Ron Anderson was a young graduate when he was appointed deputy manager in the production department of Scott International. He had been a supervisor in a similar company before deciding to take up full-time study to improve his managerial skills.
Scott International is a large reputable company that manufactures and supplies springs to customers ranging from scale manufacturers to car manufacturers. It was set up about 40 years ago as a small garage by the Scott brothers, who are now on the board of directors. The company holds several substantial contracts, covering about 70% of the local market for the product. Scott International has five departments: accounts, sales, production, marketing and personnel. Each department manager is responsible for meeting his department’s budget allocations. The general manager is responsible to the board of directors.
The company has no marketing problems and sells well in advance by contract everything it can produce. The buyers deal with the company mainly because of its reliability in meeting delivery dates. In order to enlist high-quality staff the company pays above-average industry wages and offers excellent working conditions.
Ron’s boss, Arthur, has worked for the company for 25 years. He started as a casual employee and worked his way up. Arthur believes that loyalty to the company is paramount: he is the first to arrive at work every morning and the last to leave in the evening. He has taken no leave in the past 10 years.
He makes frequent visits to the shop floor and spends considerable time supervising the employees. He is insistent that things be done in his way even though employees feel that other methods would work as well. He has the habit of telling employees off in front of everyone for even the most trivial matters. This has reached the stage where the employees feel they are being treated like children.
Arthur welcomed Ron to the department but has retained control. Gradually Ron has been getting used to the system and has had more responsibility delegated to him in liaising with other departments. Arthur continues to supervise the employees. Ron feels that sharing the work in this manner is unfair and that he is doing secretarial work for Arthur. According to his terms of appointment he should be supervising the staff and not compiling information for Arthur to make decisions.
After six months, Ron has become familiar with the whole operation and come to know all the members of the production department. Several staff have expressed concern about Arthur’s “snooping tactics” and Ron learned from them that Mark, his predecessor, was transferred to another department when he confronted Arthur. Mark had approached Arthur to change his habits, but was told bluntly to do his own job. This led to a confrontation that ended up before the general manager.
Mark argued that Arthur’s habits were demoralising staff and not allowing the company to take advantage of employee initiative. He pointed out that if employees were given greater autonomy they would get more job satisfaction, which would lead to increased production.
Arthur countered by stating that the interests of the company were paramount, and in his view the young “lads” with university qualifications came to regard themselves as authorities in every management issue and saw problems where there were none. In his view, the employees were happy with the money they were receiving and no one had made any complaints to him. He contended that he knew more about supervising staff than any university graduate could teach him. He pointed out that he had been a manager for 10 years and that his department had always met its obligations. Arthur concluded that this was evidence that he was a good manager, and he was prepared to resign if there was any doubt about his capability.
The general manager was in a very awkward position. He decided that the company could not afford to lose Arthur. He dealt with the crisis by transferring Mark to the personnel department and appointing Ron in his place.
After studying the situation, Ron concluded that the staff were satisfied with their working conditions, but were demoralised by Arthur’s attitudes. He could foresee the situation worsening because employees were now discussing the matter more openly than when he joined the company. They had asked Ron, as their boss, to do something about it. They were all members of the union and some had expressed their resolution to strike if the matter were not resolved.
Ron has prepared a detailed report of the situation. He is convinced that if the employees were given more freedom in their work, they would be more satisfied, and output would increase by up to 15%. The report suggests that Arthur should concentrate on carrying out more liaison work with other departments, as he has the power to make decisions for the production department. Even though Ron is now doing this job, he has no power to make decisions concerning the production department, and this means delays while he seeks Arthur’s approval. The report also recommends that the day-to-day supervision be left to Ron and that staff be given more autonomy in carrying out their work.
Comment on Arthur’s leadership style. Do you think that the general manager made the right decision in dealing with Mark? Suggest ways in which Ron should communicate his findings without creating unnecessary problems.
Thanks to Stanley Petzall of the school of management at Deakin University for permission to use this material from his publication on management case studies.
Proposed solution #1
Alastair Bain is a socio-analyst and the Director of the Australian Institute of Socio-Analysis (AISA). He trained and worked for 15 years as a consultant at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London, before returning to Australia to help found AISA.
Arthur’s paternalistic management style, “knowing best”, and not listening to the experience of those who actually do the job, was out of date 25 years ago when he joined the company. Unfortunately it is still prevalent in many old-fashioned manufacturing companies, particularly those that have grown from small family businesses, as Scott International has. One wonders whether perhaps his management style is modelled on the Scott brothers, the founders, who are now on the board. If it is, change will be difficult.
The difficulties Mark experienced with Arthur, and now Ron who is doing “secretarial work” for Arthur, make me suspect that there is no need for two levels of management in the Production Department. Although we are not told, part of the problem seems to be that there is not enough organisational space for two levels of management.
The dynamic of the Production Department is one of dependency in which the staff feel that Arthur treats them like children. The relationship between paternalistic figure and child typically reduces work-effectiveness, productivity suffers (as a way of getting back at the resented “father”), and low levels of job satisfaction and morale ensue. The question is how to allow the “adult” capacities of the staff to be mobilised, so that they can engage the tasks more effectively. This does not sound possible if Arthur remains as manager.
