Got any of these folks around your place? You know the type: the guy or gal who sits through a meeting wearing a smirk, tapping a pen or pencil against the table, looking at the watch or out the window and, when the meeting is over, is the first person out the door. Later, when you discuss the topic, whether it be change, new product, new initiative, whatever, they provide you with a thousand reasons why it won't work, can't work or why your customers are different and just will not accept something like that.

Mike Butts Photo: Tom Gennara I worked this spring with a client who had to deal with two of these C.A.V.E. dwellers as it sought to tighten operations. With the market down and staffing levels at all-time lows, the owner felt it was time to put into play those practices that will pay huge dividends when the market returns. I couldn't agree more.

Consulting with the owner, we had already culled the workforce to produce what we thought were a team of good, dedicated staffers who were invested in the company and furthering the culture and service. And in most cases we were correct. But during my initial operational review of the business, I noticed a couple of people–the yard foreman and a dispatcher–who seemed to suspect my activities and were reluctant to share opinions.

I continued with the analysis, met with some customers, talked to other employees and even interviewed a few suppliers to gain a thorough understanding of the market dynamics facing this client. Guess what? These two gentlemen were mentioned several times by totally different people whose paths rarely, if ever, cross.

I noted that, finished my analysis and began the recommendation phase of changes to receiving, inventory management, warehouse utilization, fleet management and usage, etc. After meeting with the owner and the other senior managers, we put together our action plan. Then it was time for the meeting with the stakeholders who would be challenged with taking this plan and putting it into action.

That's when the revolt started. These two individuals sat through the entire meeting, totally disinterested in hearing our plans. Post-meeting, they approached the owner with a written list of why our ideas would not/could not work and their rationale for keeping everything the same as it had always been. (After all, who needs on-time, complete delivery with limited damage to material and maximum utilization of warehouse space and equipment?) After they approached the owner, they began to poison the water in the rest of the pond with their negativity, talking up their dissatisfaction to everyone who would listen.

It didn't take long for the owner to grow very weary of this. His call to me asked a very simple question: What should I do? And my answer was just as simple: Provide them with a career opportunity day–that is, the opportunity to start a brand-new career, somewhere else, today.

This was tough for the owner. One of these gentlemen, the yard foreman, had been with the company for more than 20 years. The foreman owned his cave, and his dominion included warping the opinions of the young dispatcher. He also was one of the primary reasons that service levels had dropped to all-time lows even with a severe loss of business.

We now have a new yard foreman, while the dispatcher has decided he could live with the changes. In addition, we have a solid training program in place, are monitoring on-time, in-full deliveries and are managing the operations area for efficiency and profitability. And nobody lives in a cave.

Mike Butts is president of LBM Solutions, a DeWitt, Mich.-based LBM supply consulting and training firm. 517.668.0585. E-mail: [email protected]