Archive for November, 2009

The Treadway Tire Foreman (And Other) Problems

Treadway Tire has a really big problem, it can’t seem to keep its foreman.  In fact, in 2007 they had almost a 50% turnover of the foreman on staff.

While I know it is easy to Monday morning quarterback and look at the Treadway Tire case from a 500 foot view (when the plant manager is just at ground level), but it seems to me that it should have been clear what the main problems and solutions were with respect to the foreman turnover.  

 Main Problems at Treadway Tires:

The foreman have:

  • Too many responsibilities overall
  • Relatively no training—for new or existing foremen
  • No authority, but a lot of responsibility—because the company is a union shop, the foreman really has very little control over his/her staff and his/her disciplinary decisions are overridden by disciplinary groups
  • Daily production evaluations—some of the variations in the production quantity/quality, specifically as it relates to machines breaking down, were not in the foreman’s control
  • No real career path—only one foreman was promoted to general supervisor in 2007. 

The company has:

  • A non-productive work schedule (12 hours)—with just 2 short breaks and a half hour for a meal, it  seems like a miracle that any of the tires produced at the end of the shift make it through quality control.  I am really hoping that I don’t have Treadway tires on my car that were made at the end of a shift!
  • An “us” versus “them” relationship distance between foremen and the general and area supervisor
  • Conflicting staff management expectations—be your staff’s friend, but rule with an iron fist
  • A relatively high number of external people (college graduates) hired as foremen—these individuals have the highest turnover (75%)

 Some additional interesting information about the case:

  • In the example exit interview, the person rated pay and benefits as “excellent”, but person left anyway.  So it is clear that Treadway is not going to be able to throw money at this problem and have it go away
  • Bellingham put the training on hold due to mandatory budget cuts in 2007.  Now I am sure that if they could get the turnover problem fixed, they would be running at a budget surplus
  • Employees are most dissatisfied with the statement “I feel prepared to accomplish duties of my job”—why isn’t that scaring the crap out of management?  Seventy-five percent of employees said they don’t feel like they are prepared to accomplish the duties of their job.

 So now that I have shown everything that I believe to be wrong—I would recommend the following fixes for Treadway Tire:

  • Hold general supervisors and area supervisors accountable for foreman turnover
  • Switch to bi-weekly production reports—by lengthen the time between evaluations, foreman would be able to “catch up” when machines break down for long periods of time and when hourly workers call out sick as a measure of retribution
  • Focus on enacting the mentoring program—this will likely lessen the “us” versus “them” mentality and keep the more senior staff aware of the real problems happening on the floor
  • Review and enact a revised working schedule—while this recommendation might not be possible given that this is a union shop, it seems to me that this could work
  • Put together an employee advisory board—this group would be made up on both salaried and hourly employees and would evaluate and help develop employee improvement suggestions

Level 5 Leadership

If we completely dismiss the article that debunks the accuracy of the Level 5 research, I would say there is a lot to be learned through the Level 5 Leadership.

Maybe it’s because I have Level 4 and level 5 Leadership tendencies, I think that even if Jim Collin’s research was not statistically sound, it extols the qualities that I believe are important to being an effective/great leader.  All this said, I don’t believe that these leadership qualities alone that are driving the results of the 11 companies included in the study—meaning driving the companies from being good to great.

So what difference does level 5 make?  To me, it’s all about humility.  I think that professional will is sort of  ho hum as it is to be expected at someone who makes a real and measurable difference in an organization.  I would suggest that strong professional will is found in more than one of the five levels.  So, the biggest difference to me is humility.   At level 5, it’s not just humility about your own accomplishments, but that type of humility is there.  It’s also the humility found when you ascribe the successes to the group. 

Another thing I like about Level 5 leaders is that they subscribe some portion of their success to luck.  This is another thing that I agree does make or break a great leader.  While people will say you make your own luck (thanks to Kierkegaard and existentialists everywhere), I do believe that achieving greatness rather than just goodness is highly dependent upon being at the right place at the right time and having the right people and circumstances before and after you.

