In continuation of my reflection on the principles of managing people by wandering (walking) around and meeting them at their respective places of work, I remember one of my employees who worked in a small room labeled “Produits finis” (Finished Products). It was a room tucked away at a corner of the ground floor where newspapers, books and flyers that had been printed but the owners had not collected them yet were stored. Some of them were books that some enthusiastic authors had printed, paid part of the bill, taken a few copies with them and then disappeared, leaving no forwarding address and the bulk of their intellectual sweat behind them. While waiting for the owners to come back for them, and many never ever did, they were stocked away in the said room.
I noticed that the woman who worked there, a middle-aged woman, always sat outside the door, a little hand-held fan in hand and a fly-whisk nearby. I walked up to her and asked why she seemed to spend a good part of the day sitting outside her office. For an answer, she stood up and flung open the door and invited me in. I barely popped my head in but quickly jumped back and she burst out laughing. The heat and the humidity were simply unbearably stifling. It was like a sauna in there.
I asked if that was how it was all day long. She nodded her head and said: “Depuis trois ans que je suis là, Monsieur, voilà ce que je subis, moi” [For the past three years that I have been with the company, that’s what I have been living through, Sir]. I asked if my predecessor was aware of her working conditions, she merely chuckled: “Est-ce que le blanc-là savait même que j’existais? Il s’en foutait!” [Did the white man even know I existed. He couldn’t care less!]
I went back to my office profoundly troubled by what I had just seen. It certainly wasn’t fair for anyone to be allowed to work in such conditions in a company that prided itself as the ideal place to work in. I called my finance manager and the chief of personnel to my office and asked how many offices were air-conditioned and was told that it was only my office. I had noticed that in every office, there were only fans either standing on the floor at a corner, or rumbling from the ceiling and barely sending air around.
I asked how many offices there were that needed air-conditioning and was told six. I asked if they had included the warehouse where that woman worked. They exchanged surprise looks and asked if it was necessary to air-condition a room that was used for finished products. I said it was and asked them if they ever thought the person working in that office was also as entitled to a decent work environment as everyone else. I received no answer; not that I expected any, anyway.
I then remembered a company that sold air-conditioners from where my previous employer had bought some for our offices. I was involved in the negotiations that led to that purchase and the owner of that structure knew me. I went to him and told him I had left my previous employer and that I needed seven air-conditioners for my new company. He was happy that I had come to him and gave us a really good deal. His company would install the air-conditioners and ensure after-sales maintenance for a period of three years. His technicians would come over and assess the needs of each office and all should be up and running within a maximum of six days. The deal was struck and soon all my employees were working in well air-conditioned offices, including the woman in the finished product warehouse. To show me how greatly she appreciated what I had done for her, she brought me some cookies the next day and would not take no for an answer. She insisted that if I didn’t want to eat them myself, she was sure my kids would love them, and she was right.
Had I not been wandering around from time to time to meet my employees where they worked, I would not have known in what conditions they were working. I couldn’t, of course, solve all their problems, especially individual ones, but I tried to take care of the major ones that involved the welfare of all employees, within the limits of the means at my disposal.
The moral of this story: if you want to make a profit, which is what every business is all about, don’t focus your attention solely on the bottom line (profit), important though it no doubt is. Rather, pay close attention to the welfare of the people who bring in the money and, for the most part, they would rise to the occasion.