Protecting Your Patch

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of people protecting their patch for a variety of reasons, more often than not to make themselves look good, and in the process enhance their career prospects. This was especially the case in British Steel, and its culture has continued in some shape or form in its descendants Corus and Tata Steel UK.

The most pronounced exponent of protecting your patch is done by senior managers in what can best be described as silo management, whereby you try to enhance the glory of your part of the business without any reference to whether these efforts enhance the business as a whole. This shows itself especially in “improving” your through-yield and rejection figures. Those who took part in this type of “improvement” were often quite proud of how they managed to frig the system in order to make themselves come out of it smelling of roses.

In one example the crews at the pickle lines were asked not to reject coils as they came off the line, but instead place a hold on them, even when they were positive the material was not fit for purpose. This left the task of rejecting the offending coils to the planners, with the consequence that the rejected material was added to a different account. In short, the overall rejection rate was the same, it’s just that it didn’t show against the pickle lines.

This type of behaviour often filtered down to crew level, where rejections for reasons such as skin laminations or shape defects were given a code that implied the defect originated in earlier stages of the production process, thereby diverting the blame from the production unit where the material had been rejected.

A different aspect of protecting your patch is when people with a specific type of knowledge fail to share their knowledge with other people, in the belief that this somehow makes their position more secure. After all, if people always have to refer to you for certain aspects of the job, and there’s no-one to take over from you, you’re safe in the knowledge that you can’t be replaced. This was especially the case for a small number of people who were the guardians of “sophisticated” spreadsheets, who were loath to explain how it all fits together, and therefore are assured of the fact that as long as the spreadsheet is needed for reporting purposes, your job is safe.

I must admit at this stage that there have been times when I regretted having been too successful at making myself indispensable, but at least that was merely a side effect of circumstances, and not something I intended to happen. Still, since there appears to have been no need for me to return during the past 12 months, I seemed to have overcome this indispensability just in time to take an undisturbed retirement.


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