One thing I truly disagree with in this article is that it seems to suggest that you have to an introverted personality in order to achieve Level 5 status.  I have to disagree with that.  I believe that it is possible to be humble, have great professional will and be an extrovert.   I also believe that being a Level 5 leader has more to do with personality than attitude.  So I would argue that either you are born with it or you aren’t.

Layoff—the Final Frontier, or At Least It Should Be

I think that many leaders today are too quick to run to the layoff solution rather than systematically looking at the business and search for a holistic solution to their financial problems.

The Layoff HBS story is interesting in that at least the CEO of the company was informed enough to involve his whole senior staff in the decision on how to handle the layoffs at his company.  Under normal circumstances, I would agree that the company does need to downsize to help right the ship.  But in this case, there seem to be other options that the CEO hadn’t even considered.  The CEO could use some of the cash he has squirreled away for his rainy day fund (aka, the company acquisition fund)—because clearly this is a rainy day.  He could also enact an across the board 5% pay cut for regular employees and a higher percentage for those making more than $100,000 per year.  

Even if he isn’t a servant leader, it only makes sense for him to work out a solution that impacts him more than it does his employees.  Why would you want to work for a company, if the person who makes the decisions isn’t financially impacted by the decisions he makes?  I wouldn’t.

And, the potential of using performance appraisals to do the laying off…what a crock!  The HR person even said that their appraisals had some bias.  Rank and yank?  What an awful way to go.  And, last in first out as a means for layoffs?  What are their employees, widgets coming off the production line?  I would argue that the most recent hires are probably the ones that are going to have the new skill set necessary to get the company through the hard times it now faces.

So, what would I do if I was in charge?  I would take the following combined approach:

1)      review the business, is the strategy still on track?  Can I squeeze some dollars out of strategy changes

2)      lose some of the cash—I see no better investment you can make than to invest in your employees.  This company is sitting on a boat load of cash, why not offset some of the salary expense by reducing the company’s cash position just a bit.

3)      make it hurt the little guys the least—allow those in charge (senior management) to take a bigger hit than the rank and file employees

4)      encourage early retirement and lose some of the dead weight, not necessarily in that order

As a final component of this process, I would communicate the choices available and the reasons why the method to increasing the financial position of the company was made to employees.  They should know that the company has invested in them.  This should improve morale immeasurably.

New Wine, Old Bottle

Wine, now this is an article I can really get behind!  Okay, as I read the article, I realized this article isn’t about wine at all.  But, I really like the concept of servant leaders.  Maybe it’s because it is Sunday, but I know and worship a servant leader and I certainly would like to emulate him.  

So what is a servant leader you may ask?  A servant leader is someone who:

1)      builds a horizontal rather than a vertical relationship with staff

2)      re and clearly defines expectations—clearly identifies upfront what is expected and consistently coaches his/her direct reports throughout the year…not just another annual process

3)      transfer the power from the manager to the employee—the manager transforms into the coach

Changing to a servant leadership role means a paradigm shift for most leaders.  No longer can we rely on the “go-fer” delegation.  We must focus on empowerment delegation.  Allow our people to own the jobs they are doing and not micro-manage them to death.  

I believe the servant leadership is something that all organizations should strive for.  The only problem you have with that ideal is if you don’t have a staff with an internal locus of control.  Servant leadership requires that people not only take initiate, but they also take responsibility.  Until you can achieve this type of staff, you won’t have the complete harmony that a servant leadership culture can provide.

Good Leadership = Last, Not First

Corporate fraud and greed seems to be running rampant these days.  The sad part is that much like the typical corporate structure, this seems to be a top down problem.   While the papers today are more likely to be filled with companies have bankruptcy and other solvency problems rather than corporate figures going on trial for corporate fraud (ie., Enron, Adelphia, World Com), corporate fraud and greed are just as alive today as they were in the early 2000s.

I agree with author of Good Leadership Requires Executive to Put Themselves Last…good and great leaders truly do put their needs below that of the business.  They need to do what’s right just because it is the right thing to do (and nothing more). This good/great leadership, whether it is the CEO, President or Board Member, needs to be present and visible to ensure that the owners of the company (shareholders), employees and other stakeholders are protected.  

