Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Paul Downs: you can't push workers for output and ask them to train at the same time

More from furniture maker Paul Downs, via the New York Times You're The Boss blog. This post resulted from his post on his reasons for and approach to firing people, and discusses mistakes he made during the economic downturn of the late '00's. Four years on, he has absorbed some pretty clear lessons from that time:

I’d like to address commenters who questioned my failure to train workers whom I had hired in the years before the crash in 2008. For instance, this comment:

Why would you fail to train people? Why would you not explain to the more experienced workers that training was worth more long term than output?

That’s a good question. And if, at that time, I had been able to focus on the long-term good of the company, I probably would have done things differently. However, that’s not where we were at that time.

We were hiring as fast as we could to complete some very large projects. At the same time, we were losing money hand over fist. The best way for us to raise cash was to complete the jobs we were working on. At that moment, output was much more important than training. I was putting a lot of pressure on my cadre of experienced workers to get jobs out the door — and at the same time dumping a crew of inexperienced warm bodies on them.

I told the old heads to train the new people, but I didn’t relieve anyone of their production responsibilities. And I didn’t put a single person in charge of training. Frankly, I was stupid, and I was setting up all of us for failure. Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t working, but I just couldn’t figure out what to do. It’s a lot easier to say “train people” than to think of actual ways to do it.

This article I wrote for The 99 Percent discusses the need for time to pass to draw deep lessons from mistakes.

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