Exercises in Team Building

Info silverhawk
11 Sep. '19

Jeff sat in the training room and tried to stay awake while the consultant stood in front of a flip chart and explained everything Jeff’s employer, Contech, had been doing wrong and how they were going to fix that with something called “The Teamwork Approach”.  Instead of a factory filled with individuals with individual goals, ideas, and abilities, Contech was going to become a factory of employees of equal value who helped run the company and were in agreement as to how that should be done.

Jeff had supervised the machining area at Contech for five years, and for six years before that, he’d run most of the machines in that department as an hourly employee while using Contech’s education benefit to get a degree in manufacturing engineering.  As a result, he understood both the technical  operation of the department as well as the human aspects, and it was that understanding that caused Contech to offer him the job of supervisor for more money than he’d have made as a beginning engineer.  

Jeff sat up straighter to stay awake as the consultant droned on about how the hourly people in the department knew how to make it profitable but management wasn’t listening.  The solution was very simple – have the employees meet for half an hour at the end of each shift and talk about what problems they’d had.  Once those problems were out in the open, the employees would offer suggestions about how to really fix those problems, and then discuss the suggestions until all had come to an agreement to at least support one or more.  

Jeff thought that’s why Contech had engineers and why they’d promoted him to supervisor.  Ted, one of the Contech manufacturing engineers had pointed that out.  The consultant had smiled a patronizing smile and explained that because of their education, engineers always thought their way was best.  Supervisors always pushed their workers to do things like the engineers said.  The “team” knew the best way to do the work but the engineers and supervisors were looking out for their own success and not the overall success of the company.  That was just human nature but it was the wrong approach.

Ted had frowned and muttered something about studying for four years to learn how to do what he did.  Jeff just drew a frowning face on the pad of paper in front of him.  He knew that there was no way to resist.  Contech was paying this consultant six figures to turn the operation into one that mimicked Toyota, and resisting would probably have gotten him fired.  He’d read about Toyota and their “team approach”, and it did have some merits, but he was already listening to his employees and since he’d lived in their shoes for six years, already knew what problems they faced.  He also understood the problems Contech faced with continuing to be profitable.

It had all started about 1970.  In Detroit in 1970, most of the CEO’s of the Big Three car companies were laughing because of a little imported car called the Toyota Corolla.  This car, imported from Japan, was pretty basic transportation instead of being like most of the other foreign imports like Mercedes and Porche.  

The Big Three didn’t think they had to compete with the imports because the price of the European imports was three to four times as high as a domestic car.  They knew they didn’t have to compete with the Corolla.  All the car magazines reviewed the Toyota Corolla, and most had few good things to say about it.  The US market was all about speed and luxury, and the Corolla had neither.

The top speed of the Corolla was only 87 miles per hour and it took a while to get there.  It did have pretty great fuel economy at about 30 miles per gallon, but that didn’t concern the reviewers.  Gasoline only cost about forty cents a gallon.  So what if it cost an extra penny or two per mile to have speed and luxury?

One of the two good things written about the Corolla was the price.  The average Ford, Chevy, or Dodge, the lowest price vehicles from the Big Three, cost around $3,000 dollars with no options.  That meant a six cylinder engine, a 3-speed transmission with the shifter on the column, and almost no chrome.  The Corolla cost about $1,300 and it came standard with a 4-speed transmission and a floor shift.  Floor shifts were popular with younger drivers because all the “muscle cars” had floor shifts.  

The other thing about the Corolla the reviewers liked was the fact that everything seemed to be done right.  There were no varying door gaps or rough paint, and the seat covers were tucked tightly into the seat frames instead of sometimes hanging down.  They gave the Corolla high marks for quality of construction.

Most people who bought one bought it as a second car for the husband to drive to work, or as the first car for young drivers.  It was cheap, kind of fun to drive with the floor shift, and because it was small, was easy to park. The reviewer’s all agreed that the Corolla was probably best suited in that role.  The primary car for families would always be a sedan or station wagon that could carry at least six people in relative comfort.

Three years later, the Arab oil embargo sent gasoline prices through the roof if and when you could find gasoline to buy.  Those fire-breathing engines and heavy, smooth riding full-size cars were nice, but they got about 12 miles to the gallon instead of 30.  The increasing requirements to reduce emissions further hurt fuel economy and almost killed performance.  Some full-size sedans actually got as low as 6 miles per gallon in city driving and the Corolla could give them a run for their money as far as acceleration.  Small car sales soared and large car sales died.  A lot of those small cars were Toyota Corollas.

Like any good CEO would do when faced with a crisis, the CEOs of the Big Three formed special task forces to figure out two things – how to make cars that got good fuel economy without sacrificing performance, and how to make cars where everything fit like it did on the drawing board.

They tried to figure out how that could be done by looking at Toyota, and Toyota was more than willing to show them.  There were multiple trips made to the Toyota factories in Japan to learn what Toyota could teach them.  One of the things the task forces saw in the Toyota factories amazed them.  At the end of each shift, the employees in each department would meet and talk about how to make their processes flow better and how to reduce quality issues.  Toyota had a Japanese name for that – “Kaizen”, which roughly translated to “continuous improvement”.

The task force members went back to the Big Three auto factories and tried to implement the concept of Kaizen, but the plant managers smiled and said “You obviously have no idea how a manufacturing plant operates.  We beat the shit out of Germany and Japan in WWII by doing it the way we do and it’s still the best way.  Go fuck yourselves.”

The idea didn’t die, however.  It was picked up by the self-appointed experts in manufacturing, also known as “consultants”, who usually had never worked in industry for any length of time because they couldn’t or wouldn’t conform to the expectations of those industries.

Up until that time, those consultants had been selling the concept of “produce or get out” as the way to make factories profitable.  It was based on grilling operators who didn’t perform up to standard and giving them the option of giving a systemic reason for their lack of performance or being fired if they didn’t improve.  Any system problems were relayed to the appropriate department, usually manufacturing engineering or purchasing, with the same threat – fix it or be fired.

They would show a company how to do that if the company agreed to give them a third of the cost reduction their methods were able to achieve.  It was interesting to Jeff that at least one accountant was always part of the consultant’s team, and that there were always many cost reductions found after about six months.  It was also interesting that those cost reductions seemed to vaporize once the consultant got paid.

Overnight, the consultants made trips to see how Toyota did things, then came back and changed their sales pitch to use words like, “concensus driven decision-making”, “no one person is smarter than the group”, and “employees know more about the business than management”.  

Along with those words came a whole slew of Japanese words like “muda”, “muri”, and “mura”, the three types of what the Japanese called “waste”.  Five other Japanese words - seiri, seiton, seisō, seiketsu, and shitsuke - the consultants lumped into a thing they called “5-S”. The translation of those five words was, "Sort", "Set In order", "Shine", "Standardize" and "Sustain”, but the consultants stressed it was important to use the Japanese words because the meaning of the Japanese words was much more than just the simple English translation.

