- November 7, 2018
- Posted by: David Marshall
- Category: Leadership, Management, Safety
You run into all kinds of problems when you’re managing a factory and running a business. I’ve had to fire people for sleeping on the job. I locked my own son out of a meeting for being late. And I once had to talk a naked guy down out of the rafters.
So it shouldn’t surprise you to hear that I once had to deal with a knife fight.
Not directly, mind you. I’m not a fan of the “sharp arts” and stay away from violence.
On one of the assembly lines, the operators had to use a trimming knife to trim the PVC around the product so it was a neat finish. While there are machines to do this job, at the time we had special knives that were kept fairly sharp to handle this sort of thing.
One day, two of the operators got into an argument, and they squared off, trim knives in their hands, threatening each other with them.
Obviously, this was unacceptable behavior. Not only could they sever an artery or severely scar each other, but assault with a weapon is a felony! It was broken up before blades could be swung, but the intent was clear and a line had been crossed.
Word of the almost-knife fight reached me, and my immediate decision was to fire them both.
My logic was simple: I didn’t care who started it. They were both participants in it, and they both had the opportunity to end it at any time and walk away, but they didn’t.
And as absurd as it sounds, this was a clear violation of our safety policies, which is one of my four non-negotiables. Being willing to swing a knife at a co-worker is just as unsafe as walking across a moving assembly line or operating a power tool without appropriate personal protective equipment.
Then, of course, there are the moral and ethical issues that follow that. Can you keep someone around who is prone to violence? That’s one of the reasons I came up with my four non-negotiables — Safety, Housekeeping, Productivity, and Check Your Ego at the Front Door and Bring Your Brains Inside. Nearly everything you can think of in operating a company fits within those four ideals.
The other important issue was to ensure that we set a precedent that this kind of behavior is totally unacceptable and that we have a zero tolerance environment for violence. Sometimes, the quick, harsh penalty sends a message to the rest of the enterprise and throughout the culture that this is unacceptable behavior.
For one thing, future incidents would no doubt have escalated. Either one of the two associates would have thought they could get away with this again and gotten into another knife fight or worse. Other associates would have seen that it’s acceptable to solve workplace arguments with weapons. It could have opened the door to bullying and intimidation. All of this would have had a serious effect on workplace morale.
And let’s not forget the lawsuit that would have undoubtedly followed from an actual knife fight. If one of the people had been injured or killed, the company could have been sued for failing to prevent the fight. American Airlines recently became the subject of a lawsuit after two flight attendants got into a brawl on a flight. The woman who filed the suit is claiming AA was negligent and created a hostile work environment.
So I had a zero tolerance policy when it came to physical abuse, harassment, bullying, and anything that would disrupt the productivity of the organization. And waving PVC trim knives at each other certainly fell under all of that, so I took steps to make sure it didn’t happen again, to or by anyone.
I’ve been a manufacturing executive, as well as a sales and marketing professional, for a few decades. Now I help companies turn around their own business, as well as speak at conferences, trade shows, and chambers of commerce. If you would like more information, please visit my website and connect with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.
Photo credit: Ron Cogswell (Flickr, Creative Commons 2.0)