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A Manufacturing Crisis Bayrischer Silicon Products

 A Manufacturing Crisis Bayrischer Silicon Products

 

Barry Kravich recognized the voice on the phone as Irene Lorraine, a human resources (HR) manager he had met in California.  “I am working in Germany now,” Irene said, “but let me just get to the point.  Were facing a situation that happened suddenly, and I thought of you was someone who might be able to help.”

Irene had just been a participant in Barry’s consulting skills workshop, and she had been using the skills for over a year in her new HR manager role.  She had an energetic and positive style, seemingly unafraid of any challenge, so when she was asking for help, Barry was honored to get the call.

“Karl, our plant manager, asked me to facilitate strategic planning for our plant’s management team and an off-site retreat,” Irene said.  “But I feel that there is more to this than just an analytical planning session.  The plant just fell into a major crisis.  If you are willing, I’d like you to have a talk with Karl.”  Irene briefly describe the technical problem as she understood it, but she preferred to have the manager explain.

Initial Agreements Between Client and Consultants

Karl Arnstadt, the plant manager, contacted Barry, asking about his expertise with strategic planning.  Karl saw a need for his management team to be thinking strategically.

When Barry asked Karl to describe the situation that led him to want strategic planning, Karl described a sudden, major “scrap situation” in which the machines that produce computer memory modules had “plopped” more than €1 million worth of useless modules within a few minutes of this is that you remodel your Accessible in the

Confused, and a bit shocked at Karl’s reasoning, Barry asked, “Why would you want strategic planning when you have a major problem that you need to solve immediately?”

“This is the only time we may ever be open to real strategic thinking.”  Karl described several times when they had tried to be creative and strategic, yet always, in his opinion, they had come to similar “in-the-box” answers about the route that the plant would take into the future.

Irene and Barry agreed to facilitate the retreat Karl had requested on the condition that the management team would quickly test whatever plans they created.  Barry insisted, “If you are willing to look at your early results very soon, and you are committed to change the plans quickly if a new need is seen, this session may allow you to begin building out-off-the-box alternatives.”

The consultants propose that a second retreat occurs several weeks after the initial one.  In this “revisit,” all parties would learn soon what seems to work and then hone or adjust the plans in response to the real-time data, which the early actions would reveal.  A third “Follow-Up Date” would be scheduled several months later.

Karl reacted positively to the idea of revisiting and revising.  “You’re right, we don’t solve all this in one meeting, and there is much more we need to take on after this.”  Yet, Karl pushed the quickness of the early tests even quicker; because of Barry’s travel from the United States to Germany to facilitate; all agreed that it was more practical to hold the first two sessions within days of each other rather than several weeks apart.

Barry got off the phone and immediately booked a flight to Germany.

The venue chosen was a large cabin in a hilly, woodsy resort, not fancy or heavily equipped electronically.  Although the site was within 15 km (10 miles) from the plant, the rustic atmosphere was very far from the manufacturing buzz of the plant.

The First Management Meeting

On the first day of the retreat, Irene and Barry presented a wide variety of strategic variables, seeking management team consensus on topics such as markets, trends in computer memory technology, engineering expertise, and the role of the plant within the company.  Within each variable, the consultants asked the managers to review what they believed was going on and what was most important to improve, for both the immediate crisis in for the long-term development of the plant

The management group quickly and strongly reached a consensus that made the external consultant uncomfortable.  The group dismissed many strategic variables including market and technology trends, yet they had very strong interest in a single issue; chronically poor communication between the management and the supervisory level who reported to the manager.  One of the managers, Dierdre Reddig, spoke what the others clearly felt; “With our current level of trust, nothing else we solve will ever get implemented effectively.  Many supervisors who report to us do not believe we care about them.”

Barry was uncomfortable with the sense that this “communication” diagnosis was too “soft” for the nature of the technical issues that had to be addressed to get the machines not only repaired, but also constantly upgraded.  “Irene and I have been raising the kinds of issues that are normally important in strategic planning, yet one issue is dominating your attention.  You know your plant better than I do so I have to ask you to consider this carefully; is the communication with the supervisors so important that you want to stake your future on it as well as your recovery from this crisis?”

The group was quiet.  The leader did not speak.  After several uncomfortable minutes ticked by, one of the newer managers spoke up.  “I believe that if we do not deal with the supervisors, we will be unable to solve the problems.  I frankly do not understand how the machines work well enough to know how to fix them.  My supervisors who report to me are the ones who know.  I am not happy about this, but it’s true.” 

A senior manager spoke.  “Gustav is right.  I also should better understand our processes, but I do not.”

After several other managers added similar thoughts, Karl clinched the choice to make communication the main strategic priority.  “We have been in our ivory towers, and now we were feeling the pain of that.  We need the supervisors, and that is what we need to fix – as management, we cannot fix the technical problems that brought us here today.”