That’s what the consultant was explaining then – how the first thing they’d do was the first four parts of 5-S.  By concensus, the team would eliminate things they didn’t need, then establish a place for everything that remained, clean the equipment to expose any leaks or damage, and then develop a written standard and plan for keeping the equipment and tools in that state.

Jeff was listening, but he was also thinking about Beverly Hayes, one of the women who worked in his department.  Beverly was a hot little thing and she’d been flirting a little with him.  She was a little younger than he, cute with perky tits, and her ass was fantastic.  He’d been thinking about asking her out, but hadn’t because that would cause friction with the rest of his workers.

Jeff almost missed it when the consultant said each supervisor would be assigned a member of the consulting team to help him or her work through the team building process.  He turned the page on the flip chart and went through the names of the supervisors and their consulting team helpers.  Beside Jeff Daniels was Muriel Hawkins. The consultant said the consulting team would meet with their respective supervisors the following Monday and they could get started.

On Monday morning, Jeff got his department started and at nine went to the conference room for the meeting where the supervisors would meet the consulting team.  

When Jeff looked at the people standing at the front of the room, he hoped the tall red-head with big breasts was Muriel.  He didn’t think Muriel was going to teach him much he didn’t already know, but at least he’d have something to look at while she tried.  He took a seat and waited for the meeting to start.

At five after nine, the head consultant cleared his throat and when the room got quiet, began introducing the consulting team.  Jeff said, “shit” under his breath when the red-head was introduced as Jean Watson.  She was paired up with Carl, the supervisor who ran the plating department.  Carl was smiling.

Half the other members of the consulting team had been introduced when the head consultant pointed to what Jeff had guessed was a woman, but wasn’t really sure until the consultant said, “This is Muriel Hawkins.  She’ll be helping out Jeff Daniels in the machining area”.

The meeting ended with the head consultant telling the supervisors to meet their partners and then take them on a tour of the area they supervised.  After that, they were to meet for some initial planning.

Jeff sighed when he walked up to Muriel to introduce himself because he knew the ribbing he was going to take from the other supervisors and probably from his employees.  He could just see Harry in Assembly grin and say, “Fuck her yet?  Man, I’ll bet you’d give your left nut to fuck her, wouldn’t you?  Me, I’d have to put a sack over her head or my cock wouldn’t get hard, but that’s just me”, or Beverly grinning and whispering, “I hear that some lesbo-dykes like something hard in ‘em once in a while.  Maybe you’ll get lucky…if you can manage to get it up”.

Jeff had read that some lesbians liked to dress like men, and Muriel looked like she was that way.  She had dark brown hair cut short and it didn’t look like she wore any makeup at all.  What looked like a man’s work pants and shirt wouldn’t have shown much of her figure even if she’d had one because they looked at least a size too big.  Her black, men’s, steel toed shoes filled out the picture of a woman who wanted to look like a man, or at least, the picture Jeff had always had of a woman who did.

When Jeff walked up to Muriel and said, “Hi, I’m Jeff Daniels”, Muriel smiled.  

“Pleased to meet you Jeff.  I’m looking forward to helping you make your department the best in the plant.  Let’s go to your office and get started.”

Once in his office, Muriel sat down in the chair beside his desk and smiled again.

“I’ll let you know a little about me.  I have a bachelor’s degree in Sociology and I joined Miller Consulting a year ago.  Before that, I worked with the state department of children and family services for five years helping families work out problems with their children.  I liked that job, but the results were not usually very easy to see.  When I work with supervisors like you, the results are in dollars and cents, so it’s easy to see if what I’m doing is right or not.  I really need that feedback.”

Just fucking great, thought Jeff.  I’m going to be working with a woman whose only experience is telling people how to keep their kids off the streets.  I’ll have to spend most of my time explaining how things work.  I already have more than enough to do.  How the hell is taking me away from that going to help anything?

Jeff managed a smile.  Follow the company line, he thought, and in six months or so, everything will be back to normal.

“Muriel…is it OK if I call you Muriel?  We’re pretty informal in my department.”

Muriel nodded.

“Well, I’m looking forward to hearing what ideas you have to make things better.  Never hurts to have a second opinion, I always say.”

Muriel frowned.

“Jeff, you need to understand how this program is going to work.  I’m not going to give you any ideas at all about how to make things better.  Those ideas are going to come from your workers.  I’m only going to show you how to bring out those ideas and help you implement them.”

She smiled again.

“As I’m sure Blaine explained, the first thing we’ll do is shut down your department for two days and do an intensive 5-S exercise.  I know Blaine covers 5-S really fast, so I’ll walk you through in detail what we’re going to do starting tomorrow morning.”

Jeff shook his head.

“I can’t shut down the department for two days.  If I do, Assembly will run out of parts and we’ll miss shipments.”

Muriel waved her hand.

“Assembly will shut down to do 5-S too, but we’ve already had a look at finished goods inventory.  The plant can ship your inventory of finished goods for two days, and there are another seven days of parts in inventory.  That’s fine for now because it let’s us do what we need to do.  In six months, you’ll have only a day in finished goods and you’ll be thinking about how you can reduce that to half a day.  You’ll do that by not having a component inventory at all.  It’s called ‘Just In Time’ or  ‘JIT’, but we’re a ways from that at this point.”

Jeff was a little put off that Muriel apparently didn’t understand Contech’s customer base very well.  Contech carried two days of finished goods and seven days of components for a reason.  Their primary product was fuel control components and the demand fluctuated by which engine and transmission combination the customer’s assembly plant was building.  Sometimes, it fluctuated daily.  It wasn’t unusual for a scheduler at one of the Big Three engine plants to call and demand Contech start shipping two days worth of normal orders as soon as possible.  “As soon as possible” meant that day, and without the inventory, Contech wouldn’t have been able to comply and that would have hurt future business.

Jeff knew it was malevolent obedience, but he didn’t say anything.  He just smiled and asked Muriel how they’d start.

Muriel smiled again, and Jeff was beginning to understand her smile was designed to make him feel comfortable and not really real.

“The first step is seiri.  We’ll take half a day and go through everything in your department, every bin, every drawer, and everything on the floor including machines.  Anything your people agree they don’t use every day, we’ll throw away.  That will free up space we’ll use the second half of the first day, the seiton phase, where your workers will pick a place for everything that they agree is the best.

“The second day, we’ll clean everything until there’s no dirt, oil, or grease anywhere.  That’s so any leaks show up and you can get maintenance to fix them so the machine won’t go down unexpectedly.  It will also instill pride in your workers so they’ll keep the machines that way.  You’ll have to give them fifteen minutes at the end of each shift to do that, but the resulting lack of unplanned down-time will more than offset the lost production time.”

