The traditional management style of the early 1900s is only producing results in a handful of organizations today. It is being replaced by a contemporary management style that increases employee contributions in remarkable ways. The contemporary management techniques were developed by professors at the University of Michigan then perfected overseas by companies such as Toyota and Sony.
It was not until the late 1990s that companies such as Amazon.com, Google, Southwest Airlines and others took the concept seriously. These American companies proved the style adaptable to American workers as an alternative to the worn-out traditional practices.
The Symptoms An automobile assembly plant was struggling to meet the productivity and profit requirements of the 21st century. Despite dabbling in contemporary management nothing in proven to be successful. Employees initially thought that empowerment and teamwork would improve results that optimism had long faded due to several failed attempts at transforming the workplace.
Both union and management believe strongly that change was needed and that the global management model used by Toyota and others would provide for advantageous results at their facility. The question would be how to roll out a program that will get broad support even after the prior failed attempts.
The Diagnosis Through a combined effort it was determined that both white and blue collar workers would attend mandatory training sessions. It was believed that by having staff from multiple departments and all levels of employment from new hire to plant manager attend sessions together it would be seen as a global effort.
With union and management officials agreeing to take part in introductory workshops alongside rank and file it would be clear that this would not be another failed start at reinventing the way this plant did business. Anything short of full participation would send a clear message that this program was nothing better than prior attempts.
The Prescription All employees were scheduled in groups of 15 to 30 participants in week long classes covering change, teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, and quality controls. At the same time plant signage supported the program by providing new communication vehicles to report inefficiencies, impediments and other areas of lost opportunity.
The schedule was developed to promote as much cross pollination as possible so that plan employees with fully understand the diversity of positions in the importance each played. It was quickly learned that participants needed to be completely relieved of their regular responsibilities during their week of training as early participants would sometimes attempt to get out of classes by creating a need on the shop floor.
The curriculum was further enhanced by showing the value of certain elements, such as interpersonal relationships, beyond just the workplace.
Future Prognosis Corporate executives had made it clear that this plant would not be receiving additional work unless it successfully adopted contemporary management as would be evidenced by the plant’s output. The same executives were pleased with the initial results and stated they would not make a determination until completion of the program plus an appropriate period for the program to take effect.
The clock ran out six months after the program was completed. The turmoil the automotive industry in early 2009 forced management make a decision on the future the plant. Taking a hard look at the results from the program it was determined the plan had become so competitive that it was taken from a one shift operation to a full three-shift operation.
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