Beneath the Sound of Silence

I just read an article by Elizabeth Wolfe Morrison and Frances J. Milliken entitled “Sounds of Silence.”  It is an informative article about active-internal communication, questioning and conflict.  I think the topic is very straightforward and as you read it I think you will agree with it 100% unless you are the self-conscious boss who never listens to his employees.  Employees and bosses alike have tough times seeing the importance of asking questions beneficial to the company because of fear of backlash from the boss or as I just said the boss is self-conscious and he does not like his ways being “threatened.”  That silence in the workplace is very damaging and it is bound to fail.  Employees are often silenced or they feel threatened and they never question anything.  The silencing manager and the threatening company will eventually figure out things can run smoother and by that time it is too late.  Things run more efficiently when internal communication is allowed and encouraged from the bottom-up.

Having good internal communication is very good and productive in the right environment.  I think it is hard to implement it in an active organization.  As I read along I wondered what would happen it I told my employees, “We want and need your input.”  After some more thought, I realized we had talked about this in my class on a couple of occasions.  We talked about the comparison between the Japanese and American auto industry.  The Japanese companies are very efficient and they encourage all of their employees to give input to management.  It works very well because every suggestion is taken seriously and they implement a lot of them.  The Japanese employee’s and their customers’ suggestions are pivotal to their success.  To try and match the Japanese efficiency and productivity, the American companies tried to implement this and it failed miserably.  Most of the employee’s suggestions were kicked to the curb or they were stolen by supervisors and managers and given as their own.  The employees therefore quit giving suggestions and now the American auto industry is broken.  I think there was no way that would have been successful with their current management system and team.  The employees were almost forced to give their input and it was either stolen or shot down without appreciation.

I think that comparison is very effective when talking about this, but we still do not know how to implement it correctly.  Morrison and Milliken offer a great way to implement a trusting, don’t kill the messenger environment, fire the old untrustworthy manager and hire someone with a proven record of being open and trustworthy.  It is a lot easier creating an open and trusting environment from scratch rather than trying to implement it into an active system.  The old manager would have to change himself before he could ever think of changing the minds of the employees.  The damage the old manager has created is often too great to just change the old manager’s ways and start over with a smile and open arms.  It would not work, so you have to start over.  There are so many negative remnants of the old system that the employees will not believe it and it will be difficult to gain their trust and break the sound of silence, but good news, the new manager will come in and she will change everything.

ACT if you dare

I just read “Changing others through changing ourselves: The transformation of human systems” written by Robert E. Quinn, Gretchen M. Spreitzer and Matthew V. Brown in the Journal of Management Inquiry.  It was about the adaptive change theory (ACT)and it is all about changing yourself before ever thinking about changing anyone else.  The theory is based on putting yourself in jeopardy or making yourself vulnerable for the benefit of others, specifically in this case, your employees.  The theory was very interesting because of the way Quinn et al. explained it using Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Jesus, but when it was all said and done I did not like it.  After I finished it I had to refer to my Bret L. Simmons’ powerpoint presentation to figure out what I read.

I had a lot of mixed emotions as I read it.  I started to really get into it when Quinn started to describe the 10 principles of ACT and when I finished that section I was eager to read the application of it.  The application was a huge disappointment.  I thought it was ridiculous.  The only way these people practiced ACT was by accident, soul searching or a life-changing event.  They had no practical applications, at least in my opinion.

After reading this, I know ACT is a great theory and that is it, good luck with the rest. The real life implications are something I would never want endure or want my boss to endure.  The suicide example was mind-blowing.  It was about a manager whose former employee committed suicide after being laid off and the manager was a better man because of it.  Of course he was treated better at work because everyone felt bad for him.  If I was his boss, I would give him whatever he wanted, or if I worked for him I would do everything he said.  That was a horrible event and it would change anyone, at least anyone with a conscience.  He would have never changed it was not for that event.  He never wants that to happen again so he is going to be the best boss in the world.

The next thing that bothered me was how Quinn et al. referenced everything to how someone will be able to endure “the painful adjustments and put themselves in jeopardy (Pg. 149).”  He explained it by describing the non-violent efforts of Jesus, Ghandi and Martin Luther King Jr. and how they were able to influence people to change.  I thought it was a too extreme to compare a chief executive to those three who gave their lives for what they believed in.

Thinking about ACT in a critical business sense, I do not see ACT as a tool for creating effective followers, only sheep and yes people.  Quinn et al. says it clearly, “[ACT] implies a dependence that is of the nature of a growth-oriented identification with the leader (pg. 154).”  But then in the very next principle, Quinn et al. says the leader is at the same time pushing the follower to a breaking point and encouraging the follower to question and challenge.  Those are two extremes and it would be almost impossible to do both.  I do not see Erin’s mother pushing her daughter to the breaking point and making her dependent of her at the same time.  I especially do not see the suicide guy doing that or any of the other examples doing it either.

