ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1997


Quality Is No 'Easy Rider'
Accountability, Confrontation two keys to success at Harley-Davidson

Rebel With A Cause
Who is accountable for productive meetings.

Measure for Measure
Merrill Lynch relies on measurements for success and customer satisfaction


When Change Is No Change At All
by Peter Block

The Balance Sheet: Hidden Costs of Open Book Management
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review

Letters to the Editor


Views For A Change
Consultant Q&A

John Runyan Responds

As I consider your question, I am touched by the pain, fear, uncertainty and stress generated by this imminent decision that could close down the jobs of the workers you support and the quality of life in your community. Far too many people in far too many businesses and communities face this dilemma through little or no fault of their own. These situations call for new, even radical, thinking and acting on all sides.
Obviously, there are many ways that this or any other business can save costs - relocating to a new area is only one. From out-sourcing specialized tasks to overseas workers to reducing wages directly or instituting this two-tier pay scale, there are various traditional avenues to lessen costs. However, some of this cost-cutting can engender such alienation and divisiveness among workers and more long-term damage is done than gains achieved. Alternatively, my mind turns to more radical approaches to the challenges of sustaining this business in its present location.
(I need to acknowledge here that without knowing all of the specific circumstances in this situation, none of us can know precisely what savings are possible through any of these moves, traditional or not.)
However, I believe workers hold the key to the widest array and most direct paths to many possible savings and increases in revenue, especially over a sustained period of time. As a result, I would like to speak directly to those who will suffer most from this possible plant move and its local consequences.
Because workers are central to virtually every production, customer relations and quality assurance process, you individually and collectively have the leverage to accelerate or slow (or even defeat) many of the process changes that are essential to business survival in these highly competitive and chaotic times. You can choose to use this leverage grudgingly and sparingly as in the age-old tradition of union/management confrontation or you can choose to think, act and collaborate in new ways that will stretch the capacities and extend the horizons of all involved.
If I were a worker trying to retain this threatened plant, I would offer to exercise this leverage "across the board" in a wide variety of business activities. In particular, I would offer to:

o Partner immediately with managers in a fast-track effort to make all workers "business literate" so that they can understand the rationale for and join actively in all of the initiatives that follow.

o Work closely with managers to vastly reduce the cycle time for any and all business decision-making, product innovations and process improvements. This may involve everything from innovative scheduling to creative problem-solving to re-languaging your contract.

o Move to train and allow workers to work in a variety of jobs as determined by ever-shifting business needs.

o Create joint task groups to monitor worker/manager cooperation and to rapidly resolve all interpersonal and inter-group conflicts that would slow implementation of process changes needed to cut costs.

o Do the necessary peer group inviting, educating, persuading and self-monitoring to ensure that all workers who want to stay in this organization will join fully in these initiatives.

o Place your most innovative and creative workers with comparably talented managers in small groups aimed at brainstorming new products and services that could add revenue.

o Publicize these cooperative efforts as a powerful way to demonstrate and market the progressiveness and quality of the business - thereby building customer interest and commitment.
To carry off these initiatives successfully would require the building of a true partnership under the most difficult conditions. It would also take some remarkably fast and effective joint learning and cooperative acting by you and the plant's managers.
However, honestly, I see no other way to accomplish the consistent and on-going cost reduction and new business creation that are essential to the long-term survival of this locally-based enterprise.
To generate a true partnership in this kind of time-pressured, high stress situation calls for radical steps on all sides. The scenario that I can imagine involves:

o Plant managers putting their business case for going or staying - all relevant facts, figures, and implications - on the table for all of the newly "business literate" workers to see.

o Workers agreeing to review, digest and make meaning
for themselves of what they hear and read - going beyond simply defending their current positions, processes and perquisites.

o Managers committing some certain time period for themselves and the business' workers to strive whole-heartedly toward a set of decisions and actions that would lead to cost-savings and revenue generation.

o Workers and managers co-sponsoring one or more future search sessions (using the cutting edge technologies of "whole systems in the room" interventions to do the joint thinking, talking and coming to agreement necessary to launch various specific initiatives.

While these are only some of the ingredients necessary to build this crucial partnership, together they would go a long way toward generating a climate and a set of outcomes that could sustain your plant in its current location.
The first steps are to gather and organize yourselves to make some of these offers - and then to invite your business' leaders and plant managers to consider your proposals.


H.James Harrington's Responds

Nov. '97 News for a Change | Email Editor
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