That first step had gone about like he figured it would.  Most of his machine operators had a small box of wrenches and other tools they considered to be theirs even though Contech had furnished them.  Those boxes were arranged on shelves with each employee’s name on the box.  Muriel took one look at the boxes and said, “those have to go.  Each machine has to have it’s own tool board with tools everyone can use”.

Jeff had tried explaining that the women operators weren’t as strong as the man so they needed different tools, but Muriel just waved her hand.  

“If that’s the case, why can’t the tools be made for the women and used by the men too?  That’s what Toyota would do.”

By lunch, Jeff’s operators had sorted through everything and each work station had it’s tools spread out on the machine table or the parts table beside the machine.  He’d had to explain the logic to each and every employee, and it was only because he assured them if it didn’t work he’d put things back like they were that they agreed.

That afternoon, the machine operators made temporary tool boards of cardboard that would be replaced with permanent tool boards made by the maintenance department.  Each tool had a place with an outline of the tool and its name.

Most of his operators were still grumbling by then, and Jeff made several rounds answering questions like, “She took my special wrench, the one with the short handle I use because the long one won’t work.  How am I supposed to get to the adjusting nuts now – with my fingers?” or “We have one tool for three machines because we don’t need it very often.  How is making two more tools going to save money?”

The second day was a little better because the machine operators were busy cleaning instead of watching everything they’d become comfortable doing get changed.  Jeff cleaned too, as well as did Muriel.  She said if the department was going to be a team, everybody had to work on the team and that included him and her.

After three months, things started to smooth out a little, and Jeff had to admit the new method of operation was better in some ways.  With clean machines, it was easy to spot a problem and maintenance could fix the issue without having to clean everything first.  The lack of downtime didn’t make up for the fifteen minute cleanup period at the end of each shift though, so about once a month, his department would be scheduled for a Saturday.  Having the tools at each machine was OK, but it didn’t save setup time.  It did free up floor space for other things, like the picnic table the team agreed would be nice to have.

Muriel was happy.

“Just give it some time, Jeff.  Those Saturdays will come to an end soon and your workers are already happier because they don’t get so dirty every day.”

The team meetings at the end of every shift were OK too, though Contech had to pay every employee overtime.  If they hadn’t, all the departments would have been scheduled for every Saturday to make up for lost production time.  they didn’t really accomplish much because it was difficult to get the team to propose actual, economical solutions to problems.  The problem wasn’t with their ideas.  They just didn’t have the background to understand there is more to manufacturing than material and labor cost.  They did try as best they could though.

Contech had insisted that labor cost was off the table.  That was good, because none of his workers would have ever proposed working harder for the same pay.  Material cost was, though, and he got several proposals to change materials of the parts or to find a supplier that would sell the material for less.  Jeff had to explain the cost and time required to qualify any new material or supplier, but said he’d forward the request to purchasing and engineering.

Their machines and tooling were closer to home for the workers, and he got one proposal from the team before that direction pretty much closed off.

In one of the meetings, Betsy said if they had a new lathe, they could make parts faster and they’d be cheaper.  She had even done the research into the cycle time a new machine would use for each part and compared it to the cycle time of the current machine and showed the cost savings based on her hourly rate.  Jeff said he’d look into it after the meeting.

After everybody went home, Jeff sat down with Muriel.

“How do I give Betsy an answer?  What she figured out is right – a new lathe would decrease cycle time and we could make the parts cheaper.  What she doesn’t understand is a new lathe costs somewhere around a hundred thousand and it’ll take a little over ten million parts at her one-cent cost reduction to pay for it.  At the current volume of that part, it’ll take fifty years and I’ll get laughed at if I propose something like that.”

Muriel smiled her fake smile again.

“You’ll just have to explain it to her like that.  I’m sure she’ll understand.  They do that at Toyota all the time.”

“No, she won’t.  You’ve had us tell them every month what our gross sales and net profit were.  Gross sales is the number they heard, not the net profit number.  The net profit number includes a bunch of crap like warranty reserves and corporate charges.  They understand about material and labor costs, but they think everything else is just a way to hide profit because they read about that and see it on television all the time.  It also happens to be true in most cases.  Even if they don’t understand those things, they can’t imagine that we aren’t actually raking in cash hand over fist when they see the gross sales numbers.”

Muriel stopped smiling then.

“If the team is going to function as a team, they have to understand how profit and loss works.  You have to get them to trust you when you tell them that.  I can’t tell you how to do that because I don’t know the people like you do.  You have to figure it out on your own.”

Jeff did talk to Betsy and Betsy said she understood, but her face told Jeff she really didn’t.  After that, most of the team discussions centered around creature comfort things that wouldn’t do anything to cost except for spending more money.  Muriel was elated and basically forced Jeff to rearrange his department budget to accommodate the additional expenses.  She said it was normal for small things to be addressed before big things, and that when all of them had been addressed, the team would tackle the big things.  She said that’s exactly what happened at Toyota.

It was five months into the program when everything came to a head for Jeff.  The materials department had reduced finished goods inventory to one day and he was making parts based on what the next day’s orders were.  It worked until the day Homer, the mill operator on the fuel manifold line, walked up with a broken mill cutter.

“Stores says they don’t have one.  What do you want me to do?”

Jeff went to stores and asked Judy why there was no spare cutter.  Judy sighed.

“I tried to tell them, but they wouldn’t listen.  We’ve used one cutter a year for the past five years, so I had to stop ordering until we used the last one in stock.  You took out the last one a month and a half ago, so I have one on order, but they’re specials, and it takes two months to get one.  I’m expediting the order and the supplier said he can have it to me late tomorrow, but it’s costing us triple to get it by then.  Sorry, Jeff, but I didn’t have a choice.  They said having two cutters in stock was muda.”

Jeff called Audrey, the production scheduler and told her he had to shut down the fuel manifold line for a day.  Audrey didn’t say anything for a few seconds, and when she did she sounded frantic.

“Jeff, you can’t do that.  I just got a fifty percent increase in orders for that part.  I have enough inventory to ship today and there are enough parts in assembly to let me ship part of tomorrow’s requirements, but since there’s no component inventory anymore, we’ll shut down the assembly plant if you don’t keep producing.  I have a bunch more stock on the way because I was planning on scheduling you for Saturday and Sunday so we could get a running start on next week.”

Jeff apologized to Audrey and said he’d do the best he could.  Muriel was sitting at his desk working on the production charts she did every day, and Jeff decided he’d had enough.  He closed the door to his office and then sat down in the chair beside his desk.

“Muriel, we’re going to shut our customer down tomorrow.  It’ll be the first time that’s ever happened…ever.  That means we’ll lose our preferred supplier rating and won’t get to bid on future business with that customer for at least a couple of years.  Put that on your goddamned graph and see how it looks.”

Muriel smiled that smile again.

“You don’t need to swear at me, Jeff.  What happened?  Everything’s working fine just like we said it would.”

Jeff frowned.

