Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Question 1: Soldering at Spencer Gifts

The discussions in class of soldiering and efficiency made me reflect upon my first job that I had in high school. I worked at Spencer Gifts and if anyone is not familiar with these types of stores, they sell a bunch of useless “gag-gifts” among other basically useless merchandise. My store manager, let’s call him Terry, was the captain of soldiering. His main accomplishments in a given work day were to find the activities which would dispense the most amount of time without doing actual work. An example of this would be shooting paper hornets at the posters of half naked women. He even promoted me to “shift manager” which meant that I had the same responsibilities and pay, but he could give me keys to the store and leave for much of the day without getting fired. You can already tell that this is not what Taylor would call “scientific” management. There was one time of the year, however, usually a few weeks before Halloween, when Terry would change completely.
Halloween was the biggest holiday of the year for Spencer’s since they sold a large variety of costumes during this time, so in the first weeks of October, the district manager of the area would pay a visit to all of the stores to see how sales were progressing. During this time, Terry would have a schedule hidden under the cash register that was broken down by the half-hour of everything that must be done since we never knew what day the district manager would show. The schedule included exactly which display we were supposed to be setting up or cleaning as well as the precise time to take a break. The employee that followed this schedule with the most accuracy was given off the week after Halloween with pay.
While reading Taylor, this reminded me specifically of the section about the men unloading pig iron. To have such a detailed schedule was exactly like Schmidt, who had a man standing over him with a watch, telling him when to sit, walk, and pick up iron. We even received a reward that is very much like Taylor’s “initiative and incentive” method. Now Halloween at Spencer’s wasn’t nearly as bad as unloading pig iron, but it still sucked. It is obvious that Terry understood the concept of efficiency from his schedule, but for the rest of the year his actions were as described by Taylor, “the natural instinct and tendency of men to take it easy”, or natural soldiering.
When the DM came to visit the store, I found out exactly why Terry acted this way. He was a 50 year old man that weighed close to 300 pounds that had more energy and excitement than me, a 17 year old cross-country runner. He was obsessed with efficiency. Instead of approaching the concept in a systematic and scientific way as Taylor does, he would just say “find a way to make it better”. Everything had the potential to be better. He never told us exactly how to do this, so we would just move some merchandise around to look busy and then he would move on to something else.
I guess this leads me to my point about Taylor’s work. It never really seems that there is anything that is truly scientific about his methods. His examples do involve the analysis of human movements throughout the process of doing work but this just seems to be an extension of the fact that someone is closely observing and guiding a specific worker throughout the entire process. If the district manager was in the store every day, then Terry would be an efficient worker every day. If every worker had their own personal coach, there would be nothing scientific about it. It would just involve paying more attention to each individual worker. In massive corporations, this just seems impossible and perhaps inefficient to attempt something such as this. In theory, Taylor’s methods seem on-point, but in reality, it just doesn’t seem as though they could be made practical.
As a side note if anyone is interested in how the Spencer’s story ends, the district manager paid a surprise visit to our store in the middle of summer while Terry and I were blasting Metallica over the store intercom and playing an intense game of Mario Kart on Gameboy. Terry was fired on the spot and I had already put in my 2-weeks notice the week before since I was coming to college. The DM based his office out of our store since there was no one to replace Terry. Sales at our store plummeted while the DM was in charge and he was fired.


Adam Johns said...

First, I have to say that this is one of the funniest posts we've had yet. Just so you know, my 4 year old dragged me into Spencer's the other week because of the Halloween decorations: "Daddy, I want to go into the scary store."

For most of this post, you're basically operating in a mode I think Chaplain could sympathize with - you're offering a funny send-up of retail life in general (part Clerks, part mock-Taylor). This is witty stuff, especially the ending.

Let me nitpick, though. You're sort of in a grey area where the assignment is concerned - you're referring broadly to Taylor's ideas, but with no close reading of his text.

I know sometimes I seem like a pseudo-socialist; today, let me put on my capitalist hat instead.

You both point out that both your boss and the DM had totally unscientific methodologies, with nothing in common with Taylor. Then you speculate that Taylor himself was unscientific (really? What about all those endless pages about experiments with metallurgy? At the very least, you could have done a closer reading of, say, the material about moving pig-iron. Why don't you think he was scientific?

So you end with the DM being fired, because of falling sales. Hilarious - but where's the Taylor?

One thing that's implicit here for me is this: Taylor doesn't apply very well to retail situations, where human interaction is essential, and probably not to most white-collar work. It's hard for us to appreciate Taylor in some ways because we don't make much stuff anymore - we have highly automated factories, and we import everything from China anyway...

Short version: funny and interesting, but shaky engagement with Taylor.

A. Benevent said...

What's most interesting to me about this post, I think, is that I used to work for Spencer's largest competitor. Yes, I used to sling t-shirts at Hot Topic to kids with way too much eyeliner on.

It was a pretty cool job, considering I got paid to listen to music and fold shirts, two things I don't mind doing, but there were definitely downsides. One being that 13 year old girls hitting on me really creeps me out, and the other that I constantly had a manager at work with me, and as such, could not slack off in the slightest.

My current job, however, as a valet, I can't do anything but slack off. If I (god forbid) ever need to get a hold of my boss, it's pretty much impossible. But for some reason, the absolute lack of any sort of concrete authority at my job drives me insane. I have nothing but downtime when I'm not in a car, and I hate it.

I don't recall Taylor making any points about forced soldiering, but I think he'd have an interesting take on it.