Your operation needs a “devil’s advocate”

Feb 26, 2020

Every operation needs a “Ginny”

So, we’re setting up a delivery/pickup system that’ll run from Omaha to Kansas City and then cover the entire state of Kansas – and return – every day. We were going to pick up in Omaha at around 3am, fly to Kansas City, pick up from another facility, then fly to Topeka, then to Wichita. We were hiring drivers that would meet the plane in the morning, go run their route, then return to the plane on its way back and drop off their product that had to go back to Kansas City and Omaha – and on and on.

The schematics of this operation were immense. We’d have these brainstorming sessions where everyone would be studying maps, throwing out ideas, working ridiculous hours – all in order to make this project happen.

Just to paint you a picture; we’d have maps laying out on tables and hanging on the walls, routes highlighted, times scribbled on the maps with route numbers, names of drivers and meet points marked where drivers would be meeting other drivers. Pizza boxes and soda cans filled up all the areas not covered by maps. All of us would stand over the maps like generals in a war room, pointing and postulating our best plan of attack, throwing out every thought or idea that entered our heads; either shooting each other down or congratulating each other when we thought we had it all figured out.

Then, over in the corner, sat Ginny. She didn’t bother to get up. She had no desire to go elbow-to-elbow with all of us – she just listened… and listened. I’ll just say it. We didn’t think much of Ginny. We didn’t value her input. She didn’t play the game right. She didn’t have any ego. She wasn’t trying to prove anything. She didn’t worry about what her hair looked like that day. She’d been in this business a long time and she already knew what was about to happen, how long it would take and how to go about it – so she just waited.

Finally, when all the high-fives were slapped, and we thought we had a particularly difficult and schematically impossible obstacle conquered – Ginny would speak; her cigarette still dangling in the corner of her mouth as if she had no concern either with the words she was speaking or the bouncing fireball of ashes it created, “if you do that, how are you going to get to Dodge City?!” And then we would all turn and stare at her, dumbfounded and angry. Finally, someone would let out an expletive, we’d turn back around and start all over again.

This process, this procedure, this dance we did, could have never worked without Ginny. How many times this scenario played out, I don’t know, but I came to lean on Ginny more than anyone else in the company. She was absolutely indispensable. She saved the company so much money, headed off so many catastrophes, and her watchful eye – or I should say, attentive ear – caused our service to stay at impeccable levels. We could not have done it without her.

Every operation could benefit from a “Ginny”. Someone who doesn’t follow the playbook. Someone not real diplomatic. Someone who may overhear something from the other room and walk in with a question, and that question makes everyone stop and think, then the process has to start all over again. But it has to start over from a different perspective. A perspective just askew from the previous, giving everyone an opportunity to rethink and fix the issue.

This story wasn’t an example of “how to run a remodeling company”, but it’s certainly an example of the “active listening ” that’s imperative to a well ran operation. Don’t kill-the-messenger. The messenger might be saving your bacon!

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