Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Magnificent Day

I had the most wonderful drive in to work this morning. I got out of bed a little late, but that’s okay; I made time up somewhere along the way and as I started the Jeep I was back on my normal schedule, which since the election (and this mind riot) has been about fifteen minutes later than I need it to be. I really should be saying good morning at about 6:25 or 6:30 instead of 6:42 each day. I shall hold myself accountable.

The sunrise was beautiful beyond description this morning, although as is usually the case my camera just couldn’t capture the vision I saw before me. I know that, had I no sense of responsibility, I’d have called in sick and run for the top of a hill after grabbing my Nikon from the apartment. But awaiting me was a busy day, and I couldn’t let the team down, so I stopped and snapped a couple of photographs with the iPhone and continued on my way to seize the day.

An afterthought; I tried to take pictures while driving this morning, but it was just not work the risk. I shall no longer risk life for a picture. And again, I shall hold myself accountable.

First thing as I walked in (three minutes late, as is mentioned in my recording) was the request, “I need to see you as soon as you can, but no huge hurry.” Coming from this particular individual, I’ve learned that such a statement usually translates to, “Hurry up, because I don’t know what the heck I’m doing and I’m about to mess something up big time.” So I made my way to the back of the building where my office is located (the running joke is that I’m a loose cannon so they hide me), unloaded my bag and set up my pens and stamps, initiated my daily PC reboot, and started towards the front again.

I barely made it two steps away from my desk when I was stopped and asked to deal with another issue quickly. No more than had I started that task and another came to my attention. Thankfully neither of those concerns was life threatening, and I was able to solve those problems quickly and start back on my path toward the three-alarm fire I had originally been called to put out.

As it turns out that situation was nothing more than a misunderstanding, because sometimes too many people have their hands on too much information that really doesn’t pertain to them, and they start misreading information or reading too much into something they really never should have read into, in the first place.

I work within an antiquated and imperfect system of spreadsheets that are individually populated rather than linked, because until the past few of years the company I work for has maintained all its information within a DOS program and handwritten ledgers. At the end of 2009 we had and order misinterpreted by a vendor; they read a 7 where they should have read a 2. This happened in part because our purchase order form was handwritten and faxed, and in part because the individual responsible for writing purchase orders (you’re looking at him) was excessively busy and didn’t slow down enough to write perfectly. It cost us a pretty penny, that situation; we eventually used all the material, but the effect of the interest lost due to cash out of our bank account combined with an immediate expense not justified given the actual requirements to do business was something we didn’t need. With the struggling economy, we just didn’t have the luxury of such situations coming to pass.

A quick back history; my employer is a wonderfully kind man of 78 years. He is not from a technologically comfortable generation, but he’s tried to adapt. Unfortunately back in the early 1990’s he had a computer crash; my understanding is that all his data that was digitally stored had been lost, and it took him months if not years to recover from that incident. Therefore he’s very, very leery of computers in general, and when it comes to computers involved with issues related to his cash flow he becomes even more skittish, which is certainly to be understood. He is a car guy, and so I’ve been able to talk with him about computers as an assembly of components much like an automobile, and over time he has actually come to understand and respect my knowledge in the PC realm in a way I don’t think he’s been able to trust anyone else who’s not a paid outsider specifically contracted for computer work only.

So… As the individual responsible for the internal error (which I took very personally – I’m a bit of a perfectionist and a little OCD sometimes) I took it upon myself to affect change for the better. As my solution for the problem I recognized needed solving, I created the first digital purchase order and corresponding “PO log” in my company’s nearly forty-year history. At first we printed the spreadsheet files, scanned them, and began to send emails with purchase orders attached rather than faxing. Suddenly relationships with our vendors began to improve, and costly errors were reduced by a noticeable percentage. Eventually a discussion was had about the benefits of our company owning a copy of Adobe Acrobat, and since I am the “computer guy” at my shop, that program was installed on my PC. The digital revolution continued, as now I was able to print-to-pdf rather than having to leave my desk to scan. I also started to create fill-able forms, and overall efficiency was improved greatly.

