|Part 1: Uncertain Times, Managerial Functions, Communication
Who Needs Six Sigma?
Merrill Dawe, plant manager of a major food processing plant, had attended a meeting of an industry association in which he had been impressed by several presentations on Six Sigma implementation and employee involvement teams. Dawe was convinced that such approaches would be very appropriate in his plant because he felt they could help improve employee relations and perhaps improve productivity and reduce quality problems. Dawe decided to call a number of his supervisors, along with the local union president and several of the plant’s union shop stewards, to his office to discuss his plans to implement various improvement processes.
At a meeting in his office, Dawe outlined his proposal. He said that he planned to have employee quality improvement meetings periodically, probably once a month, in which various departmental employee groups and committees, along with their supervisors, would discuss production problems, quality problems, and any other problems that needed attention. Dawe emphasized that employees would be paid for the time they spent in these meetings and that any ideas and suggestions would be given open consideration and attention by supervisors and higher-level managers.
After listening patiently to Dawe’s presentation, Jerry Bruno, the plant’s local union president, responded, “Mr. Dawe, in my experience, TQM, Six Sigma, and Lean Manufacturing often mean ‘doing more with less.’ We believe that many companies simply use these as a way of trying to bypass the union contract and the grievance procedure. We feel that this can be just another tactic to lull employees into thinking that management is concerned about them. Frankly, I’d bet that TQM meetings will be little more than a place where the workers will say what’s on their minds, then company management will continue to ignore their concerns. Unless I’m convinced—and my fellow union representatives are convinced—that any such program in this plant will not be used to ignore the union and our labor agreement, we will not cooperate with you in this effort.”
Dawe pondered what his response should be to Bruno’s comments and whether he should seriously attempt to implement a quality improvement program.
Do you think Dawe could have handled this situation differently, in a way that would communicate his vision and encourage people to embrace his plan?
Why do you think Bruno, the union president, was resistant to change? Does it have anything to do with the recent turbulence in the economy? Was it reasonable for him to express his concerns?
If you were Dawe, how would you respond to Bruno’s concerns?
The Little Things Add Up!
Lynda Heredia has worked for Economy Parcel Service (EPS), a large package delivery company, for the past 22 years. She knows that pleasing the customer is key to operating a successful business. She is extremely proud of the “Employee of the Month” awards she has received. Several times before, Heredia has been offered various supervisory positions, but she has always turned them down because she does not want the extra duties and responsibilities that come with advancement. Management considers her the “ideal employee.” She rarely needs to be told what to do and never misses work. Her work is always done the right way the first time. Operations manager, Josh Simpson, has been overheard to remark, “I wish we could figure out a way to clone Lynda. She’s by far the best employee we’ve got.”
Heredia works the 11:00 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. shift. Her position is vital because she sorts packages on both sides of the master conveyor belt and directs them onto assorted belts where others load them into bins and then into delivery vehicles. Due to a downturn in the economy and increased competition, EPS’s business recently dropped off drastically. The company cut overhead and significantly reduced its number of employees. Business had picked up in recent months such that the number of packages handled daily approached previous levels, but those employees who remained after the cutbacks were expected to get the same amount of work done with fewer people and resources and increase productivity, tighten delivery schedules, and accept no pay raises. The last item was especially difficult for Heredia because she is principal caregiver for her elderly mother. All her mother’s Social Security income went for medical costs and other essentials. Heredia’s weekly paycheck usually covered all other expenses, but nothing was left over for recreation or investment. “The harder I work, the behinder I get,” Heredia lamented.
Heredia came into work promptly one day, as always, and told her immediate supervisor, Tony Lehman, that she had to leave by 6:30 a.m. because her mother had an 8:00 a.m. appointment at the hospital for some much-needed medical tests. Lehman responded, “Fine. Just remind me later.” Lehman had been Heredia’s immediate supervisor for the past seven months, but they have known each other for about fifteen years. Heredia’s previous supervisor had been downsized, and Lehman’s duties had been expanded to cover several additional areas, including the one in which Heredia worked. Unlike Heredia’s previous supervisor, Lehman failed to tell his employees what he expected them to do and rarely gave them positive feedback. It might have been because he was expected to do more with less.
At 5:30 a.m., Heredia reminded Lehman about the appointment, and Lehman asked the operations manager if he had an employee to cover the hour of Heredia’s shift because she had to leave. The operations manager’s response was, “No, I don’t have anyone. In fact, we’re so short of people right now that I don’t know if we’ll meet the delivery schedule. If I would have known sooner, I might have been able to find coverage for you.”
