(Essential – if boring – preamble…)
It was autumn 1974. Some twelve months previously, I’d completed my engineering apprenticeship in the then publicly-owned UK power generation industry (CEGB). I was called to a meeting with the head of the maintenance department of the power station in which I was working at the time. He told me that I would be moving into the Work Specification Production Office. There, along with a clutch of other engineers, my job would be to produce documents that would specify in detail the work to be carried out by skilled craftsmen in the Mechanical Maintenance Department, on any and every conceivable maintenance task that they might find themselves working.
A few years previously, the CEGB had embarked on what I considered even then to be an ill-conceived Pay and Productivity Scheme. In it, craftsmen and others were paid according to their ability to carry out their assigned work within the time assessed by specially appointed Work Study Assistants. The Work Specifications, on which the times were based, included excessively elaborate, step-by-step instructions for the craftsmen, together with lists of precisely defined tools for them to use.
(Get on with it, Chris…)
O.K. To help me on my way, the head of department gave me a piece of advice that has shaped my approach to management to this day. Although not in the way that he had intended.