[Reflection Stop 1:  Imagine you’re Barry right now.  What are you thinking and feeling in the consulting role?  What would you do here?  Please take a minute to reflect before you continue]

Supervisors Here That “Management wants input”

Before noon on that first day of the management meeting, someone must’ve “leaked” what was going on.  Supervisors back at the plant had learned that the management team was interested in their “input”.  The supervisors responded, unsolicited, within two hours, delivering by phone just before 2 PM a list of 14 issues they had with management.

Several managers’ anger flared at the audacity, yet while still behind the closed doors of the retreat, other managers in the group, them down.  “Let’s listen to the supervisors for once and show enough respect to seriously consider what they propose.”

Issues from supervisors presented by phone to management meeting:

1. Some manager show low respect for supervisors in front of employees

2. Problems with vending machines in the lunch room get lost in management priorities.

3. Some managers frequently miss meeting scheduled for supervisors.

4. Software projects get signed off by managers who do not know the requirements.

5. Managers meet, and then tell the supervisors their conclusions.  Supervisors’ knowledge is missed.

6. Supervisors are not included in weekly plant reviews.  They cannot learn or add to their knowledge.

7. Pay differentials between shifts are handled poorly.

8. Managers order projects on short notice that require complex shift changes.

9. Some managers talk behind the backs of others, hurting employee morale.

10. Managers who do not know the current production embarrass specialist (and themselves) with customers.

11. Customers call the floor directly and make demands and managers do not intervene.

12. We need new windows.  They still leak!

13. The managers need to learn all employee names, in their own area at least.

14. No one has followed through on the noise levels in Area 5.

By the end of the first day, the managers accepted several supervisory proposals, and a meeting was arranged for the following day with all 80 supervisors to discuss further changes.

Large Meetings With Supervisors From All Shifts

Actually, two meetings were held to accommodate all three shifts of supervisors in this 24/7 operation.

The majority of supervisors, approximately 60, could attend the 2 PM meeting in the last hour of the day shift, and our prior to beginning of the evening shift.  The other meeting was scheduled at 10 PM, so evening shift supervisors could attend at the end of their shift, and night shifts supervisors could come in before their shift began.

[Reflection Stop 2:   If you were Barry, what are you thinking and feeling?  What would you do now?  Please take a minute to reflect before you continue]

Meetings With Supervisors, Plans For Change

Most supervisors did attend the all-supervisor meetings.  A skeleton crew of supervisors remained on the manufacturing lines, and several supervisors did not attend for undetermined reasons.

Each meeting was co-led by one senior manager and the “junior” manager who had been chosen by the management team for having trusted relationships with supervisors.  Irene and Barry attended, but did not facilitate; the choice was made that the regular managers would have more credibility by facing the angry supervisors rather than by passing that task to professional facilitators.  The manager started each meeting with a five-minute introduction of the “bad news” that the management had assessed in the previous day of the retreat.  They further present that the management conclusion that “supervisors are critical in the plant leadership,” and added that the management group felt, “We have been ineffective in two-way communication with supervisors.”  The two managers presented the purpose of the emergency meeting as “an exchange of what we all know, and a commitment to do what we must do next.”

Indeed, the tone of the supervisors was skeptical.  Barry could see eyes rolling and looks of hardened disinterest among some of the supervisors.  One supervisor openly asked, “Why should we believe that this will be any different than previous meetings with us?”  The senior manager replied, “There is no reason to believe this will be different.  Only time will tell whether we are sincere.  You must be the judge of that.”

The managers did not at first present the 14 demands that had come the previous day, instead letting the issues arise from the large group.  As each issue was raised, one manager wrote it on a flip chart.  These were prioritized by the whole group later in the meeting.

As facilitator, one manager did ask about an item from the 14 demands that no one brought it up: “Some suggested earlier that we include an appointed supervisor in the weekly plant status reviews.  Does anyone here believe this is worth trying?”  Several supervisors agreed to the suggestion, MS. Reddig adding, “That poor supervisor should not have to face all of you managers alone.  Two supervisors should come.”  By the following week, two supervisors began attending weekly reviews.

After the first large meeting, Irene heard grumbling among supervisors that the manager had misinterpreted some of the issues raised by supervisors.  She asked the complaining supervisors why they did not speak up at the meeting; several of them went to the top manager who had facilitated and told him about the complaints.  He pulled out the flip charts and corrected the misstatements as they watched.

Several times in the meeting, a supervisor shouted, “That’s not what we meant!”  To correct the managers notes.  The managers learned to write more accurately, or to ask, “Does this capture what you meant?”

The meeting each lasted about 90 minutes, longer than the one hour planed for each.  Supervisors gladly continue to assert additional issues, and time became tight when the managers push to have the group nominated and vote on the most pressing issues.  When priorities were determined this way, the managers then sought volunteers to take the lead on each issue.  Whispering again in the room about the extra time this was taking from supervisors who had to get home or begin with their shift.