The only good thing about this article was the end of it when Quinn et al. discredited it.  It was written to evoke thought and that is what it did for me.

I think the idea of ACT is good, change yourself and inspire others to change with you.  After reading the article I did not see the transition, but after reading Simmons’ presentation I am more convinced.  Simmons’ wrote, ACT “requires a shift away from self-interested behavior to purposeful behavior.  [The] leader strives for inclusion, openness, and development and minimizes the need for hierarchy.”  The ACT leader is no longer a hypocrite and she wants win-win decision making through internal communication and questioning.  The leader has made the painful change and now she has to develop goals which ¨must be a vision for the common good if others are expected to make painful changes.”

Even though I did not like the article at all, I still think I learned something and I encourage you to read it and see what you think.  I have class tonight and I am looking forward to the discussion to see if anyone felt the same way I did.  No one ever does, at least if they do, they do not speak up, like me.

The Men’s Wearhouse

I have been watching commercials for The Men’s Wearhouse for years and when I grew up I thought that was the place to buy suits.  Geez, the founder and chairman George Zimmer guarantees it so they have to be the best.  I have since grown up and I own 12 suits and I did not buy any of them at The Men’s Wearhouse.  I have been there a handful of times and I have never bought anything.  I have rented 2 tuxedos for weddings and that is it.  For me, the suits are too expensive and ugly.  The service I had when I went there was nothing spectacular and it took a long time.  I really do not think I will ever go back unless I have to rent another tuxedo for a wedding, maybe I will just buy one instead it will be cheaper.

I read a Stanford Case Study entitled “The Men’s Wearhouse: Success in a Declining Industry” and I guess I am wrong, The Men’s Wearhouse is great and they have been doing great for years (the case was written in 1997, so up until 1997).  From 1991-1996 they have stolen customers from men’s retailers across the country.  They went from 113 stores in 1991 to 345 in 1996.  They went from $133.4 to $483.5 million in net sales.  I think those numbers are great, but what really caught my eye was their assets and their sales per square foot.  Assets went from $54.7 to $295.5 million and their sales per square foot went from $375 to $420.  The assets mean they have great foundation and they are strong, and the sale per square foot means they are learning and implementing productive sales techniques.  They train a lot more than I would ever expect and want.

They have training seminars entitled Suit High, Suit University, Suit blah blah blah…  They seem to be effective because of the sales per square foot shows it.  They train regionally and at their headquarters in Fremont, CA.  The training is long and intensive.  At first glance it sounds great.  It sounds like a time share sales event where you get free skiing and dinner, but they stuff you in an conference for 8 hours instead.  The Men’s Wearhouse says it is a great time because they will pay you to go to San Francisco and Pajoro Dunes for food, drinks and professional sports, but reality sets in and you have about 30 hours of training in 4 days.

The next thing I would like to talk about is the evaluations.  When they started to talk about the evaluations I immediately put it down, but then I looked at it and there are good things in it.  I like the employee sales section of the evaluation where they tell you how much the store sells and give you a value.  The good thing is that the employee knows where he stands and he can get help if he needs it.  The bad thing, for the employee, is they are ranked and they now have documentation of poor performance and you can get fired.

The last thing I would like to talk about is the servant leader.  George Zimmer says that is one of their greatest qualities and why they are so successful.  George Zimmer puts his employees first, customers second, suppliers third and shareholders last.  At The Men’s Wearhouse, the servant leader is there to support and mentor the employee.  The only difference between the two is pay and title.  If the employee has a problem they ask and they get help.  I believe they truly help each other out and if you do not help or if you steal customers from another employee, they will fire you.  The other good thing is the regional and district managers always stop by to help.  The employees are not scared of them because their goal is not to criticize or punish.

You know what?  One more thing.  When the author described the hierarchy I thought it was bullshit.  He says employees were first, but I don’t believe it.  I think the shareholder is #1.  The way it was described I did not buy it.  Johnson & Johnson believed their customers were first and acted accordingly and they told the shareholders if the customers are happy you will get yours.  The Men’s Wearhouse says they will get theirs because the employees treat the customers great and they buy from the suppliers at a discount.  The other thing is George Zimmer is paying himself less to make the shareholders happy.  The Men’s Wearhouse in conclusion is a great retailer to shop at and work for, but I am sorry I will probably never go there again.

