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!

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