Plant issues and plans – top 10 priorities – supervisory meeting

Issue Plan Leaders

We communication between 2nd/3rd shifts. Begin daily log, so next shift can read it. JS, TS

Software code testing often misses key problems. Whoever writes code must not be the tester! RT, JP

The cooling apparatus has broken down at least once a year Replace the entire mechanism with a new generation GR, KL, JP

Some managers never listen to supervisors. Survey supervisors.  Use employee survey format JS, MP

Management offices are “hidden” – it’s not neutral turf. Move management offices to cubicles in center of plant MN, TG

Repeated schedule changes affect employee families Create centralized database for schedules TS, JS

Suppliers of chemicals often slow in delivery Track order/delivery times; give feedback FR, DR

Lunchroom vending machines offer no healthy choices Negotiate with vender FR, KL

Engineering creates delays in upgrades Form teams of engineers/techs DF, KL

Resentment for managers parking spots Special slots for everyone in a meeting JS, RF

 

The Visible Change

One proposal that emerged in the large meetings was stated with some humor. Jon Reinhart suggested a major change in the layout of the management offices, which were located in the secluded corners of the building, a several minute walk from the main floor.  Supervisors who proposed the change said that many employees and supervisors were intimidated to enter the “ivory tower” of management offices.  This brought quiet smiles to the faces of many supervisors.  The managers did not smile.

The proposal advocated in “open-plan,” with management offices and cubicles at the center of the plant.  The point was open communications, so supervisors could discuss needs immediately on “neutral turf.”

Approximately 25 ideas were approved from the supervisory meetings.  The change in the office arrangement was the largest-budget item approved by the top managers.  Managers Marna Newmann and Thomas Grande volunteered to lead the project, which they took directly to Karl Arnstadt for his budget-approval signature.  The management offices were changed to the newly proposed cubicle layout within a month.

Consultant Closing – After The Action Planning, Before The Implementation

When the two meetings were completed, Irene and Barry met with Karl for summary meeting.  “Tell us how it went,” Barry stated.

“Much better than I expected,” Karl replied.  “Thank you for helping us get moving on an issue we have needed to address for years.”

“You are not done yet, are you?”  Barry asked.  Vote I want to stay in touch with you and Irene, to find out what works and what does not work.  I want to keep up phone calls with you, and also with a few of your managers and supervisors, to see where they succeeded and failed.  Does that work for you?”

Karlin very partnered on a positive note.  Barry and Irene took a couple of hours to debrief what they eat Saul, giving feedback to each other about the specific actions each took through this period.

Barry felt that Irene had been instrumental, not only in briefing him on the culture and the personalities, but in her quick, “friendly-but-deadly” confrontations of managers and supervisors.  His main suggestion for Irene was, “Take advantage of the positive influence you have achieved.  If you ever get tired or discouraged, call me to give you a boost!”

Irene felt that Barry’s flexibility enable the managers to pursue what they believed was required, rather than doggedly pursuing his initial menu of strategic planning issues.  “They are used to taking orders, but you let them give the orders, which led to a very different scenario than had ever happened here before.”  Irene suggested that Barry consider looking at his style when among Germans: “You could gain more respect by showing you can take a hard stand.  Then, you do not have to continue taking a stand!”

In their final moments of this trip, Barry said to Irene, “Thank you for pulling me into this.  Of course, it has just begun.  They have quite a few action plans to implement – as plan, or not!

“I wish I could be here to see these actions take place, but you will be here, Irene.  I want to stay in touch about how you are influencing these interventions as they unfold – so I hear the early results.  The real data, about what can work and what cannot work around here, will be emerging in the few next week’s.”

Irene commented to Barry that she would be “constantly pushing” the managers to implement what they had planned and I plan to keep them acting with their eyes open!”

Life in the plant for the next few weeks was very differently than it had in the past.  Life in the plant also did not go on exactly as planned in the meetings.  Interventions rarely occurs as planned

 

Case analysis questions:           

1. The client manager, Karl, had requested strategic planning, yet when Barry ask why that would serve the “scrap situation,” Karl gave an unusual answer: “It’s the only time we may ever be open to real strategic thinking.”  At this point, what preliminary diagnosis do you see occurring, and what further diagnostic processes might lead to the most effective actions?

 

2. This is a question of when the real diagnosis and intervention occurs: when Barry facilitated the first strategic planning meeting of the managers, was that an intervention, or was it merely preparation for a diagnostic meeting that would occur with the supervisor?  What data do you see in his first management meeting that suggested immediately scheduling the two supervisory meetings? 

 

3. When the client and consultant together clarify the diagnosis and connect the action plans to it (“What’s really going on now, and how will our plans make that better?”), this builds relationships that allow continued questioning after implementation.  What next steps do you suggest for Barry as he sets the stage for the follow-up meetings three months from now?

 

 

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