When Lehman told her she would be unable to leave early, Heredia immediately began to fume. “So this is the way they treat dedicated and loyal employees. After all, I asked my supervisor at the beginning of the shift if I could leave early—just like the handbook says,” Heredia lamented to anyone willing to listen. She stayed until her regular quitting time, but her full attention was not on her work. As a result, several mistakes occurred.
After punching out, Heredia rushed home, hustled her mother into the car, and left for the hospital. While waiting for her mother to finish her tests, the psychologically “down and out” Heredia, in her dirty work attire, kept playing the day’s scenario over and over in her mind. “I don’t ask this company for much, and I bend over backward to get the job done. I’ll show them: I’ll call in sick tomorrow and see how they appreciate the inconvenience.”
About 15 minutes before her assigned shift the next day, Heredia called her supervisor and said, “I’m not feeling well this evening. I think it might be that new strain of flu, and I’d hate to spread it to anyone else. I’ll call you tomorrow evening and let you know how I’m feeling because I’m also scheduled to work tomorrow evening.” Heredia still had several sick days and personal days left, and company policy only required employees to report their sicknesses at least 15 minutes before the start of their shifts.
Of course, the employee assigned to perform Heredia’s duties lacked the skill or knowledge to do the job in a correct and timely fashion. Additionally, that employee feared making mistakes, so every package was checked and double-checked to ensure that it got onto the right conveyor. Work-in-progress backed up, and many trucks did not get loaded until mid-morning. In short, many customers received their packages late.
What are some of the factors contributing to Lynda’s current negative attitude toward her work? How and why has it changed over time? What do you think might happen in the future if the environment remains the same?
How would you describe her supervisor’s management style? What do you think prevented him from handling this situation well?
Do you think that this company should provide some type of support to workers like Lynda who have stressful or challenging circumstances at home? What could the organization do to help her?
Seaside Mortgage is a large financial services organization headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida. Seaside employs more than 3,500 individuals across all its southeastern U.S. operations. Susan Gregory, the vice president of human resources, believes that Seaside should conduct on-campus interviews on those college campuses within 100 miles of a Seaside facility.
Martina Huston interviewed with Seaside during her senior year in college. Seaside did not have any openings at the time, but nearly a year later, Martina received a phone call from Rex Morgan, a Seaside HR assistant, asking if she would be interested in interviewing for a potential supervisory assistant position at the Palatka office. Martina jumped at the opportunity and scheduled the interview promptly. She was excited at the prospect of working for a company like Seaside. Several of her high school and college friends were employed there, and Martina was impressed with the picture that was painted of the company. The company provides a good salary and a competitive benefit package, flexible work schedules, and opportunity for advancement from within. Seaside is held in high regard as an “employer of choice.”
After two interviews, Martina was offered a supervisory trainee position that began three weeks later. This gave her ample opportunity to look for housing in the Palatka area and to terminate her employment with her current employer. With the help of her parents and Ellie Corbitt—the employee assigned by Seaside to help Martina with the employment transition—she found a nice apartment close to her work at the Palatka office. Seaside’s policy for newly hired exempt employees is to have them go through a two-week orientation in the Jacksonville office where they learn about the company and its policies and procedures and shadow a variety of employees. The company believes that new employees should have a chance to see exemplary performers in action. Martina was impressed with the comfort and ease of the orientation program. On Friday afternoon, Martina said her goodbyes to the home-office folks and returned to her parents’ home to prepare for the move to Palatka.
Three weeks later, Martina requested a private meeting with Ellie Corbitt, her assigned mentor at the Palatka office. Martina started to cry and proceeded to tell her, “I’m not sure how or when to tell you this, but I’m pregnant! I thought that my upset stomach and other problems were brought on by the excitement of the new job opportunity, but the pregnancy test confirmed my suspicions. My parents will kill me! I don’t know what to do.”
What are Ellie’s responsibilities in this situation? What should her role be?
Seaside has invested a lot of time and effort into recruiting and onboarding Martina into her new job. Why does the company do this? What do you think the company’s policy should be about this situation?
What advice would you give Martina if you were Ellie?
The Interfering Administrative Assistant
Christine Moreno is vice president of manufacturing at Barry Automotive’s Doylestown plant. She has direct line authority over Ed McCane, plant superintendent; Charles Evans, chief engineer; Diane Purcell, purchasing and supplies supervisor; Ron Weaver, supervisor of maintenance; and Carol Shiften, supervisor of the shipping department.
