradually bore fruit.
In less than 3 months, we achieved a 1-day reduction in production time and savings equivalent to the salaries of 3 Full-Time Employees (who have now grown in various other production units). In September 2008, I received a Merit Reward for the accomplishment.
The project brought home the fact that decision making is mainly dependent on the ability to take responsibility and retain balance. I could take charge of a “risky” change primarily because I was willing to bring it to successful fruition and solve all the problems that came in the way. I also realized the wisdom of my seniors in allowing me the “take the final call”. It was this approach that enhanced my confidence – both as a person and as a professional.