I applaud Mr. Leven’s courage to jettison a very lucrative job on principle (mostly).  I just wish that Mr. Leven had been more of a whistle-blower.  Luckily, the bad guys, the owners of Days Inn, did get their comeuppance, but it could have turned out where the owners defrauded many more companies and individuals before they were caught.  Thus, many more innocents were probably violated because Mr. Leven chose not to alert the authorities to the fraud he believed was taking place.

Colonel Dowdy…Lose a Command, Gain a Show

The military has something called chain of command.  And, in its simplest terms, it means that those with higher rank provide the orders to their subordinates; and those orders are followed.  There is no room for discussion or argument.  A chain of command is critically important for the military, particularly when in battle.  It makes sure that decisions are not made by subordinates, who supposedly have less experience in battle.

As I see it, there were three things that caused Colonel Dowdy to loose his command:

1)      General Mattis’ ego and need to stick with the plan—even when it was clear early on that speed to Bagdad was not necessary.

2)      A failure to follow the chain of command—even though he was getting conflicting instructions—“go” from General Kelly (and thus General Mattis) and a “no go” from Division—he didn’t follow the command from his immediate supervisor.  Thus, he followed someone’s orders, just not the right one from the chain of command perspective.

3)      The Marine’s top brass’ lack of commitment to “maneuver warfare”.  Going into Iraq, the top leaders of the Marine Corps wanted to test the concept of “maneuver warfare”—giving decision-making authority to those commanding in the field.  I would say this test failed miserably because chain of command is just too important to the heads of the Marine Corps.

Another reason I think that Colonel Dowdy got the proverbial shaft is that his initial mission  was over (he successfully acted as a decoy) but yet he still was relieved of command. 

 One of the key takeaways of this story for me is that you aren’t too good to be a victim of ego and chain of command issues.  None of us are truly untouchable.  Colonel was reportedly loved by his men, a great leader overall, and was going to be made a general when his mission was over.  If someone, so seemingly great can fail on somewhat of a small “mistake” what chance do the rest of us have?

And, at the end of the day/mission/battle/war, we all have to deal with our conscious.  I am sure that Colonel Dowdy’s conscious is clear.  I am not so sure I can say the same about General Mattis.  Interestingly, Colonel Dowdy will get some satisfaction as General Mattis is portrayed in a not so nice fashion on Generation Kill.

Lt. Withers—Wish There Were More Like Him…

Talk about a heart breaker…the story about Lt. Withers and “Peewee” certainly does tug at your heart strings.  Interestingly, it tugged at my “mind strings” as well.  Some times the heart rightly wins out over the mind.

 As leaders, we are often confronted with the challenge of doing what’s best for the group and what’s best for us.  The battle rages on daily, particularly in an economic recession, where we, as a company and an individual, have to produce more with less.  Self preservation runs rampant in these situations.  The key is to find the balance between elevating your accomplishments with those of your team.  And, in some situations, you need to be prepared to elevate others outside your team so that they are enabled to eventually become functioning members of your team.

 Here’s where Lt. Withers comes in.  I can’t even begin to understand how difficult it must have been for a young black man to succeed in the business world in the late 1940’s and 1950’s.  It must have been that difficulty, combined with a (legal) need to acquiesce to both white men and women, that drove him to achieve the highest level of education possible for anyone (except for maybe the education necessary to be a surgeon)…a PH. D.  He already had a master’s degree in economics.

 So, for someone so driven to succeed…what a tough decision to make,  risk your future (education and career) potential to help two individuals—that aren’t your countrymen and don’t even speak your language.  I would like to believe that if presented with the same moral dilemma, that I would take the high road and do the right thing (and help those that need it more than it I do).  

 Interestingly, it seems that Lt. Withers helped Peewee twice in his life.  First, he helped him overcome the ravages of war by taking a chance on him.  Then, some 50 years later he, through his son, helped Peewee deal with the desolation and hurt brought on by the war that he had locked away in his heart.  What a wonderful second gift Lt. Withers gave Peewee and his family.  The opportunity for him to deal with the past and give his children and grandchildren the heritage information they had so long been denied.

 So, back to me.  Would I make the potential sacrifice to help another…either from a personal or business perspective.  I am going to say yes, with a reminder to myself that this promise has yet to be fulfilled.

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