Two years ago, Moreno hired Bernice Billings as a secretary. Billings was diligent, capable, and efficient. She quickly won the admiration and confidence of her boss. Moreno felt fortunate to have such a capable secretary because Billings willingly assumed numerous duties that allowed Moreno to devote more time to her broad responsibility over the five departments. Moreno, therefore, changed Billings’s job title to “administrative assistant” and increased her salary. After receiving this elevation in status, Billings began to do even more than she had before. For example, Moreno’s supervisors at times received memos that clearly originated with Billings but that carried Moreno’s initials. Billings also took it upon herself to give oral directives to supervisors from time to time. For example, several times Billings approached the plant superintendent, McCane, and gave him instructions concerning plant scheduling problems. At other times, without seeing McCane first, Billings went directly to the production floor and asked employees to rush orders or to do other things. She often told maintenance employees to do various projects, which, she said, “Ms. Moreno would like you to do.” Similar occurrences took place in the shipping department, where Billings frequently left instructions for the special treatment of some customers’ orders.
In most of these situations, Moreno was unaware that Billings had taken it upon herself to communicate directly with subordinates to solve problems that had come to her attention. Some employees complained that these directives should have come from Moreno or the appropriate departmental supervisor. In most cases, however, everyone realized that Billings had the best interests of the firm in mind, and they usually complied with her requests.
However, as time went on, the supervisors began to feel that Billings was interfering more than she was helping. In several instances, some of the employees on the production floor did not check with McCane but went directly to Billings for instructions. Similar incidents took place in other departments. One day, over a cup of coffee, McCane, Shiften, and Weaver angrily shared their concerns. At the outset, they had looked upon Billings favorably, but now they considered her to be a disruptive factor that was undermining their supervisory positions.
How have Billings’s actions interfered with the normal supervisory chain of command and authority?
What are some of the different steps McCane, Shiften, and Weaver could take to correct this problem? What is their best option?
If you were going to speak to Billings about the need to change her behavior, how would you approach the conversation? How would you monitor the situation in the future to ensure that she was changing her behavior?
Clean Up on Aisle 3
Juan Sanchez is store supervisor at Store 16 of Sanders Supermarkets. For about three months, he has been talking to his district manager, Sandra Greenberg, about a major renovation for the grocery section in the store. At last, Greenberg called Sanchez to tell him that a meeting at the corporate main office would be held to discuss the renovation project for Store 16.
The meeting was attended by supervisors from the sales and construction departments, several district managers, and the corporate operations manager. By the end of the meeting, it was generally agreed that Store 16 should be reorganized (or “reset,” in the language of the company) and that several main aisles should be relocated. The supervisor of the reset crew and the construction supervisor were to submit final plans and a cost estimate at the next meeting of the group, which was scheduled for a week later.
During her next visit to Store 16, Greenberg told Sanchez about the meeting. Greenberg informed Sanchez about the plans for Store 16, adding that nothing was yet finalized. She failed to mention that part of the reset would include moving some aisles.
The next week, plans and costs were submitted and approved by the corporate operations manager. Because new shelving had to be ordered and schedules made, the supervisor of the reset crew and the construction supervisor were assigned the job of putting the necessary paperwork into motion. Greenberg then called Sanchez and said, “The reset project for your store has been approved. I’ll let you know more as soon as I hear.”
One month later, as Sanchez was driving to work on Monday morning, he made a mental note to call Greenberg to ask about the reset project. However, when Sanchez arrived at Store 16, he soon forgot his plan. He walked into the store to find three major problems: (1) the frozen food case had broken down, (2) the floor scrubber was malfunctioning, and (3) the grinder in the meat department had quit working. After some checking, Sanchez found that no maintenance calls had been made because each of his two assistant supervisors, Jane Oliver and Wally Withers, had thought the other was going to do it. The floor scrubber had not worked well for three days, the frozen food case had broken down the previous afternoon, and the meat grinder had just quit working.
“It just doesn’t pay to take a day off,” Sanchez muttered to himself as he headed for the telephone. He called the maintenance department, explained what had happened, and requested immediate service. While waiting for the maintenance person, Sanchez called Oliver and Withers to talk to them about letting him and each other know about these kinds of problems and how to control them. “All it takes,” he said, “is working together, communication, and follow-through to ensure that our customers get the best service available. We can’t be out of merchandise, especially frozen food. And we have to make sure that when we are busy, as we will be this week, our customers aren’t stepping over workers in the aisles.”
At about that time, Sanchez was called to his office. When he arrived, he was greeted by five carpenters and laborers. “We just wanted to tell you we’re here, and we’ll get started right away,” said the carpenter in charge.
“How come it takes this many people to fix a frozen food case?” asked Sanchez.