“That goddamned team you keep talking about building?  Maybe you ought to listen to what the people who run this business have to say sometimes instead of only listening to what the operators say.  The operators do have good ideas.  I was implementing them before you ever got here and I’ll keep doing that after you leave, but there are parts of the business they don’t understand and probably won’t ever understand.  That’s why we have purchasing people, schedulers, engineers, and supervisors.”

Muriel was still smiling and that smile infuriated Jeff.  It was patronizing.

“You didn’t tell me what happened.  What happened?  We can fix it.”

“You can’t fix it.  What happened is you made stores cut their inventory of tools.  We broke a mill cutter an hour ago and stores doesn’t have a replacement.  I called the scheduler to tell her and she told me she was going to schedule us for the weekend because she got an order increase.  There’s no damned way I can do that without that cutter and I won’t have another one for another day.  

That’ll drain all the inventory, shut down the assembly plant that uses that part, and put us on Saturdays and Sundays for probably a month until we can get caught back up.  If you’d bothered to listen to anybody who knows what the hell’s going on, you’d know that’s why we had two days of finished goods, seven days inventory of components, and spare cutters in stores.”

Muriel smiled a little wider and started to say something but Jeff cut her off.

“Would you stop that goddamned smiling every time you start to explain to me how Toyota would do this or Toyota would do that.  I’m not stupid and that smile tells me you think I am.  We’re not Toyota.  We’re Contech, a small company compared to Toyota.  I’ve read the books.  Toyota makes the same number of cars every day even though the demand fluctuates and that’s how they’re able to maintain low inventories.  In order to stay in business, Contech has to respond to our customer’s demands nearly instantly.  You’ve made it impossible to do that by forcing us to change everything to what you think Toyota would do instead of how it really works here.”

Muriel didn’t smile, but she still tried to explain.

“I’m sure if you call the customer and explain the problem, they’ll understand.  They have to understand, don’t they?”

Jeff shook his head.

“Yeah, they’ll understand, and they’ll bill Contech a thousand dollars a minute for every minute they aren't driving new cars off their assembly line, or didn’t you know that’s how that works?  That cost reduction you keep plotting just went out the goddamned window because we’ll be sending them parts at no cost for the rest of the year, maybe longer.”

Muriel looked like she was ready to cry, and Jeff felt bad about that.  The first shift had already gone home and it was past the time he usually left.  He couldn’t let her break down in tears right there in his office.

“Muriel, let’s get out of here and go someplace so I can explain what I’m telling you.  I haven’t done a very good job at that, and you really need to understand.”

“Pogos” was a little bar ten minutes from the plant.  Jeff sometimes stopped off there on his way home to relax if the day had been frustrating.  Lately he’d been stopping off every night, and because of that, knew there wouldn’t be many people there until after seven.

When the girl walked up to their table and asked what they wanted, Jeff figured Muriel for a wine drinker so he asked “red or white”.  Muriel still looked teary-eyed, but she smiled a little.

“I don’t drink wine.  I’ll have a vodka martini.”

After the girl brought Muriel’s martini and Jeff’s beer, Jeff looked at Muriel.

“Muriel, I didn’t mean to be so hard on you back at the plant.  I understand what you’re trying to do, and most of what you’ve done has been good.  Your company just tried to change too much, too fast, without understanding about the consequences if something happened.  We developed our systems because we had to, not because we just thought it would be an easier way to operate.”

Muriel sipped her martini, then frowned.

“Why didn’t anybody tell us this.  Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Nobody told you because we know how consultants operate.  Consultants get paid for doing what they say they’re going to do.  If anybody balks at what they want to do, the consultant views that a something that will make the program fail and they won’t get paid.  They’ll do whatever is necessary to eliminate that threat.  

“I’ve been through this before.  No matter how good you are or how well you know your job, upper management always believes you’re stuck in the way things are done and somebody outside the organization has better ideas.  If you say anything except what the consultant tells you is right, you’ll be called on the carpet and accused of not cooperating.  

“If you’re lucky, that’s all that will happen.  Some haven’t been so lucky in the past.  Jerry Myers, the guy who runs the paint department?  He was the operations manager until he told a consultant that having operators check their parts half as often would result in quality problems and refused to do it.  The consultant went to the VP of operations and told him he couldn’t help out Contech if the operations manager didn’t buy into the program.  

“The next day, Jerry was demoted to supervisor and Larry Johnson, a young guy from Accounting, took his place.  Larry did exactly what the consultant wanted but he didn’t last long.  After the consultant got paid and left, we found all kinds of quality problems in the component inventory.  He got fired and Bill, the current operations manager, got promoted from supervisor to operations manager.  The first thing Bill did was put the operators back on the original check schedule and the defects went away.  So did the cost reduction the consultant claimed was his doing and got paid for.

“The only reason I’m telling you now is the disaster has already happened and I won’t get blamed for it.  We all like our jobs, and we know when you leave, we can fix what you did wrong and go on with life.  If we said anything before that, well…I like eating regularly and sleeping indoors.”

Muriel tipped up her glass and downed what was left of her martini, then put the glass down.

“I think I need another drink.”

When the waitress brought the martini and another beer for Jeff, Muriel took a sip and then frowned.

“I was just doing what they taught me to do, Jeff.”

Jeff was still sorry for talking to her like he was, but he wasn’t going to play nice and say it was all right.

“I know.  I’m not blaming you for this screw-up, but if I’d started telling you what you wanted to do wouldn’t work, what would you have done?”

Muriel shrugged.

“What you said.  I’d have gone to Blaine and told him you wouldn’t let me do what needed to be done.”

“Has that happened before?”

“Yes, at the last company we worked for.”

“So, what happened?”

Muriel took a healthy sip of her Martini and then put the glass back on the table.

“The supervisor got fired.  I thought it was right at the time.  I guess I was wrong.”

“You’re damned right you were wrong.  Unlike what you seem to believe, supervisors don’t sit on their asses in their office all day.  We’re on the floor talking with our workers, finding out what they like and don’t like, and trying to fix any problems they have.  That’s what we get paid to do.”

Muriel frowned.

“But at Toyota, it’s all the employees who figure out those things, not just one engineer or one supervisor.”

Jeff nodded.

“Yes, that’s true, but this isn’t Japan.  Does your boss pay you based upon what you can do or does he pay everybody in the group the same depending upon how the group does?”

“Well, I don’t have a lot of manufacturing experience, so my salary isn’t as high as some of the others.  That makes perfect sense, because I can’t do some of the things the others can do.”

“In the first meeting, Blaine said all employees of any company are of equal value.  Does the way he pays you mean he doesn’t think your value is the same as his other employees?  If that’s the case, he a goddamned hypocrite.

Muriel took another sip of her drink.

“No, that’s not what he meant.  What he meant was the contribution of every employee has the same value.  Some just have different skills than others.  It will always be that way.”

