Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fiscal Year End, Army Style

I guess I have to toot my own horn a little to set this story up, but that's OK, we're friends, right?

On my return from Vietnam I was assigned to the post Finance Office at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. I was a Specialist Fifth Class (SP5, E-5) and basically just a drone there, with several companies to pay, but I was *good* at it.

Elsewhere in the office there was a calculations unit consisting of three lower ranking enlisted men and one civilian woman, Miriam. Morale was at rock bottom in that unit, which was run by a Staff Sergeant who knew nothing at all about managing people. The unit was behind in its work, and several months in a row he kept everone there at night for a few days at the end of the month in order to get the work done in time to meet payroll. Each month they got deeper in the hole and the overtime started a little earlier than it had the month before.

I don't know exactly what triggered his removal, but I can well imagine that there were fears by "the management" that the month would come when we would not be in a position to pay all the troops because of unfinished work. In any case, he was removed and put on the "staff" (a black hole for non-performing NCOs) of the Lieutenant Colonel in charge of the Finance Office.

At the beginning of my third or fourth month there I was asked to take charge of the calculations unit.

I knew everyone there just well enough to say hello to, so the first thing I did was get us all together in an isolated area, ask them a few questions about themselves, and tell them my plan:

"I don't know why you're behind, and I don't want to know. I do know that there are more than enough people here to accomplish the work, so here's the deal: There will be no more overtime. Also, starting this week and continuing on a weekly basis, one of you will get a half day off. You can work it out among yourselves who it will be each week and what half day it will be, but I need to know the schedule when you've settled on it. This will continue as long as we make progress on the backlog, and when we have caught up it will continue as long as we don't fall behind again."
This was well received and perhaps ten days prior to month's end there was no backlog and never a moment when there was any doubt about the work being done. In fact, when a clerk from another area was out for any reason, I was able to send one of my people to that area to take up the slack.

It is human nature that people generally resent this - doing other people's work - so I never let them spend more than half a day at one of these positions, and during those times I checked on them frequently to see how they were doing and to answer questions. I also explained to my people that if we didn't do this we'd have a different kind of problem: people sitting around doing nothing and getting a half day a month off as a reward, stirring up resentment in the rest of the office. Eventually we'd have to end the half days off.

Things went swimmingly for two months, and then I had a cup of coffee with the supervisor of the office's civilian employees, and he took that opportunity to tell me that someone - some civilian - had complained about Miriam getting half days off. Sheesh. I had to explain to her that I could no longer give her that time, and she understood and took it very well.

Presumably on the strength of this performance, I was sent before a batallion promotion board and made Staff Sergeant (SSG, E-6). That set up the conditions for a major problem.

NEXT: I'll Do It, But . . .

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