Caring about quality

What does this picture say about the company where it was taken? If you only saw this picture, what assumptions would you make about the condition of equipment in the plant? What do you think the behavior and attitudes of the employees would be?

Example image with "their/there" error
“All machine operators all shifts must clean there machines at the end of there shifts.”

When I first saw this sign, I had to look at it twice to make sure I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. As someone who has typically done well in English classes, seeing the misuse of the word “there” on the sign stuck out to me like a sore thumb. As I worked on the job at hand, I started thinking about the person who wrote that sign, and the plant workers who see it every day. I wondered if anyone had said anything about it. Thinking it through, I can see three possible scenarios:

None of the employees has recognized the error

In today’s current climate of increased quality and global competition, having an intelligent and skilled workforce is a must. If none of the employees has the basic language skills to see this error, I wonder how well they communicate with each other, and what their attention to detail is like.

Someone noticed, but didn’t say anything

Maybe they thought it was too small an issue to bring up. Maybe they thought the supervisor would get upset with them for pointing out the error. Maybe they thought their coworkers would give them grief for being the spelling police. Regardless of what the reason was, I don’t see it as a good situation when someone would see a problem and not say anything about it. What if a machine has an issue that isn’t a critical problem, but could grow into one? Will someone speak up before the machine breaks down completely or hurts someone?

Someone said something, but got ignored

This scenario is the most troubling to me. If you want employees to feel empowered, you have to take their feedback and act on it. If someone brings up a little issue like this that wouldn’t take but a minute to correct, and you as a supervisor ignore them, what are the chances they’ll bring up a bigger issue? What motivation would the employees have to do anything that would benefit the company?

The link between little details and the big picture

While I’ve been in school, I’ve had the opportunity to visit some manufacturing facilities. I’ve been in some places where you could literally eat off the floor. The buildings are bright, clean, and well maintained. I seriously doubt I’d ever see a sign like this one in one of those places. In comparison, the building where this sign is posted is a bit dark, quite noisy, with cluttered areas and work stations. Maybe I’m making a big leap, but it seems to me if you’re not willing to get the little details right, you’re not going to get the big picture right either.