B&M Manufacturing employs over 1200 people on one site in Sydney and has branches in all other states as well as in New Zealand. It is a highly structured company and most of its contracts come from local councils, the Water Board and public-works departments. Being highly centralised, this company suffers from some of the human problems common to such rigidly structured organisations.
This case concerns only one section of the company: the development section.
The development section has as its overall function the design, testing and final analysis of new products as well as the improvement of existing products. It serves all branches of the company and it employs twelve men, whose ages range from 22 to 48 years. Some of these men have been in the development section for more than six years.
The development section is located in a new administrative block. This building was completed only eight months before and has all the latest furnishings and facilities.
The section comes under the responsibility of the technical manager, Robert Rogerson, who has been with the company for 26 years and is 48 years old.
Rogerson’s previous experience with the company ranges from trainee engineer to production superintendent to chief engineer. He was promoted only recently to technical manager.
Rogerson acts as a co-ordinator for the development section. The supervisor of the section, George Scott, who is in his early forties, has been with the company for eight years and has spent all that time in the development section. He started with the company in a supervisory position.
The development section is divided into three main groups. Two engineers look after the development of pipes, and two other engineers look after the development of building products. Their work includes testing products to determine whether they are suitable for manufacture; the drawing office then completes the design.
The engineers in the development section design their own testing equipment and are helped by the planning engineer with product drawings.
The original request for testing of products is received from the relevant department through Rogerson and is allocated by Scott to an engineer. The engineer carries out the tests and writes a report, which is passed to the technical manager, Rogerson, through Scott.
As the work is fairly routine and does not have great appeal, B&M has provided the staff with the most modern equipment, comfortable desks and pays above-average wages, by way of compensation.
The main problem with the section is poor work motivation. Although the section is functioning well, Rogerson at times complains about the high employee turnover and the quality of engineers when they are recruited out of the development section. He tends to hold Scott responsible.
Scott’s response to this criticism is that his engineers are unable to get the sort of experience that production and marketing people need. On one occasion, he said: “How can an engineer, after testing pipes for three years, go out and manage a production department?”
A further problem with the section was that Scott was little concerned with the development and work motivation of the section. Scott revealed that, three months before, all four engineers had come to him and complained about the type of work they were doing and how often they had to get into overalls and do a laborer’s work.
Scott’s reported version of this incident follows:
“I understood immediately that I was facing a deputation. I explained that everyone would like to have a better job than they were doing.”
“I went on to explain to them that this company was paying well-above-average wages and that, because of poor economic times, there were not many good jobs around.”
Yet, apart from these grumblings, Scott is happy enough with the functioning of the section. In his working career, he has been laid-off twice from other companies and he likes the security of tenure he enjoys at B&M Manufacturing.
He also believes that the company is easily able to attract new staff by paying the above-award wages it does.
Nevertheless, he continues to be puzzled that so many of the young engineers leave after only a year or so of service in his section.
The following are excerpts from informal talks with two of the engineers in the section.
“I have been in this section for two years. When I joined the company I was told that this was a training ground for a year or so, and that after that I would be transferred to either the production department or the marketing department. I was led to believe that this was a strict company policy. Over the last twelve months I have seen George Scott three times regarding my transfer, but he doesn’t help much. He says that it is not up to him. What makes it worse is that I am not allowed to speak to Rogerson directly.”
“Although I don’t really mind the job, I wish they would give me a little more responsibility and authority. If I take the work to the planning engineer for preparation of drawings, for example, he just takes his time and keeps me waiting for weeks. The same thing happens when I have to get some work done from the laboratory. It is just impossible to get work done on time and keep myself busy. I just can’t understand how a planning engineer can keep himself happy here by just talking to people all day.”
“I have been in the building-product development section for nine months. As this is the first job I have had since I left university, I can’t compare B&M Manufacturing with other companies. The reason I started here was that the advertisement painted a rosy picture of the job.”
“After obtaining first-class honors in my degree, I thought work in the research and development section would be satisfying and that I would be assisting in original work. Some people, including Scott, tell me that I will get used to the place, but I am ready to leave now. I don’t think the company will keep its promise of transferring me after a year. After all, there are engineers working here who should have been transferred to marketing or production years ago. I shudder when I think that some engineers have been here for years and years and don’t really care, especially in pipe development, which is even more boring.”
“I suggested to Scott that, before commencement of a project, we should hold a meeting with the laboratory superintendent and the planning engineer, so that they could be committed to the work, but he took no notice at all of my suggestion.”
What behavioral symptoms of conflict can you find in this case? What should Rogerson and Scott do to motivate their employees?
This Case Study is reprinted with permission from McGraw Hill’s 1988 publication, Australian Management, by Mukhi, Hampton and Barnwell.