“Then what makes you think a machine operator would even think about return on investment for a new lathe?  You acted like it was my fault it wasn’t an economical solution and said I’d have to figure out how to convince her it wasn’t.  You may have a degree in sociology, but you don’t have a goddamned clue about how people think.  Betsy is convinced now that she’s not smart enough to suggest anything, and the other employees won’t either because they don’t want to feel stupid when their ideas don’t work.  I guess you did get your goddamned concensus about that.  That’s why all the ideas you’re seeing are crap ideas like that picnic table and putting more water coolers in each department.”

Muriel frowned.

“I never told them we’d implement every idea they had.”

“No, but that’s what they heard.  What they heard you say is their ideas are better than any engineer’s ideas, and you’d make sure they were implemented.  That sounded so good to them they missed the fine print that says ‘if the ideas save money’.  

“Once Betsy’s idea of a new lathe got shot down, they figure you’re just like all the other consultants they’ve dealt with.  You promise something and they end up getting it in the ass.  Sorry for the language, that that’s exactly how they feel.  I know because I ran those same machines for six years before I became a supervisor and I went through three consultants during that time.”

Muriel drained her glass and then said she thought it was time for her to leave.  When she tried to stand up, she almost fell over.  She looked at Jeff and frowned.

“I guess I should have eaten something to go with the two martinis.  I know you don’t like me very much right now, but could you take me to get a hamburger and then take me back to my hotel?  I don’t think I’d better drive.”

When Jeff drove away from the hotel he was still pissed.  He didn’t think Muriel had really listened to anything he said.  Tomorrow, she’d be back with her fucking fake smile and telling him how great things were going to be after they got through this next step.

The next morning, Jeff got everybody started except for the fuel manifold line.  He was trying to figure out what he was going to do with those three operators when Homer walked up to him.

“Jeff, when we threw all that stuff away, did it really get thrown away or is it still here somewhere?”

Jeff shook his head.

“No, it’s still here in plastic bins in a dumpster out back.  The manufacturing engineering manager wouldn’t let them actually throw anything away until we didn’t need it for at least a year.  Why?”

Homer smiled a little.

“Well, I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to get into trouble, but I can’t keep my mouth shut when we’re going to shut down our customer.  I wasn’t supposed to do it, but I had an old cutter in my bench.  It was half worn out, but it was still making good parts so I kept it just in case.  The only reason I changed it was because we always change them on the first of the year.  When we did the 5-S thing, I had to throw it away.  If we could find that cutter, maybe we could keep making parts.”

Jeff grinned.

“Get the other two guys from the line and let’s go dumpster diving.”

While Homer went to do that, Jeff called Audrey.

“Audrey, have you called the customer yet?”

“Well, don’t.  Give me a couple of hours, OK.  If we get lucky, we might still be all right.”

It took an hour and a half to find the cutter and it had two chipped teeth, but Jeff asked Homer to put it in the mill and see what happened.  Fifteen minutes later, Homer brought him the first three parts.

“The finish is a little rougher than usual, but it’s still in print.  I had Tony lay these three out, and they all passed.”

Jeff looked at Homer and grinned.

“Homer, I could kiss you.  Let’s get to making fuel manifolds again.”

Jeff went back to his desk and called Audrey.

“Audrey, we found a cutter.  I don’t know how long it’s going to last, but if it lasts the shift, we should have the new one by the start of second.  If that changes, I’ll call you, but for now anyway, go ahead and schedule us for the weekend.  Just make sure you keep that stock coming.”

When Jeff hung up the phone he turned and saw Muriel standing there, except she didn’t look like Muriel.  She was wearing jeans, a snug top, and blue tennis shoes.

When he didn’t say anything, Muriel frowned.

“Do I look that much different?”

“Well, yeah.  You look like woman instead of a woman trying to look like a man.”

“Thank you, I guess.  I just thought I’d come by and tell you we’re leaving.  I guess it’s like you said – if you shut down your customer you’ll lose all the cost reductions we’ve made so far plus you won’t get any new business.  Blaine said your CEO called him last night.  He didn’t go into details about what they talked about, but your CEO ended up telling Blaine he wanted him out of his plant.  Apparently there was something in the contract about endangering shipments to a customer being grounds for termination of the agreement.”

Jeff smiled to himself, but frowned to Muriel.

“Well, I’m sorry, but like I said, if he’d really looked at how the operation runs and why it runs that way, he wouldn’t have made the mistakes he did.  I suppose you’ll be going to another plant now.”

Muriel smiled.

“Actually, I won’t.  I quit this morning.”

Jeff motioned for Muriel to sit down.

“Muriel, if it’s because of what I said last night, I was mad about a lot of things and I was taking it out on you when you didn’t have anything to do with it.  I just wanted you to understand.  I didn’t mean to make you quit.”

“You didn’t.  All you did was make me see some things about people I should have already known.  When I got up this morning, I sat down and thought about what you said, and I decided what you said was right.  This isn’t Japan and Contech isn’t Toyota.  I still think the basic theory will work, but you can’t just pick up a system from one culture and expect it to work in different culture like Blaine said it had to.  All we accomplished was to turn everything upside down and then shut down your customer.”

“Well, you didn’t shut down our customer.  Homer remembered having another mill cutter in his bench that got tossed when we sorted.  We found it in the dumpster and we’re running again.  What are you going to do now?”

Muriel smiled.

“Well, the more I thought about it, the more I thought I could make the Toyota methodology work if I tailored it to your business model.  It would take me some time to understand everything, but since I don’t work for Blaine anymore, I have a lot of time.  I talked with your plant manager this morning, and basically told him what you told me last night about why the program failed.  Then I told him what I’d do that was different than Blaine’s method, and I said if he’d give me one department to work with, I’d do it for ten percent of the money I was able to save.  I uh…I told him I wanted that department to be yours.”

“What did Joe say?”

“He said he never believed in what Blaine wanted to do, but your CEO forced it on him.  Then he said he liked what I proposed, but would probably get fired if he hired me as a consultant.  Instead, he’d hire me as a manufacturing engineering technician and let me try it out.  I still have to find an apartment, but I start next Monday and I have a year to show some results.”

“Muriel, after what I said to you last night, why did you pick my department?”

“Jeff, it’s because of what you said that I did.  If I’ve learned one thing from all this, it’s that there’s no cut and dried solution to any problem.  You were honest with me last night, and if what I want to do is going to work, I need somebody who’s not afraid to tell me I’m wrong.  I didn’t think you would be.”

It took Muriel two months before anybody trusted her.  She worked on that by talking to each person individually, told them why she was there, and offered any help she could give them.  Betsy was the first to point out that she’d already made a suggestion and it had been rejected.  

Muriel apologized for misleading her, and then asked if there wasn’t something about the way her machine worked that she didn’t like.  Betsy said the tool board was a good idea, but it was in the wrong place, because she had to walk back and forth every time she had to change a tool.  She also said the woman who ran the machine on second shift wasn’t very tall and she couldn’t reach some of the tools without getting a box to stand on.

