Case Study – Coping with the New Manager

Cindy Smith is a supervisory training facilitator at the Barry Automotive Albion plant. The plant makes composite plastic components for the automotive industry. Plastic components are more durable and resisted dents and scratches better than components made of steel. The non unionized facility employs about 450 personnel. Eight years ago, Smith began as a second-shift entry-level worker in the modeling section. After a series of advancement, she was promoted to production supervisor and then to training facilitator, and she had been performing this function for about sixteen months. New employees were assigned to Smith’s section for orientation and training, usually lasting a week or more. Depending on the company’s needs, employees then were reassigned to a specific production department. In recent months, however, the high turnover rate-25 percent of new hires quit within six weeks of hire-coupled with requirements to produce a variety of high-quality products for individual customer specifications have led to a deterioration of morale.

Traditionally, the average car buyer waited 26 to 35 days from the time a custom order was placed at a dealership until the customer could drive the vehicle off the lot. However, during the past decade, some manufacturers had cut the time to build a car- from the moment the customer places an order at the dealership to the vehicle rolls off the assembly line-to five days. Not more than five days for travel was allotted from the plant to the dealership. Reducing the time to build a car to customer specifications, including color, engine type, and other options, had been an ongoing effort. As a supplier to the automotive industry, additional quality and production pressures were placed on the plant management team.

About one year earlier, Operations Manager George Patterson was replaced by Don May. Even though the plant often had missed delivery deadlines and labor costs as a percentage of product costs were escalating, Patterson had been content with the status of the plant . Patterson had the reputation of expecting department managers to correct problems after they occurred, and crisis management’ was the prevalent style. Don May, a former military officer, was expected to turn the place around. Under May’s direction, the culture of the plant seemed to change overnight. May immediately announced to all supervisors that he was not willing to accept the high rate of product rejects. May practiced management by wandering around (MBWA), and he met and talked with supervisors, group leaders, and facilitators one on one. Further, he met with small group of employees and listened to their concerns. Initially, May was positively received, but the situation soon deteriorated.

Shortly after assuming the position of operating manager, Don May informed all managers and supervisors that they were being placed on a salary-and-bonus system. He told them that their hard work was appreciated and would be rewarded. Yet, because of costly rework production delays and overtime for hourly employees, the bonus systems did not yield any tangible benefits. Among the supervisory complaints: You told us the new system would result in greater compensation, and it hasn’t. We’re making less than before. We’d be better off financially of we were hourly production workers!

Most supervisors now were working six days a week, ten to twelve hours a day. Employees and machinery were being stretched to the limit. Several supervisors had quit during the past month, and some took less-demanding plant jobs. Surviving supervisors often worked “double duty” in overseeing several production departments. On any given day, ten to twenty percent of employee production positions could be vacant. Cindy Smith and her only remaining employee (five were assigned to fill in for vacant supervisory positions and one was placed in the quality department) were directed by Don May to cut the normal one-week training time to a half day. The most recent customer quality audit was a disaster. There were rumors that some work would be transferred to other Barry plants or even to competitors.

To Cindy Smith, it was like someone had flipped a switch. Any supervisor who spoke out and didn’t agree with Don May fell from grace, and May put pressure on all who questioned what he was doing. Most supervisors were afraid to speak up. To Smith, supervisors appeared to be mindless robots going through the motion.Smith’s crowing blow came at a choir rehearsal in her church Wednesday night. Amy Richardson, a fellow choir member and a front-office secretary to Don May, told Smith, Mr. May told me that when he was meeting with and interviewing our supervisors he was actually getting the scoop on everyone. He took names and tucked them away. I even heard him tell Bill Arnold, Barry’s president, that he’d get rid of all malcontents. Cindy Smith felt betrayed.

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSIONS

  1. How would you evaluate Cindy Smith’s situation in terms of job satisfaction?
  2. Compare and contrast the management styles of George Patterson and Don May.
  3. What should Cindy Smith do? Why?
  4. Have you ever experienced a situation like the one described in this case? If so, how did you handle those problems?
  5. Using the Internet, find at least two sources that provide examples of how employees view managers who use their authority to an extreme.
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