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THE WORKING ORGANIZATION OF A SMALL GAS
At the first thought of organization, we picture a number or the grouping of a number of workers, each with a special duty to perform, but all working with a common end in view, that end being the best possible advancement of that particular object for which the grouping was formed.
Were you ever within seeing and hearing distance of a one armed paper-hanger with the itch, working at his trade? If so, and you are the manager of a small gas company, you certainly must have haci a fellow feeling for his troubles, for they are not unlike our own; busy in all departments at once, and directing our special efforts to that department which demands the most instant attention, be it scratching for new business or pasting a temporary patch on a broken gas main.
If that paper-hanger had looked at things in a philosophical way, ine might have been thankful that he had only one arm, for if he had two arms it would have been just that much more to itch, and he would still have to use the other arm to scratch it.
It is probable, if asked to-day what their organization is, that very few of the managers of the small companies present could exactly explain.
A certain amount of routine and a good amount of rooting is the chief organization that most of us can afford, and make the proper showing to those who have put their faith in us, to make good.
It has been either my good fortune or misfortune (good fortune I have considered it) to liave been manager of several different gas properties in as many different states, and each has had its share of difficulties to overcome, but it has been my experience that, like the paper-hanger, the fewer arms we have had to our organizations the less we have had to itch, and to require scratching.
In making these different changes, it was found in some instances that my predecessor had left an organized force of good men, and poor men, each department with its superintendent or foreman, the big boss and the little boss, and it would be hard to tell just who was boss of the organization.
In a small company, as few men as are necessary for good operation and as few heads of departments as possible will bring better results.
We are too small to divide; the entire force is too close together to maintain it under different heads. We can liken ourselves unto a power plant with a surplus of countershaftingthere is too much lost motion.
The so-called superintendent or foreman of each department comes in too close contact with the others and it is not long before the organization, as listed on the pay roll, is a dis-organization of dis-satisfied men, working to a certain extent against each other. When they arrive at this state there is a certain amount of tale-bearing, and you hear things which you have not time to listen to, and which do no good, and you do not hear the things which you should know.
It is generally a case where "familiarity breeds contempt” and "idleness breeds mischief”; too many distinct departments and heads are conducive to both.
Good men are hard to get but they are around somewhere and with a little patience you will find them. There is always one who has a little more ability and ambition than the others—make him a “right hand man” and a leader, but do not stick a title on him; it is a burden that most men can not handle. You will find that this man can attend to the works and distribution troubles with the assistance of the manager, and have time also to do a good share of stove and house-piping work, special complaints and other work requiring extra attention.
In your retort house, with a man to a bench of sixes, you will in all probability find one man in each twelve hour shift with
a little more ability than the others. With this man looking after and hield responsible for the proper operation of the boilers, engines, drips and other details necessary for good operation, a constant works foreman is super fluous.
As this man has more responsibility and head work, he should receive a somewhat larger compensation than the other men on the shift. This man is expected to draw and charge his quota of retorts, but it is the duty of the rest of the men on the shift to remove all coke and ashes, fill and bring in the coal buggies and prepare for each round of charges. Each man is held responsible for the clinkering of and keeping his fires clean and for the keeping of the stand-pipes on his bench clear. The man with the greater responsibility will be regarded as a leader by his fellow workmen, and his requests and wishes will be carried out. Any unusual repair work or trouble is best taken care of by your general “all around man" and to this man should the responsibility for the flues and dampers be given, it being absolutely understood that these are not to be touched by the regular retort house inen.
Do not think that the interest of your stoker, in the general business, does not extend beyond the “Gas-house yard.” You will find that the nian who makes the gas is, in most cases, interested in knowing how the public is regarding his product, and by giving him a little gossip from the New Business and Distribution end, you will find that his interest in the quality and quantity of gas which he makes is rather keen, and that his efforts to aid the advancement will be much more apparent.
If there is labor employed outside of the regular working forces, such as on main extensions, buildings, etc., it is necessary of course to have a competent man in constant attendance, but your service crew, with a man capable of tapping and connecting pipe but working with them; one who uses the pick and shovel himself until the trench is ready will not "kill” near enough time to pay the extra wages of a distribution superintendent or foreman, and if the inanager will make it a point to “show up” on this work occasionally through the day the cost per foot will be within the limit of a very reasonable average.
With a certain amount of co-operation and attention on the manager's part, the orders to the fitters and complaint men can be handled direct from the office to the workman himself, and by requiring the man to turn in his time and material report each morning for the work done the previous day, and with the order and its number attached thereto, anil the amount of time and material used on each order, a very close check can be kept on the man's time, especially if the manager will make an occasional inspection of the work being done. It is at this point, as a rule, where we and our customer begin our acquaintance, consequently we should make it a point to hire only good men for this work. The first impression is the most lasting, and if we do not please the customer in his initial dealings with us the complaint "germ” gets busy, and it takes a lot of “toxine” and a long time to get it out of the system, and away from the complaint counter.
The manager should show his presence at the complaint counter as much as his duties will permit. In a small town the customer wants to deal with some one in authority, to register his “kick” and to tell his troubles, and by reaching the manager he feeis that his chances for adjustinent are better, and whether he benefits materially or not by his interview he leaves with the feeling that he has at least gotten all he can. A little gentle persuasion will most generally convince a customer that it is the desire of the company to give every one fair treatment, and the average customer bases his complaint on what he thinks is "unfair” treatment, and not on the actual monetary amount involved.
In your collections do not go out of the office any more than is absolutely necessary. If you have rules (and if you have not you should have) as to discounts, time of payment, etc., do not deviate from them; treat them as religiously as you would an oath, and you will soon find that the customer appreciates them and will accept them, and the amount of unpaid accounts at the end of the month, will be very small.
One of the important features in the organization of a small gas company is that department by which the manager is held responsible for results. If it is a local organization, he has probably a board of directors and its officers right on the ground with hini, and where such is the case, these men instead of trying to please every one by their personal attentions should refer all matters to their manager, and allow him to handle them to the best of his ability. If you don't show the public that you have faith in your inanager and his judgment, you can not expect the public to have faith in him. Most all boards of directors in the locally owned and operated plants are made up of practically the same personalities; a banker, a doctor, a lawyer or two, the same number of manufacturers and possibly a merchant.
Their ideas are generally governed by the business in which they are engaged, and they feel that, as their own particular calling has been a success, the same principles should prevail in the gas plant in which they are interested, but a gas manager can not get results trying to operate his plant as another man would a cheese factory or a dry goods store, although it is presumed that the gas man and his meters have some of the characteristics that a lawyer is supposed to have in his profession.
If the property is being operated by a holding or operating company with a number of plants throughout the country, the manager is probably located several hundred miles from those in authority, and by whom he is held responsible. If the small plant can succeed better with the fewest departments and heads possible, under the local manager, so can the local manager succeed better with as few departments and officers over him as possible, to dictate his policies.
If the home office or headquarters thinks it necessary to send out one or more of their executive officers, at regular intervals and often, they should avoid contact with the local public as much as possible. If they do not, the public in general learn to wait for these visits and seek out these officers to transact the business of the local conipany, and it is not long until the local manager's hands are tied-he becomes a figure-head and is not able to accomplish that for which he is on the ground.
The man who is constantly on the ground is more familiar with the people and their ways, and should be allowed to handle them with the least amount of interference. The manager wants and needs advice, but he also enjoys being advised with, and unless he can feel that his opinions and ideas are regarded as worth something, that manager is worth nothing to either himself or his employers.