Proposed solution #1
Ken Elliott is the national marketing manager of CRC Industries, Australia’s leading manufacturer of aerosol maintenance chemicals and car care products. Ken has more than 20 years senior management experience, and has held a variety of positions including sales manager and national operations manager. CRC Industries is a corporate member of the Australian Institute of Management.
The conflicts that are evident in this study of B&M Manufacturing are related to a lack of people management skills, poor communications and bad planning. The result has been a lack of direction and motivation in all involved.
The distinction between goals set individually and goals set collectively has been blurred at best and is non-existent at worst. This has led to something worse than a loss of motivation by workers: it has resulted in a significant turnover of highly skilled people.
To be more specific, the behavioral symptoms of conflict include complaints from staff regarding poor communications, broken promises, lack of planning and co-ordination of tasks, and poor staff retention.
Scott’s behavior is that of someone who simply wants to maintain the status quo and avoid conflict. His thinking is that this approach will give him better job security, when in fact the opposite may eventually result. Rogerson remains aloof, probably thinking that keeping a “healthy distance” from his workers is a good management practice.
Motivation of employees needs to start at the top. Both Rogerson and Scott should get themselves some good sound team-building and personnel-management training.
In general, Rogerson needs to take a more “hands on” and “open door” approach to the staff and get in touch with what is going on among them.
Specifically, he also needs to develop a more honest approach to the trainee engineers and put a regular joint-review process (employer and employee) in place at which they can discuss their development and progress, and air their grievances.
The opportunities open to the trainees for a future in the company need to be honestly portrayed from the start. A wise move might be to move them around within the department to give them more skills. This would also offer them some relief from boredom by giving them a variety of tasks to do.
A team approach to running the whole department would result in better communication, planning and co-ordination. Regular project meetings that included the allocation of responsibilities and the setting of time-lines would be helpful. Team meetings of this type could at times include other departments, such as marketing and finance, as it was deemed relevant. This would give the workers in each department a sense of belonging to a larger team structure and would undoubtedly build morale and bring better results.
As Scott moved into managing the changes, he would find far greater job fulfilment than he does in just maintaining the status quo.
Perhaps a name change to the “Research & Development” department from the dreary “Development Section” would also help to give a stronger sense of direction to all concerned.
The conflicts that are in evidence are symptomatic of the lack of motivation, and therefore resolution of the conflict will come about as motivation is restored.
It should also be remembered that, although motivation often operates in a group or team context, it can be further attuned to each individual with fruitful results in that individual’s performance.
Proposed solution #2
Charles Caltabiano has been a director and owner/operator of several companies and partnerships covering various industries over the past 14 years. His most successful company is Australian Skyreach Rentals, the largest privately owned specialist access company in Australia. His other businesses include electrical contracting, lighting and sound consulting, and commercial property development. His role at each of these businesses is as a director and leader. Charlie is a member of the design teams for several international equipment manufacturers. He was a finalist in AIM’s 1999 Queensland Manager of the Year Awards.
The behavioral problems in this case study seem to be largely due to the culture that has been allowed to develop in the higher management levels of the company.
Firstly, there seems to be a lack of clear goals and objectives for each individual and each department. The fact that no meetings are held between, or even within, departments has contributed to a breakdown of the company fabric. It is certainly not functioning as a united team with a common vision.
Experience shows that people generally prefer to have a well-organised, fun environment in which there are plenty of opportunities for progressive personal development and promotion, even in positions in which the pay is less and there are fewer perks to start with.
It would have been wiser to provide this type of working environment at B&M Manufacturing than to have spent valuable resources on laboratory equipment and higher initial wages.
One of Rogerson’s major failings has been not to initiate development meetings between the departments. Although, this is scarcely surprising given that, in his time with the company, he has not been given any previous management experience. Before being promoted into a management position, he should have been given the opportunity to develop people and process skills so that he would be able to cope with his role as a manager.
Scott also is clearly in need of some training in handling staff. His manner of conducting staff meetings seems to have created poor working relationships with the engineers and others.
Both Scott and Rogerson need to be pro-active and put themselves into other people’s shoes. This will enable them to discern what is required when people express some idea or need to them.
It is, after all, part of their job to see that clear objectives and goals are set in place for people to aim for.
However, as things are, each of the workers is keeping to himself in his own world with the result that none of them are able effectively to contribute to the work and progress of the department.
If this state of affairs persists for long enough, the business will deteriorate, the organisation will become uncompetitive and ultimately both Rogerson and Scott will lose their positions.
The competitive world of today requires that organisations be truly balanced in all areas of business. It is this balance that will drive them forward and allow continual improvement of the bottom line and place them ultimately near or at the top of their industries and help them stay there.