When I graduated from the General Electric Financial Management Program (Aerospace Electronics, Utica, New York), I was transferred to Charleston , South Carolina as a financial analyst for Large Steam Turbines.  One of my first assignments was to work with the Diaphragm people.

They were in Building #3 and they were from Schenectady, New York.   They were skilled craftsmen, worked with metals and used an automatic template cutter (a process borrowed from the textile industry) and would cut huge plates of steel within 1/16th of a precise specification…automatically.  Looking back…it is kind of amazing and renews my pride in American manufacturing….as it was then. 

They were older and perhaps overly proud, now living in the South but being from New York.  They were working with many former tenant farmers who had been trained at a local technical school to become machinists.

FINANCE, yes, in all caps, is GOD in the General Electric world and I was one of them.  I also was a FMP and that was a very special person in the General Electric world.  I had been recruited and paid by Corporate while “stationed” in Utica, New York.  My new assignment was to work with the Diaphragm people and get them to meet FINANCE’S budgetary guidelines.  They had balked for three years and had not achieved “their numbers” for three years.  An adversary relationship existed between Buildings #1, Building #2 and the Diaphragm people in Building #3.

“Tom…go meet the Diaphragm people and give them their budget numbers….it won’t be a pleasant experience; but, you’ve got to do it.  We have a deadline to report our budgets to Corporate.”  I have always carried a legal pad, so with pad and pen in hand, I walked down the cement road to Building #3.  As I walked in the door, a sense of anxiety overcame me and I took a deep breath.  It was late in the day and a summer shower had just finished (very often in Charleston….a thunderstorm and then everything was sunny and beautiful).   They knew who I was and escorted me into the conference room.  But they began talking and I just listened…and listened.  Three hours later, I had ten pages of notes (but had not given them their budget numbers to sign off on).   I, then  simply said:  “I have some numbers to go over with you but instead, if you will make the time, I will take your lead and see what numbers you feel you can meet and, once we both feel comfortable that those are the numbers you can commit to and meet, I will help you sell  it to FINANCE.” 

We stayed til midnight and then, the next morning at 6:00 a.m., we started again.  This was before lap tops and electronic spreadsheets.  Yes, pencils, calculators and long green sheets taped together!  When we finished the numbers, I understood how they were developed and the reasoning that supported them, I quickly compared them to the FINANCE budget numbers.  They were lower. 

Later that day, I went with the Diaphragm people to the Plant Manager and the Controller and I presented the Diaphragm numbers as if I was one of them.  I explained the logic, the standards and how they would achieve those numbers.  It was quiet and then everyone smiled and said, “ok….these are your numbers….we will hold you to them.”   And the manager of the Diaphragm people then said, “we want to keep having access to Tom and we want him to work with us to make sure we hit our numbers.’

It’s been many years and I am sure most of the Diaphragm people have passed away; but, a sense of pride, respect and friendship was achieved and lasted until I left Charleston three years later.   It was born out of talking, listening and caring enough (on both sides) to achieve a realistic solution that could be embraced, fought for and was achievable.  But probably the greatest value came out of the mutual ownership that was achieved through collaboration.

Is this how you work with your staff and your clients?  If you need help, I can retell my Diaphragm People story (and others that came out of that learning experience).