The general manager acted incompetently in moving Mark to the Personnel Department. The problem was not sorted out and has simply got worse. Arthur has many good qualities, particularly hard work and dedication, but the general manager seems to have put supposed “care of the person” before “care for the task”. There also seems to be a view in the company that managing or supervising applies to people rather than tasks.
In putting care of the person before care for the task the costs start to mount through damage to the company as productivity decreases, and damage to staff in maintaining this unhealthy dependency culture in which their adult capacities to make sensible decisions are not engaged.
My fantasy concerning the “unnecessary problems” that the general manager did not want to create is that he acted to protect Arthur for fear of the brothers Scott breathing down his neck. But he has to face the issue again. If the brothers Scott are breathing down his neck, it is likely that the issue of managerial style raised by Ron and Mark is more widespread at Scott International. The resolution of the particular problem encountered by Ron, Mark, the production staff, and the general manager may then lie in an exploration of the appropriate management structure for Scott International today as a whole, not as it was 25 years ago when Arthur joined, or 40 years ago when the company started.
When the apparent problems in an organisation are explored one often finds deeper issues that are causing or contributing to the problems. In this case it may be that the problem of Ron, Mark, Arthur, and the staff of the production department, and the difficulty of resolution, is actually part of a wider constellation of old attitudes and culture expressed through board members, and in particular the Scott brothers. If so, there may well be unresolved management and cultural issues arising from the transition from an old successful family business to a growing, modern company.
There is no way that Ron can communicate his findings without creating problems. However, this is the issue at hand. The issue lies in the general manager’s relationship to the production department, and very probably to the board. If so, I would advise the general manager to recommend to the board an exploration of these issues by an external consultant.
What of Arthur? My view is that the company owes him. I imagine there must be some position in the wider company in which his qualities of loyalty, dedication, and hard work would be useful. Something possibly to do with celebration of the company and its links to the past achievements of the Scott brothers. But I would leave it up to him to think about, just as I would leave the organisation of the production department up to the staff and Ron to think about.
Proposed solution #2
Ron Oastler has held senior management positions, including national service manager, state sales manager and director of management development for one of Australia’s leading companies. Now running his own consulting company, he conducts customised training and development workshops for chief executives and company directors through to front-line managers and sales professionals in many of the top corporations in Australasia and South-East Asia. His consultancy also provides a range of services from strategic planning to profit-improvement programs.
Arthur is working to a paradigm exploded by Douglas McGregor (The Human Side of Enterprise). He operates as a Theory X manager with the paradigm that “most people must be closely controlled and often coerced to achieve organisational objectives. They have little capacity for creativity in solving problems and little desire for responsibility, preferring to be directed”.
The extent of a team’s ability to do a job, and their willingness to do it, should be matched by the right leadership style appropriate levels of direction and support. When they do not know how to do the job, then tell them how, show them how, let them try, observe their performance and provide feedback either reinforcing or redirecting. But, when they do know how to do the job, let them do it! Supportive behavior is displayed as they progress from beginner to top performer.
Scott International recruited high-quality staff in the first place: the people have capability and potential. Scott is delivering everything it can manufacture, on time and with no apparent quality problems; the production team is performing well.
Arthur has been managing production for 10 years. The current team members have probably been in the department for quite some time, and you would expect their job skills by now to be high enough to require little or no supervision. Arthur should be delegating giving them some support but little or no direction. Instead, he is closely directing this competent team. No wonder they feel they are being treated like children and consider going on strike if things do not change.
If you really want to get people off-side, give them insufficient guidance and direction when they do not know how to do the job. And, on the other hand, give them plenty of instruction, control and supervision when they already know how. Over-supervision and under-supervision are classic turn-offs for team members.
But that is not all. What about the general manager’s decision to transfer Mark when Arthur’s leadership problem first appeared? “The company could not afford to lose Arthur as this would create unnecessary problems.” Like what, I wonder? Is Arthur one of the Scott family?
The transfer, of course, has merely delayed the inevitable. The general manager should have confronted the issue at the time.
Arthur started as a “casual” and now has 25 years up. He probably started as a junior and would therefore be in his early forties. He can change, should he choose to do so, but he will need help from his boss. However, the general manager apparently needs help with his leadership too.
The final prickly question: how should Ron handle the situation that exists right now? Ron does have some options. He can:
- Tough it out, hoping that things will change (However, insanity is doing what you have always done and expecting a different result).
- Speak frankly to Arthur about his observations and recommendations (This did not work for Mark, but it may work with a new person and a new timing).
- Show Arthur how he can win by sponsoring Ron’s involvement in day-to-day supervision kudos for Arthur from increased productivity.
- Involve Mark as a coach; he now reports directly to the general manager and is probably now privy to Arthur’s real situation. Mark could win with the general manager through involvement in the resolution of the Arthur situation.
Ron’s first decision must be whether he really wants to do something about the Arthur situation. If so, then, as Stephen Covey puts it in First Things First, will his action be a determination (something that he is determined to do no matter what, and where his integrity is on the line)? Alternatively will it be a concentration (he wants to focus time and energy to achieve an outcome but, if unsuccessful, he did his best)?
Either way, his best approach is to make Arthur part of the solution and not just part of the problem. He can help Arthur to see a significant personal win through sponsoring his protege’s handling of day-to-day production to achieve a significant contribution to the business through increased productivity.
He can develop Mark as a coach for the process show him how he can win and have him prepare the ground with the general manager so that support will be available regardless of the outcome with Arthur.