“We’re not here to fix a frozen food case,” said the carpenter. “We’re here to move the shelving in the aisles and to reset the store.”
“Today?!” replied Sanchez. “Nobody told me that you guys were doing this today. I can’t have you moving aisles during the day. What are my customers going to do?”
Sanchez then called Greenberg. “Sandy, did you know that they were going to start the reset project in the store today?”
“No,” said Sandy, “I wasn’t notified either.”
“Why wasn’t I consulted on this?” exclaimed Sanchez. “First of all, the first week of the month is always too busy for laborers to be working in the aisles. Second, this type of work must be done at night. Maybe other stores can handle this work in the daytime, but my customers will not tolerate that kind of inconvenience.”
“Okay,” Greenberg said. “It sounds like things are really out of control at your store right now. What are you going to do about it?”
“Sandy, don’t you mean, ‘What are we going to do about it?’”
Give several examples of breakdowns in communication from this case. Could any of these have been prevented?
In the final paragraphs of the story, it appears that Greenberg thinks that Sanchez should be entirely responsible for solving this problem, whereas Sanchez thinks they should solve the problem together. Who is right? Explain your answer.
Sanchez reminds his two supervisors that they need teamwork, communication, and follow-through to ensure their customers’ satisfaction. What do you think he means by this? Give some examples of how this philosophy relates to management and problem solving.
Ann Wilson is 26 years old and a recent college graduate. She received her bachelor’s degree in business with a major in human resources management. After graduation, Wilson could not find employment in her field of study. She eventually took a sales position with a computer firm and worked part-time as a server at a local restaurant called Caruso’s American Cuisine. Wilson liked her restaurant job better than her sales job because she felt that the owner respected her and listened to her opinions. While the restaurant business was not exactly where Wilson thought she would end up in life, she decided to accept a full-time position as day-shift supervisor at the restaurant because it paid well and she felt that it was a good opportunity for her to develop her managerial skills.
Several months ago, the owner of the restaurant, Joe Caruso, concluded that he needed someone to be general manager. Caruso owned several other enterprises, and he usually could be at the restaurant for only a few hours each day. To fill this position, Caruso recruited a local food company sales representative who had serviced the restaurant. Michael Morton, the sales representative, had been an assistant manager of a corporate-run steakhouse in the area. Joe Caruso thought that Morton would be a good candidate because he already had some managerial experience in the restaurant business. Morton jumped at the opportunity to be general manager. His arrival at Caruso’s American Cuisine restaurant was announced in a brief meeting with all employees.
Wilson initially felt that having a general manager was a good idea. Too often, she had to make supervisory decisions without clear guidance. She thought that a general manager would make her supervisory position easier. However, she was sadly disappointed in what quickly transpired.
When Morton took over, he set out to change just about everything. At an employee meeting, he stated that everyone should follow his lead without question. He instituted numerous policies and procedures and posted them along with memos that detailed additional rules. Each employee was given an employee handbook that outlined all the rules and policies. He even had all employees sign to acknowledge that they had received the handbook and agreed to abide by its provisions.
Morton caused Wilson problems by frequently assigning work directly to the servers and kitchen crews. At times, he reversed Wilson’s directives and, for the most part, would fail to tell her what he had done. Additionally, Morton occasionally made decisions that appeared to contradict some of the rules he had created. In Wilson’s mind, Michael Morton was a micromanager, and a very poor one at that.
Wilson was thoroughly frustrated. Other employees were heard to be grumbling about “Micro Mike.” Ann Wilson contemplated meeting with Caruso, the owner, but she feared that Morton would retaliate if she did. Further, Caruso might resent being accused of making a less-than-intelligent decision in hiring Morton. Even with her college major in human resources management, Wilson did not know what to do. She believed that the restaurant was doing about the same level of business as before. However, she also felt that both customers and employees would desert the restaurant in droves if the Morton situation was not corrected.
The case describes a number of new policies that Morton establishes in his first few months on the job. Analyze his ideas and determine if each one is a positive change or an unnecessary or negative change.
Morton has clearly been ineffective in communicating his vision and rationale for his new policies, which has resulted in poor morale. Is there anything he can do now to turn this situation around?
What advice would you give Wilson about dealing with her new work environment? Explain your answer.
The Picnic Conversation
Barry Automotive’s Glendale Plant’s annual picnic was well attended, as usual. It was a well-planned, day-long family affair for all employees of the firm, giving them an opportunity to get together informally. At the picnic, Charlene Knox, one of the supervisors, had a long chat with her boss, Jim Cross, the general manager. They spoke about many things, including some work problems. Cross greatly emphasized the need to cut costs and generally tighten the company’s finances. He told Knox that he had already received a number of written suggestions and plans from some other supervisors. He highly praised their efforts as appropriate and helpful.
