Labor management system

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Winkletter  •  12 May 2022   •  

The book I’m reading reminds me of a time when my company implemented a labor management system. I worked in the receiving department at that time doing clerical work, so I was exempt. My poor coworkers, however, had to account for every minute of their time, including downtime, ie. bathroom breaks.

They used RF devices in their daily work and now had to navigate through the menus to log into different labor codes every time they switched tasks. And of course, there were incentives and corrective actions attached to the numbers they generated.

It was demeaning. My coworkers were eager to gripe about the system, or explain how to make your numbers look good, or how other people made their numbers look good.

They would announce rewards at start-up meetings and I can remember thinking, “That guy? He’s being rewarded for having good LMS numbers? He stops every fifteen minutes to chat up whatever girl just walked by.”

But he also knew how to make his numbers look good.

People were less likely to help someone else wrap a dozen pallets so they could be cleared from the dock. They would stay in their lane and stay on task because it was too hard to switch between tasks, and because you wouldn’t want to be accused of taking someone else’s work.

They were so happy to come up to my window with a problem and would encourage me to take as long as I needed to fix the order.

And then I started to notice our supervisors were spending more and more time at their desks. And then the group coordinators were sitting at desks, too. Group coordinators were, by definition, supposed to be working on the floor with everyone else directing tasking groups.

Was LMS so effective it freed up the supervisors and group coordinators to do other tasks?

No, definitely not. They were at their desks fixing LMS reports.They would read through reports, call an employee over to ask about a period of inactivity, and ask for an explanation so they could change the data on the reports. They had stopped managing people and work, and started managing labor codes. Their main feedback now to employees was to remember to log into the correct labor codes.

There’s a popular quote, “What gets measured gets done.” In reality, what gets measured stops being managed. I’m sure the numbers looked good, though. Everyone spent a lot of time and effort making sure the numbers looked good.