Single Person Dependencies

I was about to use “Key” in the title but in the case described below I think “Single” is a better word.

While traveling last week I could not help to overhear a conversation between someone involved with the problem described below. I could only hear, as could most of the folks around me, one side of the conversations. What follows is what I could determine from that conversations.

Basic Problem

A manufacturing facility is having a problem with its purchasing department which is really just one person. That individual appears to have been responsible for stopping production one more than one occasion because this individual did not order enough raw materials (or parts such as fasteners) and is now in the final stage of the organization’s corrective action process. Wait, there is more. The purchasing agent is actually employed by a firm contracted to do the purchasing activities for the facility and they are in negotiations with the manufacturing facility to renew their contract. The contracting company had not notified the manufacturing facility that their employee is on corrective action and has kept the individual on five weeks past what would have been the normal termination of employment date so as to not interrupt the contract renewal negotiations. They are facing new competition for the contract because of their employee’s actions. They also fear a EEOC complaint by the employee because the individual is a member of a protected class under Federal law.

Some Additional Observations

The individual on the side of the call that I could hear did not have the authority to do anything about the problem and may have been the primary negotiator for contracting firm. He clearly was looking for someone with the appropriate authority to do something. What was clear is that the individuals (it sounded like there were more folks on the other end of the call) may also not have the authority to do anything either. The person that I could hear was trying to get the others to get someone with the authority to do something so that his efforts to extend the contract would not fail.

What to Do?

I have no idea what happened because the flight was announced, and he had to stop the conversation. From what I overheard I don’t think much happened and they were likely to lose the contact unless something extraordinary was done to assure the manufacturing facility that the purchasing activity’s problems would be corrected.

This is clearly a problem that should not have happened. The moment that the individual was put on corrective action, plans should have been developed to cover that position if the individual did not meet the performance requirements or quit as a result of being put on corrective action. It also seems that there should have been contingency plans in place in the case that individual was involved in an accident or experienced some medical emergency. Running lean is one thing but running lean must also have a backup plan.

One other takeaway – don’t discuss topics like this in a public place -or- at least move away from others if a private space is not available.