The Journey

As I’ve described in an earlier blog(“The Passion of the Steel Worker”), “The Journey” was started by Phil Dryden in his all too short stint as managing director of Strip Products UK. It was kicked off by the fatalities of Hywel Thomas and Bryan Robbins in quick succession shortly after he had taken up the reins (see blog Middle Age and Accidents), which made him sit up and take note of the fact that as a rule, we took poor standards for granted, and that this was at the root of our poor performance.

As an outsider he was well-placed to notice, whereas someone immersed in the culture might not have seen it so clearly. Journey days were held, first a selected few in the Millennium stadium, and subsequent for everyone in various locations. Images of broken stuff that were never mended, litter that was never moved, bad practice stemming from lack of care were displayed, and the message was believable coming from Phil Dryden : we should aspire to better standards, and only then were we likely to become a world-class steel works.

However, between theory and practice stood quite a large gap. People started spending on new equipment even if the old stuff was perfectly OK and refurbishment of selected offices had to be restrained in the end because it was eating up budgets. I’ve seen people throw everything out of offices and replace it with new stuff, even if some of the things they threw out had never been used.

Also, the mentality behind the Journey was sometimes misunderstood as it trickled down to lower levels. Such as managers who had heard the dictum “Show me a good manager, and I’ll show you a manager with a good safety record”, and thought that, if they only concentrated on having a perfect safety record, they would be “good” managers. Never mind that the sign of a good managers is someone who can juggle the requirements of safety, production volume and production quality in such a way that not one is sacrificed for the other.

The worrying thing though was the fact that the Journey stopped at the glass floor : as I’ve said before, to the shop floor personnel, this was just another initiative like so many they’ve seen come through the door, and if they waited this one out, it would go the way of other initiatives. Hence when someone in the pickle line was asked the question “How could this process go wrong” or “How could you get hurt in this process”, the answer was given “You can’t”. Proof enough that the message hadn’t sunk in.

Then Phil Dryden moved on to Long Products to spread his message there, and was replaced by Uday Chattervedi. Although Uday was a good MD (unlike some later ones that followed him), he didn’t live and breathe the Journey, and you started to get the feeling that apart from a bi-weekly Journey paper, this initiative had run its course. There was still the occasional Journey day, but you started to get the feeling that nothing fundamental was being addressed, and those organising the days were gong through the motions without any real belief in the underlying principles.

In fact, for quite some time I had been rather cynical of the whole Journey circus which everyone agreed was impressive to behold, but which outsiders pointed out that it hadn’t added anything to the bottom line. Surely that must have been a sign that the main reason why the Journey was started did not make the company more profitable, and might even have diverted precious efforts from where it might make a difference to the financial situation.

To show that we had come full circle, the front page of one Journey paper displayed an area full of broken stuff and rubbish that was not being cleared, because no-one could be bothered to do so. Sounds familiar ? Wasn’t this one of the reasons why the Journey was started ? In the end I stopped reading the Journey paper because it didn’t contain any information worth taking note of, just empty propaganda.

No wonder a lot of people who’ve been in Port Talbot or Llanwern for a long time become wary of initiatives : they come and go, and in the end nothing changes. Rather despiriting.


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