Decades ago, a friend told me he had been working in a factory that made aluminum siding for homes. The pay wasn’t great. So, to help offset the low pay, an informal agreement materialized among the shop floor workers to delay, for as long as possible, the production of that day’s orders so that everyone would need to work at overtime pay rates to complete the plant’s orders. During normal shift hours, creating those delays involved things like employees carrying hand tools from one side of the plant to another while keeping grimly earnest looks on their faces. That way, the belief went, foremen would never suspect that the workers were actually just killing time while pretending to look productive.
The lessons this provided still resonate today, even though most shop floor conditions have improved significantly since that time. One of the most important lessons is that activity does not necessarily equate to productivity. Just because an employee is moving an item from place to place within the shop doesn’t mean that the company’s essential work will be done any better, more efficiently or more quickly. In fact, at least in my friend’s case, it frequently meant just the opposite.