When Muriel got maintenance to move the tool board to a location all three shifts agreed on, and then told them to try it out and if it didn’t work, she’d move it again, Betsy spread the word that maybe Muriel wasn’t like all the other consultants.

After that, the suggestions started coming, real suggestions that were about real problems.  Muriel worked with all three shifts to get an agreement about what to try and then made sure it happened.  

After six months, Jeff was happy because he was operating under budget, his people were happy, and he basically didn’t have to supervise anything.  His employees just came to work, started on time, and produced the required number of parts every shift with time left over to clean the machines at the end of the shift.  

That cleaning only took five minutes now instead of fifteen, because one of the operators said they were cleaning stuff every shift that had already been cleaned by the shift before.  Muriel had worked with all three shifts so each shift had specific machines they were responsible for cleaning and a lot of that cleaning was done during the day when the machine was in cycle.  The extra ten minutes of production time gave them half an hour a week on company time to meet with Muriel and discuss new problems and possible solutions.

It was almost six on a Friday night when Jeff walked into Muriel’s cubicle and found her there working on her production charts.  She didn’t hear him until he said, “Looks like you have everything headed in the right direction.  You should be proud of what you’ve done.”

Muriel turned around and smiled, and this time, the smile was genuine.

“Coming from you, that means a lot, Jeff.”

“Well, you deserve it.  Wanna go grab a burger?”

Muriel wrinkled up her brow.

“Why would you want to do that?”

In truth, Jeff hadn’t planned on doing anything other than telling her he appreciated the job she’d done so far and tell her he was going to help her in any way he could.  It was when she turned around that made the idea pop into his head.

Muriel had let her hair grow and started dressing in snug jeans and tops instead of blue uniforms that didn’t fit, and in six months, she’d gone from looking pretty masculine to looking very female and more than a little sexy.  Her face, the same face that before had looked severe even when she smiled, now looked soft, round, and overall, pretty.  She still didn’t wear much makeup, but the pale pink lipstick she did use accented her sensuous lips.

He’d noticed the change before, but that day, she’d worn a buttoned blouse and had left the top three buttons undone.  Because she was sitting and he was standing, Jeff could see part of her bra and some very sensuous cleavage.  It struck him then that Muriel was actually attractive.  That’s why he’d asked, but he couldn’t tell her that.

Jeff shrugged.

“I just thought you might like a little reward for everything you’ve done.  If you don’t want to, that’s OK.  I’ve been pretty rough on you in the past, so you have a right to not like me.”

Muriel smiled a real smile again.

“I guess I could do that, if that’s all it is.  I don’t want any rumors to get started about us.  God knows there are rumors about everybody else.  I didn’t realize how much people talk about other people in a place like this.”

“Yeah, well, it’s just part of what they do.  You get used to it.  At one time, they said I was sleeping with six different women in my department.  Why don’t you put that stuff away and let’s go get that burger.”

Jeff felt good when he went home that night.  What they’d talked about was mostly what Muriel was doing, but it was different.  Instead of always saying, “This is how it should work”, Muriel was saying things like, “If Herman hadn’t explained it to me, I’d have tried something that would never have worked”, and “you know, I didn’t believe you at first, but Maxine said you’ve always done what I’m trying to do”.

Jeff had smiled, but not because of what she was saying.  He was smiling because Muriel was seeing what he’d told her, and she was using that insight to help his workers do the best they could.  He’d already heard them saying they liked having her work with them because she got things done the way things should be done.

He was happy too, because he’d seen a different side of Muriel, not the side that was all business but the side that was starting to understand how people think and that they understand what they hear based upon their background and experience, not by logical thinking.  Muriel was smarter than he’d given her credit for being and that just made her more attractive.

Muriel was surprised when the next Friday Jeff asked her if she’d like to get a pizza, but she said she would.  She didn’t know why she said that except that his face told her he really wanted to.  When she thought about it when she went to bed that night, she decided she’d liked it both times.  

Jeff was a lot different when he wasn’t in the plant.  She’d never seen him really laugh at the plant.  He’d chuckle when somebody said something funny, but he really didn’t laugh.  She could tell by his face that he was listening, but at the same time he was supervising.  She understood why.  He’d told her that a supervisor has to keep a little distance between him and his workers.  If he got too friendly, some of them would think he was showing favoritism to the others.  There were some workers he liked better than others, he’d said, but he had to keep the same distance there because if he didn’t, it would be awkward to do anything if they messed up somehow.

When they were alone, Jeff seemed to let his guard down.  Things she said she’d seen that she thought were funny made Jeff laugh, really laugh.  Things she related hearing about him made him smile or frown, but both were genuine emotions, not like at the plant where he’d smile if he thought that’s what people wanted to see him do.

She started hoping he’d ask her to have a pizza or burger again about four the next Friday afternoon, and felt like jumping for joy when he did.  

After that third time, she started dressing a little better on Fridays.  She told herself that was because she liked looking soft and feminine now that she could, but the real reason, one she couldn’t admit to, was what Beverly had whispered to her one day.

“I think Jeff has a thing for you.  He always looks at you when you’re out here, and he always has this stupid smile on his face.  I tried and tried to get him to ask me out and he never would, but Jenny saw you two having pizza last Friday.  I’m jealous as hell.”

Blaine had a dress code that said women should wear clothing that didn’t attract attention because some female workers might think that woman was trying to foster favoritism from the male workers. In order to do what she thought he was saying, Muriel had started wearing bras that flattened her out when she was working. The Saturday after that third time, Muriel went to the mall and bought three bras that were designed to accent her breasts, not minimize them.  

While she was there, she bought some blouses that weren’t very revealing but would hug her new figure, and some jeans with decorations on the hips instead of just being plain.  She tried out all three the next Friday morning.

When she looked in the mirror, she grinned.  She looked a lot more feminine and sexy because she had a figure that showed.  She still wouldn’t admit it to herself, but secretly, she hoped Jeff would notice.

Jeff did notice as soon as he saw her, and Muriel saw the smile Beverly had been talking about.  It wasn’t his regular smile, but she didn’t think it was stupid.  It was the same smile she’d seen other men at the mall make when a sexy woman walked by.

She was thrilled when Jeff came to her cubicle at four and asked if she’d like to try out the new Italian place in town.  She tried to tell him she probably wasn’t dressed well enough for a real restaurant, but he just grinned.

“Nah, you’re dressed just fine.  It’s supposed to be a casual place, and you look great.”

That night, when they left the restaurant, Jeff had lifted his arm, and Muriel had slipped her arm in his.  That was something most women wouldn’t do anymore because it was what they called “anti-feminist”, but it just felt right to her.  It was like Jeff was saying they were together instead of just two people.