Three weeks after the picnic, Charlene Knox received a memo from her boss asking her why her “report in reference to cost cutting had not yet arrived.” At first, she wondered what Jim Cross was referring to, and then she remembered their talk at the picnic. She realized that was the only time Cross had discussed with her the need to cut costs. Knox pondered what her response should be.
Why was it inappropriate for Cross to address this topic with Knox at the company picnic? When and how could it have been handled better?
How would you advise Knox to respond to her manager now? Explain your answer.
It would appear that Cross had spoken to other supervisors even before the picnic and had already received some feedback from them, but he only spoke to Knox on this one occasion. Should Knox be concerned about being “out of the loop” with her supervisor? Is there anything she could do to improve her working relationship with him?
Facing Resistance to a New Program
Debbie Quarter, a new staff engineer at Barry Automotive’s Glendale plant, had been assigned the responsibility of administering the plant’s work-sampling program. This was the first assignment of this nature in Quarter’s career. Her only knowledge of the program until this time came from friends working as team leaders or supervisors. Quarter heard that these people call the work-sampling program “bird dogging.” They seemed universally to regard the program as unfair, a waste of time, and a personal affront. She realized that only the line superintendents and upper management supported the program, and some of them regarded it as a necessary evil.
The work-sampling program, or “ratio-delay” as it is sometimes called, involves the statistical sampling of the activities of hourly production and maintenance department employees, which includes approximately two-thirds of the plant’s 2,000 employees. The sampling is conducted continuously by a full-time observer who walks the plant via a series of randomly selected, predetermined routes. The observer’s job is to record the activity of each worker as the worker is first observed. An activity could fall into one of seven categories, which are subclasses of “working,” “traveling,” or “nonworking.” The data are compiled monthly, and results are charted for each group and sent to the various supervisors and top management.
The program has been in effect for about five years at the plant. At the time it was initiated, management stated that the program’s purpose was threefold:
1. Indicate supervisory effectiveness.
2. Help identify problems interfering with work performance.
3. Serve as a control measure of the effect of changes in work methods, equipment, facilities, or supervision.
Realizing that the program had widespread resistance, Quarter immediately began to conduct informational meetings for all team leaders and supervisors. In these sessions, she discussed the purpose of the program and its mechanics. She also attempted to answer any questions. The team leaders and supervisors were most vocal in their negative opinions about the program, and after a few meetings, Quarter noted that certain comments were being repeated in some form by almost every group.
Most supervisory groups identified aspects of the sampling program they thought biased results against them. The most common complaint of this type was that the sampling was too often conducted when work was normally lightest, such as during coffee breaks and early or late in the day. Because the method of scheduling visits was complex, efforts to explain the program’s randomness and means of ensuring fairness had never been accepted. Some basic statistical training had been attempted, but with little success—especially among the team leaders and supervisors who had traditionally risen through the ranks and had little technical background.
Another frequent complaint was that activities normally considered work (e.g., going for tools or carrying materials) were not recorded as such. It was explained to the team leaders that these activities were factors not directly accomplishing work, given that in these areas improvements could be made.
Several maintenance team leaders complained that results were repeatedly used to pressure them to, in turn, pressure their workers. When they would bear down, the supervisors said, the workers would resist, and less work was accomplished than before. One team leader quoted his boss as saying, “These figures [work-sampling results] better be up next month, or I’m going to have three new supervisors in here!” It was general knowledge that the superintendents greatly emphasized these results when appraising supervisors and team leaders.
Virtually no one at any level of supervision had a good understanding of how sample size could affect results. Small groups with few samples said they had experienced wide fluctuations in results that “just couldn’t happen.” This, of course, reinforced their distrust of sampling methods.
There had been few, if any, changes initiated by first-line supervisors as a result of work-sampling results. Several staff projects had been generated—some, like motorized personnel carriers, were quite popular with the workers—but these were not generally associated with work-sampling results.
After the first few sessions, Quarter wondered whether her meetings with the team leaders and supervisors were doing more harm than good. The meetings seemed to upset everyone, and anything that was learned was probably lost in the emotional discussions. Quarter pondered what she should do next.
What advantages and benefits do you see in a work-sampling program? What negatives do you see in the program? What ideas do you have for making the program a “win” for everyone?
It seems as if every group has a different perception of this program. If you were Quarter, what would you want to communicate to both workers and supervisors about the program, and how would you communicate it?
What types of communication are demonstrated in this case?