Treading the Wrongway

Company morale and authority can be very tough to master in a manufacturing plant.  Things are ran with an iron fist and it leads to high turnover, negative morale, resentment and backstabbing.  That is what happened in the Harvard Case Study, “The Treadway Tire Company, Job Dissatisfaction and High Turnover Rate at the Lima Tire Plant,” written by Wickham Skinner and Heather Beckham.  The study was about the negative working conditions for the line foremen at Treadway Tires in Lima, Ohio.  According to the text, they were “stuck between a rock and hard place,” and were pulled in conflicting directions by the hourly employees and management.  The foremen did not get any respect from their superiors or their front line employees.  The foremen demanded more respect, authority, communication from above and training.

The foremen were most often promoted from within, some were transferred from another plant and only a few were outside hires (college graduates).  The foremen are either expected to know what was going on or they were supposed to figure it out, so they were never given any formal training.  The foremen’s everyday duties involved meeting production goals, writing reports on productivity (expected vs. actual), fix equipment, maintain strict health and safety standards, investigating any violations, scheduling, approving vacation requests, checking time sheets, and solving payroll issues.  Reaching the daily production goals is number one and if you can do that without team mutiny, you are doing a good job.  At the end of the day the foremen have to write the production report and the supervisors post it for everyone to see and judge.  If they do not reach their goals, they are yelled at by their general supervisors and division managers and laughed at by the other teams.

The main objective of the case study was showing the director of HR’s, Ashley Wall, struggle to figure out a way to lower the turnover rate through the winter break.  Wall wants a month long training program for new foremen.  The training would teach them how to deal with HR, union, payroll, production, leadership techniques (no more yelling and barking orders), problem solving and opening up the communication network with the supervisors and managers.

The bottom line is, the foremen job at Lima is horrible.  You get treated like dirt from every direction.  I looked at the employee surveys and the exit surveys and you can see how dissatisfied everyone is.  The foremen get it from above, so they give it to the hourlies.  No body is listening to each other.   The next thing is the performance evaluations.  The evaluations for the foremen are centered on production and employee relations (basically did they employees revolt or not).  The hourly employee evaluations are yearly and the foremen gives them to the employee and they both have to sign off on it.  The evaluations do not give an accurate rating of performance.  The foreman does not have the authority to give a negative review so they give meets standards across the board.

As for the Plant Manager, Bellingham, he does not care about turnover or morale.  His employees are his tools, and he does not care if they get dull.  He does not want to train his foremen because of budget cuts.  This makes Wall’s job even harder, she is going to have to figure out a training program without wasted time.  I am guessing the training will have to be a mentorship because they do not want to “waste” any time.  The next thing Wall has to fix is the communication. She has to get the area managers and general supervisors to be good references for the foremen.  The foremen have to feel comfortable talking to his superiors.  The next thing is the supervisors and area managers should start giving positive criticism and stop putting down the foremen.  The first thing they can do is stop posting the daily results.  They can even make it a positive, by posting the best producer of the week, the safest team, and the team with the least amount of Union complaints.  The teams that make the board the most get a pizza party, yay!

The Layoff

I just read an HBR case study entitled “The Layoff” written by Bronwyn Fryer with help from Stybel, Peabody, Dormann, and Sutton.  The subtitle says, “If Astrigo Holdings is to remain competitive, 10% of it workforce must be cut.  Who goes and who stays?”  The case study starts off with a brief history of the Astrigo Holdings and their emphasis on customer service, customer loyalty and their employees.  But the main part of the study is the layoff and the problems that come with it.  The layoffs are inevitable it is just “who goes and who stays.”

Is it going to be a forced early retirement to the most loyal of the employees, performance-based layoff to get rid of the bottom 10%, or is it going to be the brand new, up and coming, highly-recruited new employees?  The early retirement package is going to be expensive, the “rank-and-yank” causes a lot of competition, politics and requires a lot of work, and the last in, first out is seniority based and is the easiest to do.

This is a new study, so most of us know all too well the financial problems we are facing right now.  At this time there are layoffs happening all over the U.S. as well as the world.  The morale at some companies is low because there are a lot of businesses that are hurting and they are forced to either cut jobs or shut down just to stay afloat.  They explain this when Julie Cox, an internal PR representative, came into Sushil Bhatia’s office, the VP of marketing and strategy, and asked him about the layoffs.  Her husband was just laid off and their employee’s morale has been extremely low.  She ultimately thought her job was safe, but what bothered her even more was the fact that she was going to be one of the people laying off the 10%.  She knows how it feels to lose a job and she is going to have a hard time doing it to others and dealing with it herself.