After another two weeks, she was aching for Jeff to hold her and kiss her, but she didn’t think that was something she should initiate.  After another week, she couldn’t stop herself from turning to face him when he walked her to her car.  She put her hands on his chest and smiled.

“Jeff, I…well, I don’t know if it’s something you think is right or not, but I have to say it.”

When she just kept standing there, Jeff chuckled.

“Are you going to tell me or are you going to make me guess?”

“Well, it’s hard because I’ve never done this before.”

“All you have to do is say it.”

Muriel took a deep breath.

“Beverly told me she thinks you like me.”

Jeff chuckled again.

“That’s what was so hard to say?”

“No…Well, yes, because…well…oh, dammit.”

Muriel put her arms around Jeff’s neck and then raised up on her tiptoes and kissed him.  She didn’t kiss him for very long, she just pressed her lips to his and then eased back down, but Jeff felt that kiss make him tingle all over.  He looked at her for a second, then put his arms around her.

“Beverly was right.  If you’re trying to say you like me too, I think I got the message.  Can I send you one back?”

Jeff didn’t let her answer.  He just bent his head down, put his lips to hers, and kissed her until she purred a little moan into his mouth.  He broke the kiss then, and grinned.

“So, do we have a consensus?”

Muriel pressed her breasts into his chest.  Before, she just wanted him to kiss her.  Now, she thought that wasn’t nearly enough.

“We do about this.  Where do we go from here?”

“Well, if you were Beverly, you’d probably ask me to take you home and spend the night.  She’s been known to do that.  I don’t figure you’re ready for that, not yet.”

“If I did ask, would you do it?”

“If I thought you were serious, I would.”

“What would I have to do to convince you I’m serious?”

“Just tell me you’re ready.  Don’t do that tonight, because I won’t believe you.  Think about it and what it means first, because once we do, I don’t think I’ll want to stop.”

Muriel did think about it.  She thought about it for most of the next week and especially before she went to sleep at night.  Would it be like her first time?  Would it be his first time?  

She doubted both.  The first time, she’d been in college and the guy didn’t really know what he was doing, or at least it didn’t feel like he did.  All she’d felt was a little stab of pain and then not much of anything until he pulled out.  He’d worn a condom, so maybe that was why she hadn’t felt much, she didn’t know, but that had kept her from trying it again.

She didn’t think it would be Jeff’s first time either.  He was a good looking guy and most of the women in the department had said they’d think about it if they hadn’t been married or had a boyfriend.  Beverly had just grinned and said she’d fuck him senseless if she got the chance.  No, he had to have done it before.  Maybe he’d know what a woman liked.

By Thursday, she still hadn’t come to grips with how she felt and what Jeff had said.  It was Helen, a woman who ran a turret lathe and had to be at least sixty who gave her the best advice.

“I’ve seen how you two look at each other.  He looks at you like my Matt still looks at me, and you get all flushed when you see him.  Honey, if you really like Jeff, you need to let him know.  If you don’t, you’ll lose him.”

Muriel had asked Helen how far she should go to let him know that.  Helen leaned closer.

“Well, when I was your age, girls weren’t supposed to let a man touch them until they were married, but most of us liked to neck.  Matt and I got carried away one night, and I didn’t want to stop him.  We did it in the back seat of his old Chevy.  I didn’t like that first time much, but after the second time, I couldn’t wait to have him do me again.  It was like we were really together when we did it.  We still do, just not as often, and it still makes me feel the same way.  You’ll have to decide for yourself, but if I was you, I’d find out if he makes you feel that way.  If he does, you’re going to want him to keep doing you.  If he doesn’t, what have you lost?”

Helen grinned then.

“I suppose your mama told you about rubbers.  Just make sure he uses one or you might get a surprise.  Our first was a surprise because Matt ran out.  Thank God we were married by then, or people would have said really bad things about us.  You don’t want that to happen to you.”

That Friday, Muriel put on the black panties and black lace bra she’d bought on Thursday night, and then picked out what she thought was her sexiest jeans and blouse.  All day long, she kept watching Jeff to see if he was watching her, and when he smiled at her, she felt her cheeks grow warm.

That night, after they finished eating at Hattie’s Grill, she put her arm in Jeff’s and he walked her to her car.  When they got there, she put her arms around his neck and looked up at his face.

“I’ve thought about what you said last Friday.”

Jeff circled her waist with his arms.

“Oh.  What did you think about?”

“I thought about every reason I want to and every reason I shouldn’t.  That was after all the women in the department told me what I should do.”

Jeff frowned.

“Oh, God.  Don’t tell me you asked every women in the department what you should do.”

Muriel grinned.

“No.  You know I wouldn’t do that.  They already suspect anyway.  They just told me what they’d do.”

“So, what would they do.”

“Well, most of them would like to sleep with you, all except Helen.  Beverly went a little further.  She said she’d fuck you senseless.  I don’t think I want to do that.

“Only Helen gave me a suggestion that made sense to me.  She said if she was me, she’d find out how you made her feel.”

“I’d never have expected Helen to say something like that.  She’s everybody’s grandmother.”

Muriel pulled her breasts into Jeff’s chest a little tighter.

“She’s not quite as innocent as she lets on, and I feel the same way right now.”

Jeff stroked Muriel’s back.

“So what are you telling me?”

Muriel raised up on her toes, kissed Jeff, and then whispered, “I want you to take me home with you so I can see if you make me feel like Helen said.”

In her work uniforms, Jeff thought Muriel was probably thin with not much figure.  In the jeans and tops she started wearing, he knew she had a nice, feminine figure.  As they lay on their sides on his bed, naked and facing each other, he was fascinated by how small Muriel really was and also by the fact that her breasts still seemed to be large for her size and her hips had such sensuous curves.

In her jeans and blouses, he knew she was small, but she looked strong.  Naked, she looked like a fragile, pale sculpture.  Her skin was so soft, her breasts so firm and yet yielding to his gentle touch, and stroking her hips stirred his cock more than had any other women he’d ever been with.

As soon as he’d taken off her clothes, Muriel had looked at him with hope in her eyes.

“I hope you’re not disappointed.  I don’t have everything Beverly has.”

Jeff had just kissed her and then said, “Yes you do, and you’ve made me forget all about Beverly anyway.”

Muriel had been quiet, at first, and let Jeff do what he wanted.  What she soon found was she couldn’t keep her hands off his back and couldn’t stop pulling him down to kiss her.  That lasted until he nuzzled her right breast and then kissed her nipple.  Muriel felt the shock and then the sensation of her nipple stretching long and taut.  That sent another tingling sensation racing to her core and she moaned.  It hadn’t been like this the first time, even at the end, and they’d just started.

Jeff had teased her nipples until they were swollen tight and raised off nipple beds wrinkled and bumpy in arousal, and Muriel found herself craving the feeling of Jeff laying on top of her with his cock inside her.  She was almost to the point of telling him that when he slipped a fingertip between her pussy lips.

