Tag Archives: management

A bird in the hand


I help companies change schedules. I do this for a living.

Some people think the hardest part is coming up with a schedule. Generally speaking, that is the easiest part of my job. Helping people to overcome the anxiety of change is much more complicated.

I will give a short example here.

Companies that use schedules to cover 24/7, typically use 4 crews, each averaging 42 hours a week and thus providing coverage for the 168 hours in the week. This is just math and says nothing about the schedule. Each crew could work forty-two, 1-hour shifts or a singe 42-hour shift; both would provide the coverage needed.

The reality is that most people prefer 8-hour or 12-hour shifts. In fact, over the last 20 years, 12-hour shifts are selected by 95% of the companies I work with. They choose 12’s for 2 reasons: (1) more days off and (2) 8-hour shifts must rotate (to work properly).

Let’s start with the “more days off”. On a 12-hour schedule, you would work 182 12-hour shifts in a year for a total of 2,184 hours of work. On an 8-hour shift, you would work 273 8-hour shifts in a year; also working 2,184 hours. So, 12-hour shifts provide 91 more days off per year.

As far as rotating is concerned, with 8-hour shifts, you have 4 crews to cover 3 shifts a day. Either one of those crews must rotate or all of them must rotate. This mean sometimes working 7:00 am to 3:00 pm and sometimes working 11:00 pm to 7:00 am or 3:00 pm to 11:00 pm. On 12’s, two crews cover Day shift and two crews cover Night shift. No need to rotate.

Now, shift workers love getting more days off. They also hate to rotate. This explains why I see so many of them choosing to go to 12-hour shifts to cover 24/7.

But what about that 5% that don’t want 12-hour shifts?

In every instance, this group is already covering 24/7. Not only that, they are already on an 8-hour shift.

When I ask “Don’t you want fixed shifts? Don’t you want 91 more days off a year without your pay being affected?”

They answer is “Yes…but I will have to come in on those days off to cover other people.”

This happens to be true. However, it will only happen around 10 times a year. So, you get an extra 91 days off a year, but on 10 of those extra days off, you will have to come in and work overtime.

They hear this. They understand the logic and then say, “I would rather get 91 days off per year on my 8-hour schedule than to get 182 days off on a 12-hour schedule when 10 of those 182 days off will have to be worked as overtime.”

Note, there is also overtime on the 8-hour schedule but instead of coming in on a day off, they hold over or come in early for 4 hours. So, 120 hours of overtime becomes 30 instances of adding 4 hours to an 8-hour schedule or coming in on 10 days off on a 12-hour schedule.

Take someone that is currently on a 5-day schedule and they will shake their head at this logic. There is no way they would choose a rotating schedule with only 91 days off per over a fixed shift schedule with 182 days off per year.

This goes to demonstrate the massive amount of “schedule inertia” that must be overcome to implement a change.

People like what they have even if they don’t like it very much.

Any question? Call me at (415) 265-1621 or email me at Jim@shift-work.com

Change Management


Let’s suppose someone walked into your office and said, “I just did some math and it looks like we need to make a change.” At that moment, you should realize that the easy part of Change Management has just been completed.

Yes, I’m saying that “Math is the easy part.” Putting pen to paper and arriving at a conclusion that calls for change requires only an idea and mostly high school level math skills. This is really only step one in what could be a long and complicated process.

Step One: Identify the change to be made.

This post is not about Step One. It’s about all of the other steps that must follow in order for change to be successfully implemented. Consider this the Cliff Notes on Change from someone who has spent the last 28 years making the most complicated and emotionally loaded change a company can undertake – changing shift schedules.

Here is how I do it…in no particular order:

Communicate. Talk to the people who are affected; letting them know the Why’s, When’s and How’s. Talk to the people that are unaffected but near the periphery of the change. They will hear rumors and if you leave them out of it, they will assume the worse.

Find the Feather. In every change, there are going to be good things and bad things; not necessarily balanced and not necessarily spread equally across all affected parties. Look for the “feather in the cap” as it may apply to everyone involved. Give them something to look forward to; something positive that will result from the change. Don’t leave it to them to find this for themselves.