In my personal opinion and experience I think the best way to do it is the “rank-and-yank” option.  My boss just laid off over 30 people and he used their evaluations and their attendance to come up with his list.  The hard part about “rank-and-yank” is finding the documentation of the poor performers. Regardless of age or experience if Astrigo has the documentation they can lay them off without the fear of a lawsuit.  The other thing is that they were going to lay off the middle management, so most of the top managers should already have an idea about who goes and stays.

I would like to say to anyone reading this I feel really bad about what had to happen at Astrigo Holdings.  This is an assignment for a class, so I am sorry if I offended anyone.  I know what it feels like to lose friends at work because of cutbacks.

Dowdy’s Legions

I just read a WSJ article entitled “How a Marine Lost His Command In Race to Baghdad” written by Christopher Cooper.  It is about a Marine Corps Col. Joe D. Dowdy and how he was relieved of his command during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Col. Dowdy was loved by all of his men, “from the grunts on up.”  Col. Dowdy was given a 6,000-man First Regiment in Iraq and he was supposed to divert Iraqi attention away from Baghdad so the other regiment could sneak in behind them unannounced.  The orders were tougher than they expected.  Gen. Mattis was in command of the entire invasion and he wanted it done quickly and loudly.  On his way to Baghdad, Col. Dowdy had to go through Iraqi cities that were heavily armed with Iraqi troops.  Col. Dowdy always thought of the safety of his men, so he wanted to make precise decisions so he would not lose too many men.  Gen. Mattis did not care though.  He ordered Col. Dowdy to advance immediately, so on the hood of a Humvee they planned an attack in an hour and followed through with it to the best of their ability.  The mission was a success, but Gen. Mattis and his top aide Gen. Kelly did not think so.  They had Col. Dowdy relieved of his command and that eventually ended his career in the Marine Corps.

The end result was a successful mission.  Col. Dowdy did the best he could with the information and resources he had.  I really do not think anyone could have done any better than he did.  There were a lot of failures in communications from the General’s.  Both Gen. Mattis and Kelly did not specify clearly what they wanted and they did not check with each other when making a decision, so a lot of the time Col. Dowdy had to improvise and do what was best for his troops.  Gen. Mattis is a well respected and educated and it may not have been his fault either.  I think the entire system failed communicating and Col. Dowdy lost his job for it.

What I really enjoyed about this article was the loyalty Col. Dowdy’s men had.  It reminded me of Roman times when soldiers were more loyal to a general or noblemen than they were to the Roman Empire.  Col. Dowdy’s men were talking about mutiny and fleeing with Col. Dowdy.  Gunnery Sgt. Kane said, “If Col. Dowdy said, ‘Get your gear, you’re coming with me,’ I would’ve gone, even if it meant the end of my career.”  In the Marine’s eyes, Col. Dowdy was their formal leader and Gen. Mattis was their informal leader.  Col. Dowdy’s men would have followed him to the end of the world if he asked.

True Friends, Withers and Peewee

I just read an article that was truly one of the best things I have ever read.  It was a WSJ article entitled, “For Lt. Withers, Act of Mercy Has Unexpected Sequel” written by Bryan Gruley.  I read this for my Organizational Behavior class so when I started to read it I quickly found it was about WWII.  We are learning about leadership, so I immediately thought it was about Major Richard Winters from the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers,” not Withers, you could see my confusion.  I love “Band of Brothers” so I was excited to read it.  As I continued to read it I found out it was not what I thought it was, but it was just as good.

It was about Lt. John Withers, a well-educated black man from North Carolina, and his segregated unit of black soldiers.  Before the war, Lt. Withers got an undergraduate and masters degree and he was struggling to get his Ph.D. because he could not afford to go back.  WWII started and he joined the Army.  Near the end of the war the Army started to offer the GI Bill to the soldiers and Lt. Withers was very excited.  At that time the Army was segregated so he needed “to keep his record clean.”  The next thing that happened ended up changing his whole life.

Lt. Withers was introduced to two former Jewish-Refugee teenagers from Dachau prison, Peewee and Salomon (their American Nicknames).  The men in Lt. Withers’ unit took the boys in and gave them jobs in return for food, shelter, and friendship.  This was a bad scenario for Lt. Withers because “sheltering Dachau refugees might get him a dishonorable discharge – and then there would be no GI Bill for him.”  He ultimately decided to “keep them.”  This was something that his troops really wanted and he said he did want to be “on the wrong side of the decision.”

Lt. Withers’ decision was one of the most unselfish acts of true leadership and kindness I have ever heard.  Lt. Withers ended up raising Peewee and Salomon back to health and they went their separate ways not to talk again for almost 60 years.  This story has truly a happy ending Lt. Withers and Peewee were finally reacquainted after 60 years.  They both followed their dreams and became truly successful they were great husbands, parents and grandparents.