Peter Hunter offers insights into the potential positive effects of giving an employee a telling off.

What a strange question, but when most of what is currently called “Management” is concerned with delivering these quaintly named homilies, but it is a reasonable question to ask if we are to understand our value as a manager.

As a tool for reinforcing the relative positions of manager and managed a rollocking is second to none, but what value does it actually add.

Some years ago, while working on a drilling rig in the North Sea, I was implementing a process that created engagement, and therefore performance improvement, with the drilling crew.

The manager of the Drilling Crew, called the Tool Pusher, was usually recognised as the person to deliver rollockings to the drill crew. The person promoted to the position of Tool Pusher was usually promoted, at least in part, for his ability to deliver a good rollocking.

The implementation was going well and the measurable performance improvements we were showing had started the Toolpusher thinking about what he could do to support the new levels of performance that his crews were demonstrating.

He was becoming comfortable with the new more supportive management strategies that he was discovering and then one day, after some deep thought, he dropped his bombshell question.

“Can I still give someone a good rollocking?”

This was the one management tool with which he was completely happy and he was now worried that the only thing that he thought he could count on was being taken away.

I asked him if he could tell me what his recent experience had taught him about changing people’s behaviour.

He didn’t have to think for very long before he looked up, “Yes, yes, I know all that stuff about giving positive consequences to encourage and support the correct behaviours but I still have to give people rollockings, it’s my job.”

I said, “If you are telling me that it is written into your contract of employment that you have to give rollockings then good luck to you but I have to ask, where is the value to your team in giving them rollockings?

He didn’t know so I told him a story.

A drilling rig in the North Sea can drill wells in excess of six miles long.
For most of that time the well being drilled is full of drill pipe with the drill on the end.

For brief moments during the drilling process the well being drilled has no drill pipe in it and at this time is an open hole all the way down.

It could be that for the whole time that the well is being drilled every loose spanner, hammer or other piece of metal on the drill floor is secured but Murphy’s law states that on the one occasion when the well is vulnerable, a tool will be dropped somewhere on the drill floor, when that occurs as sure as eggs is eggs, it will bounce towards the well and fall down the hole.

When that happens it is impossible to continue drilling until it has been recovered because the drill bit will not bite into the rock.

If the person who dropped the tool admits what he has done then the recovery is an expensive process.

Imagine that the well is 6,000 feet deep, a pretty small well.
To recover the dropped tool, knowing what it is, we take the recovery tool that we know will pick the dropped object up and we run it into the well.
It might take half a day to run into the well and assuming we pick the object up first time, another half a day to pull back out.
One day of rig time costs £50,000, which is the cost of recovering the tool.

If the person who dropped the tool does not admit to it the drill is run back in, which takes half a day, and the drill will not work. It may take another half a day trying different strategies to make the drill work because we don’t know what the problem is.

Finally the drill is removed to have a look at the drill bit to see if that has broken.
It takes half a day to recover the drill bit and when it is recovered the teeth are broken because they have been trying to drill the tool with it.

The cost of a new bit could be another £50,000.

By now it is clear that something has fallen down the hole but we still don’t know what, so we try to find what is missing from the drill floor that could possibly have gone down the hole. Based on a best guess we attach the tool most likely to recover the unknown object and we run back into the hole for another half a day.

If this first run is successful at bringing the unknown tool to the surface then we will have been extremely lucky and will have spent only three or four times what we would have had we known what had fallen down the hole.
If we are unlucky we will after several runs be unable to recover the object and have to divert the well to drill around the obstacle, a process that could cost millions.

To understand the value of a rollocking we have to consider what will happen the next time a tool is dropped down the well or what will happen the next time an accident occurs.

If the man who admits to dropping the tool is given a Good Rollocking there is a chance that the next time he drops a tool he will want to avoid another rollocking and will say nothing.
The cost of the rollocking might then be measured in Millions of pounds of lost time.

If, when he drops the tool the first time, instead of delivering a rollocking the Tool Pusher engages him in a discussion about how to prevent the problem recurring, then not only will he be able to come up with a strategy to prevent a recurrence of the same problem but he will also feel more inclined to report it, the next time a problem occurs.

We have a choice, to rollock or not.
How much is it worth to you?

About the author:

In the Seventies Peter joined the Merchant Navy. Qualifying as a Navigating Officer Peter spent the next six years circling the globe in oil tankers carrying everything from Heavy Crude Oil in Supertankers to Jet fuel and Kerosene in smaller ships around the coasts of Europe and the Mediteranean.

Peter took his first Degree at Sunderland then a Masters in Underwater Technology at Cranfield Institute of Technology.

Peter spent several years in the Royal Naval Reserve before finally joining the Royal Navy at the age of 32 as an Instructor.

Based initially in Portsmouth Peter soon gravitated to the Royal Naval Submarine Base in Faslane, Scotland, where he spent the remainder of his Naval career as a Rocket Scientist teaching at the Royal Naval Strategic Systems School.

After leaving the Royal Navy Peter Settled on the West Coast of Scotland from where he spent the next eight years commuting to South America and the North Sea as a management consultant.

This experience formed the core of his first book, Breaking the Mould.

Breaking the Mould is a collection of stories about what happened when employees were allowed to take ownership of their work.
Their performance becomes so amazing that grown accountants have been known to weep.

Peter took the lessons from those stories and created a repeatable process that allows others to create the same performance in their own organisations.

Peter is now based back in Cranfield and spends his time writing, speaking at Seminars and delivering Training Programmes, allowing others to benefit from this same remarkable insight.