How Ants & Birds saved a Company from ruin

The monthly managers meeting was about to rear its head. On the agenda was my presentation on new ways of producing a more stream lined production line for a small local clothing manufacturer. I was caught in two minds with this piece of work, on the one hand I revelled at the thought of throwing new ideas around for the betterment of the company’s financial gain but on the other hand I knew no matter what course of action the company ended up choosing, there would be job losses in all quarters. The humanitarian in me fought tooth and nail to try and find a way around this dilemma, but I struggled to see a way through.

As usual I broke the issue down into high level concerns, firstly I understood the company had targets to meet in order to make profits, secondly, if they didn’t meet these targets then they wouldn’t make a profit and so wouldn’t be able to pay their staff, some of whom had been loyal long serving members.

So I now had my top two high level concerns, now I needed to break them down into bite sized low level solutions. From liason and analysis of all the companies working practices I still could not formulate a win win situation for all concerned.

I thought it would be a good idea to take a break from creative thinking on this project so took myself to the park nearby to clear my head. As I sat on a wooden bench looking up to the clear blue sky, I saw a flock of birds flying over head in a brilliant formation, one in the front two at the side of the one, then three at the side of the two, I thought for a brief moment about what made that formation work? How did they decide to use every member in its development?

I found no answer, but the birds and their formation stuck in my mind for a little while as I looked to the floor with an urgent mind. I lifted my foot suddenly as a row of ants headed towards it, then stopped for a moment, looked up to the sky at the passing bird formation then down to the ground at the ant formation.

I don’t remember the walk to the office nor how I got home that night. It was like I had reached an absolute for my concerns, but I didn’t know how to put it down in writing. What a conundrum? It was almost like being the wisest person in the world with the power of communication revoked.

I was bursting  to get it written down before the little ‘forget’ demon popped up. I’m sure there are many of us who have wanted to say something so profound, but suddenly it pops out of our heads seemingly forever (that my friends is the little ‘forget’ demon at play).

I jotted down in detail everything I had seen, felt, heard and smelt that day, then started to piece together my report for the management meeting.

So how did the meeting go?

Well, to my surprise the company and subsequently their staff were over the moon with my one recommendation, please see below;

From the overall intensive inspection of works carried out by staff and machinery I have identified an inadvertent company directorate that allows very low use of machinery for long periods, leaving capable staff with little or nothing to do during these times. By my own calculations, productivity and profits would increase by upwards of thirty five percent if you increased usage of machinery across the company, in so doing current staff would be optimised to their fullest capacity and I predict that if this formation is put in place you would be looking at having to employ more staff(15-20) in nine months time rather than lose them.

The company went on to make a thrity seven percent rise in profits and took on an extra sixteen staff.

I look back at this adventure and smile, as I know there are many companies/services etc that are in the very same situation as this company was, operating to minimal levels and not utilising staff to their fullest potential. Redundancies are not always the answer, redoing your processes often is.

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