Communicate. When telling people about the change, don’t overwhelm your audience. Too much information too quickly will result in the opposite of what you hope to occur. Instead of understanding, you will create confusion. With confusion comes anger and resistance. Meter out your information in digestible chunks.

Perspective: Understand the perspective of your stakeholders. I guarantee it’s not the same as yours. For you to address their issues, you need to know what they are concerned about as well as what they value. For example, when changing shift schedules, the workforce will care very little about how such a change strengthens a company’s competitive position. They care about how it affects their income and their time off.

Communicate. Do not hide the downside of a change. In fact, actively bring it up. Doing so will let your audience know that what you are proposing isn’t just a snow job. They will see downsides and you ignoring them will seem disingenuous. In presentations, always address the elephant in the room early on. People will know it’s there and they won’t hear a thing you say until you address it.

Create Ownership. Actively look for degrees of freedom when multiple options will lead you to the same result. Next, solicit input from your stakeholders as to what options they would most like to see pursued. They may also have options you may not have considered. In short, get them involved in the solution. If the change reflects, at least in part, input from affected parties, those parties will be more likely to support the outcome.

Communicate. (As you can see by now, I’m a proponent of communication.) When deciding what to communicate, be aware of The Fear of the Unknown. In the face of unanswered questions, people will make up their own answers. This is not a good thing. We all inherently have what is known as a negative bias. In short, our survival skills depend on our never underestimating a situation. We assume the worse because the penalty for being wrong is less than if we mistakenly assume the best. For example: Caveman Jim sees a brown blob off to the right. He can assume it’s a bear and run or he can assume it’s a rock and ignore it. If it’s a rock but he wrongly assumed it was a bear, he ran away for no reason. If he assumes it’s a rock and ignores it, but it’s a bear, then caveman Jim is going to have a bad day. To overcome this negative bias, eliminate the unknown. Communicate clearly and often. Perfect information makes for smoother change processes.

Leadership. Understand that there are different leadership styles and different situations call for different styles. Coach others to help achieve your goals when possible. Be authoritative as needed but remember, people don’t like to be told what to do. Coercive styles are rarely productive. Look for ways to empower people. Treat them with respect. Listen and respond. You want people to follow your lead by choice, not by directive.

Communicate. I’ve heard over the years that people need to hear things at least 3 times before they sink in. While this may not be a law of physics, it certainly seems to be good advice. Not only must you communicate the same message several times, you must do so using different methodologies. Group meetings are great, as are PowerPoint presentations; but they don’t work for everyone. Some people will just want to spend some informal time with the “message giver” to help them better understand what is being communicated. Some people need to read a message instead of hearing it. Many of us need some “soak time” that will allow us to process a message before we can respond. Look for innovative ways to communicate the same messages multiple times.

The 5% rule. It has been my experience that 5% of every workforce, managers included, come to work to say “no”. They are like Eeyore on Winnie the Pooh. “It will never work.” I’m not going to tell you to disregard someone that says this. After all, they may have a point. What I’m going to recommend is that you don’t over-empower these nay-sayers. Accept the fact that you will not get everyone on board with your plan. Trying to do so will have the following two consequences: (1) Your plan will eventually morph into something you didn’t originally intend and (2) You will never get that 5% on board anyway.

Communicate. Don’t put this on your to-do list and then cross it off when completed. You will never be done communicating. From conception to congratulations, communications will play a vital role in the success of any change process. Communicate timing. Communicate intent. Communicate changes in the plan. Communicate recognition. Communicate progress. Then communicate some more.

And finally, all change is loss and all loss must be grieved. I don’t say this as a low note. It is an inevitable part of life. Accept it, not as a roadblock to be overcome but as a sign that you have in fact reached that point where the inevitability of change has arrived and it is time to move on; time to implement that change. We get over this grief. Sometimes we need help but we always get over it. In the end, you will have made a change for the better.

You can contact me at Jim@shift-work.com or call at (415) 265-1621

Jim Dillingham, Partner

Shiftwork Solutions LLC