At some point I moved away from purchasing and into Quality Assurance, which involves inspection of parts. Inside that department, I took our basic concept of an inspection report and followed the same digital path I had started in Purchasing. Instead of using a blank template and handwriting in the information, I showed how we could use spreadsheets to create individual, permanent inspection forms for each part we produce. Within those files I showed how when changes were made we could easily use the “find/replace” function inside Excel to do quick and accurate modifications. I also showed how we could take the base file, enter a few basic parameters such as the customer’s PO number and our work order number, and save a new file inside a parent folder on our server, with one file representing each work order that had flowed through our system, which then is easily searchable by part number, work order number or customer PO number. I cataloged the base inspection reports inside one master spreadsheet, creating hyperlinks between the catalog spreadsheet and the individual files, so that we now have a searchable file that will bring us the base document we needed in a few clicks and keystrokes, rather than digging through filing cabinets for misplaced and ragged pieces of paper that would require extensive work if updates were needed and could not realistically be backed up, as we have since done with all the data on our server.

I’ve come to understand that I’m a problem solver. I have developed an uncanny ability to take a given task, work with it for a short amount of time, and develop a system to do it more effectively and more efficiently. As a result I am able to reduce labor costs as well as the overall cost of doing business when mitigating factors such as paper and toner costs are added to the equation. I’m not perfect, but I’m getting better at it every day, as is the case with all aspects of my life; I’m on a constant journey of self discovery and self-improvement.

I wish those who we elect to represent us in government would see things as I see them. We don’t need the people who have the most money, the most familiar name, or the most connections elected as our representatives. We also don’t need the most handsome, pretty, or eloquently spoken individuals representing us, although those are all admirable and beneficial traits that can be beneficial for a variety of reasons, to be sure. But we need problem solvers in Washington today, not politicians who are more worried about what the polls say than what the bottom line says.

I believe real reform comes when we find a way to do more, with less. I live that in my work life, where it directly affects the bottom line. I also make the effort to live that in my personal life, in simple ways and intricate places too. I do so when I find the most efficient route home on days I need to make a stop or two along the way, and I’ve learned many other little tricks around the home that save me time and effort. Even something as simple as watching my NASCAR races on DVR saves me a couple of hours on any week I choose to watch the race, and I generally treat all my television in the same way.

Our nation’s bottom line is being affected every day by individuals who believe they need to give us more and more in order to please us, so we will vote for them the next time an election comes along. In my work I don’t worry about an election, per se, but I do work my backside off to be a better, more responsible and more efficient employee, and occasionally my hard work is rewarded with compensation, as happened today.

I’ve mentioned here before that I am an hourly employee at my workplace, and I’ve discussed the difference between hourly and salaried employees being that the hourly workers take on all the tasks given to them by the salaried managers, so the managers can work on bigger and sometimes more important or more pressing issues. I also discussed how I see the responsibility of the hourly employee being to work harder than all the other hourly employees, because those who work the hardest and show the most determination to excel are most often those who are rewarded when the time comes for the company to recognize the efforts of its team.

Today I was informed that effective next Monday, I have earned the privilege of working on some of those bigger, more pressing issues, and that in addition to a much appreciated compensation increase I will assume the title “Purchasing Manager.” Starting Monday I will no longer have to punch the time clock, but I’ll never forget what time it is. I’m always on duty now, the way I see it, and I’m going to hold myself very accountable to the expectations that come along with the title and compensation bestowed upon me. I’ll not forget the ethics I’ve been blessed to have been taught by my parents and all my family, which are the same ethics my employer has held within himself, and expected of his staff, for nearly forty years.

The job I hold today is as much a blessing in my life as any blessing I’ve ever known. When I was at my lowest point in life and needed something around which I could center my attention, my employer took a chance and extended what started as a 1-week stint thorough an employment referral agency, and accepted me as a permanent employee. He and I have had many disagreements over the six years I’ve worked under his guidance, yet every time there’s trouble and someone needs to step up it seems I’m the first one called upon to step in and right the proverbial ship.

This entire situation... my promotion and all... would have never come to pass, had we not been forced to part ways with a good, yet very troubled man, a man I wish I could call my friend. But I can’t be friends with people who will not help themselves. I’ve been that guy, and I just can’t get too close to that place in life again. Too many skeletons jump out from other people’s closets and scare me too much; I think that is how I might explain it, if I were to try to explain it at all.

It pains me to see another human being suffer in ways with which I’m all too familiar, yet it’s the familiarity of his issues that keep me from helping any more than I’ve already tried. Sometimes there’s nobody who can help you but yourself, with a lot of help from God, and perhaps a swift kick in the backside from a family that loves you more than maybe you’ll ever understand.

Today has truly been a magnificent day, and I am so grateful I can share it with you. Thank you for the time and insight you share with me; it truly inspires me to be a better man.

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