She caught her breath, then moaned when that fingertip stroked over her rippled inner lips and then up to the underside of her clit.  She knew that feeling because she’d caused it herself.  When she did it, it was nice and if she did it long enough, she’d have an orgasm.  When Jeff did it, it was agonizingly erotic, so erotic she felt her body open and then the warm flow that spilled from her entrance and then dribbled between her cheeks.  She tightened her arms around Jeff’s back, and when he did it again, she curled her fingers into claws and pressed her nails into his back.

Jeff kept doing that until Muriel was beginning to breathe hard, then moved that fingertip down to her entrance and slowly pushed it inside her.  Muriel moaned, and her hips lurched up when Jeff curled his finger up and moved it in and out.  She spread her thighs as wide as then would go, and then pulled on his shoulders.

“Oh Jeff, I want you so much.”

Jeff didn’t stop his curling finger, and Muriel gasped when she slipped a second finger inside her and started moving them in and out.  It wasn’t until she was grabbing at his back and her hips started to rock into every stroke of his fingers that she felt him move between her spread thighs.

She held her breath as his cock head touched her pussy lips, then held it some more as she felt his cock slip between them and down to her entrance.  When she felt herself being stretched open, she let out that breath with a low moan, and then gasped when he pushed his cock deeper.

Through the fog of all the sensations clouding her mind, she felt Jeff’s lips on hers and opened her mouth.  She moaned when his tongue found her and then gasped as his cock slipped all the way inside her.  The cloud of feelings blinded her to everything except his lips on hers and the feeling of his cock stretching her to the point she felt every little movement he made.

She didn’t move, couldn’t move, when he pulled his lips away.  She lay there with her mouth open and her breath coming in deep inhales punctuated by little “Oh” sounds every time Jeff stroked his cock deep inside her.  When she felt his lips close on her right nipple, Muriel rolled her head to the side and she pulled Jeff’s face tight to her breasts.

She felt her body beginning to tense, just little tightening feelings at first, but soon becoming an involuntary tensing of her legs and back that caused her to lift herself into Jeff’s stroking cock.  When that mashed her pussy lips into the base of Jeff’s cock, she’d moan at the same time she heard him groan, and that caused her passage to tighten too.

At the end, she’d lost control of anything her body was doing.  She was digging her nails into Jeff’s back to pull him inside her deeper when the tension became unbearable.  A second later, she cried out, dropped her hands to the bed sheet and clawed at it until she’d grasped a handful in each hand.  Her legs began to shake and then everything blew up in an explosion of sensations that wiped everything from her mind except the pounding thrusts of Jeff’s cock as it spurted his cum inside her.

Little by little, the tension subsided only to return again and then subside a little more.  Muriel smiled, then opened her mouth again when she felt the little shock that tightened her passage.  That little shock ebbed away only to come back because Jeff was still stroking his cock in and out.  She purred out a moan, then caught her breath as the next little wave swept through her, then exhaled slowly.

She felt Jeff kiss her on the forehead, and opened her eyes and saw him grinning.

“It felt like you liked that.  I know it was the most fantastic thing I’ve ever experienced.”

Muriel wrapped her hands around his back, pulled him down onto her breasts and nestled her cheek against his.

“It was like Helen said it could be.  I didn’t feel like it was you and me.  I felt like it was us.  I don’t want to stop feeling like this, not ever.”

Jeff kissed her on the forehead again.

“If I have anything to say about it, you won’t have to.  All you have to do is tell me you’re ready to be my wife.”

Muriel giggled.

“Is that the best proposal you could think up?”

“Well, since I just decided, yes.  What do you think?  Would you like to do that?”

Muriel rubbed his back.

“Do me again and then I’ll tell you.”

When her year was up, Joe called Muriel to his office and sat her down.

“Muriel, you’ve done an excellent job over the past year.  The only problem is you and Jeff got married, and that’s causing some problems. Some of the engineers are starting to complain that you’re changing things they spent a lot of time implementing and Jeff isn’t resisting because he’s your husband.  I’m afraid I can’t keep you on as a manufacturing engineering technician.  

“Now, don’t go getting all worried that you won’t have a job.  I had a talk with Jeff this morning and asked him how you managed to do what you did.  He said you just worked with each person to train them how to see things that could be done better and then walked them through how to make suggestions for improvement.  I can tell you it worked.  Every time I walk through that department, I see people who are happy and working their butts off, and the financials are the best in the plant.

“What I want to do is spread that through the plant.  I know you’re just one woman and can’t do that all by yourself, but I’m not about to hire another consultant.  Here’s what I decided to do.

“The problem our engineers have is they were taught the technology but almost nothing about people, and engineers being the breed of cat they are, most don’t have much in the way of social skills to begin with.  I know that because that’s how I started out.  They’re also pretty defensive about what they do.  What they need is someone who can teach them how to interact with the workers and listen to what they say without being defensive.  They’re perfectly capable of changing things to make them better, they just don’t know what they need to change because they aren’t looking and listening.

“To do that, I’m forming a section of the manufacturing engineering department Jack and I call ‘Advanced Technology Implementation’.  I need a person to head up that section, and I want that person to be you.  You’ll report directly to Jack with a dotted line to me in case you need more help than Jack can give you, and you’ll have slots for two employees.  I’d like to give you one for each department, but we can’t afford that right now.  You pick the employees however you want.  I don’t care what degrees they have or if they even have degrees.  I just want people who can train our workforce, including the engineers, to do what you’ve just done.

That night, Muriel put her arm over Jeff’s chest.

“Do you think I should tell Joe I’ll do it?  It’ll mean I probably have to work more hours than you.”

Jeff chuckled.

“I’m not concerned about that.  What I’m concerned about is you’ll out-rank me and I’ll have to do what you say.”

Muriel stroked his chest.

“You know that won’t happen.  Have I ever told you what to do?”

Jeff cupped Muriel’s breast and squeezed gently.

“Well, that was that first time.  You basically told me to take you home with me and make love to you.”

Muriel giggled and slapped his chest.

“I did not.  That’s just what you wanted to hear.”

She stroked his chest again.

“I’m glad you did though.  Think maybe you could do it again?”

“Will that help you decide?”

“No, but it’ll let me stop thinking about it for a while.”

Jeff sighed.

“OK, but I know what you’re going to decide.  Since you’re gonna be over me at work, think we could try it with you over me here?”

Muriel grinned, raised up, and straddled him.

“Beverly told me this is how she’d fuck you senseless.  I’m not sure if I can do that or not, but we’ll see.”

Jeff chuckled.

“Is this how Toyota would do it?”

Muriel fished for his cock, moved it back until it was at her entrance, and then began impaling herself.  When she was sitting on his thighs, she grinned.

“I’m not Toyota.  I’m just horny.  Now, shut up so I can concentrate.  I want to get this right.”

…And she did.


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