Creating the Great Workplace 2.0: What NOT to Do — Case Study #2, Part I
By Admin

January 25, 2011

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They could have been GREAT. They had the best of ALL worlds: solid products, solid customers, money and an almost blank slate: They had a relatively new facility, a small initial staff, and a small contingent of people to make their products. On the surface, a great manager would have given his first-born to run this operation.

They have a goal: $100 Million in revenue for this facility. They could make a solid profit. But not on their present path.

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They are already developing a reputation as a workplace to avoid. Soon, few talented people will want to work there, and the organization’s ability to hire even mediocre talent will be seriously in jeopardy.

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In early 2011, one of their “Star” hires (A Unit Manager brought in by the corporate V.P. of Manufacturing) resigned for a more stable environment, a promotion, more money, and substantially less daily soapbox hassles. In his initial exit interview (and counter-offer by the company to stay) he cited the following issues with the organization as his reasons for leaving: 1) The HR Manager needed to go. That person was creating a horrible environment, never went to the floor, was caught in lies, and no one trusted the HR department. The HR folks were the “first impression” of the company, and that first impression was/is awful, 2) There was no real training of new people to do their jobs. No success path to follow, 3) The “Plant Manager” was managing as though he was still in the military, and that was due to the owner and General Manager dealing not with solutions to problems, but a fixation on “Numbers” at all costs, 4) The General Manager was a friend of the HR Manager (non-objective), had his daughter working there who was a horrible manager of people (high turnover). The GM exhibited Dr. Jeckle/ Mr. Hyde personality/ mood swings, 5) The owner/ CEO did not care about people, only production numbers that were set so high, no group under the current management could possibly hit those numbers. Not with the company’s general attitude toward employees, vendors, training, values and personal lives. Everything was contentious.

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The Star Hire basically told the organization that working in a drama-packed environment would lead him to an early grave. Nothing was worth that. The organization tried hard to get him to stay.

It did not have to be that way.

2 Months after the Star left, nothing has changed. Nothing. The HR Manager is still there, employed, and in-charge of hiring. Oh My.

Where did it go off-base? We will deal with one issue at a time, not the entire quagmire.

Lack of Purpose:

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“A sense of purpose is not something that we find; it is something that we are. Truth is not something that we look for; it’s something that we live. “The human soul has still greater need of the ideal than of the real. It is by the real that we exist; it is by the ideal that we live.” -Victor Hugo.

Purpose is central to The Great Workplace 2.0 of today and tomorrow. It is the advantage smaller companies have over their larger counterparts: They can believe in doing things bigger than themselves, and it is the reason really BIG companies get in their own way: They believe in the mission of the company (the company itself) more than a purpose for the customer.

Purpose is the rallying point around which ALL participants to an organization can get excited. They can then do exceptional things, even with enormous speed bumps getting in their way.

In ANY organization, “numbers” are important. An organization cannot survive without their numbers being solid and sustainable. But an organization’s purpose cannot live only in the Controller’s suite. It has to resonate with the people who do the work. If an organization’s Purpose (or lack of) and/or Mission is one that the people doing the work cannot relate to, attempting to get the group to “Rally ‘round The Flag” will be counter-productive. It becomes a joke and as a joke, gets attached to internal company representatives. In the case of this organization, it is attached to HR, the GM and to the less-than-engaging owner.

In the case of this organization, there simply is no “Purpose” to which anyone can relate. You can feel it when you walk in the door. You are greeted by the lack of Purpose in the HR department. You have just walked into a hell-hole. You feel that, regardless of what you do for the organization, you cannot do anything well. The HR people smile, but it is rare, and when they do it is about as plastic as the smiles at a Federal Office.

In countless, go-nowhere meetings with the executive management of the company, the best top management could say about “why people should want to work there” (Purpose for the masses) were the following:

1)    TV commercials showed the final end product where this organization’s products were used. The hourly staff should be proud to have a hand in building those products. But … no one building the product could afford the end product (a car). Even managers (who could afford one) didn’t buy the car. Not one of those vehicles was on the company property. Not even as a showcase. And that was for the LOW priced product. But the company had glittering new production equipment on the shop floor. The GM drives a gas guzzling SUV, the CEO drives a foreign luxury car (of course).

2)    The company offered benefits … that no one took, no one could afford. But the company DID pay a few dollars per month to the worker, if that person did NOT take those benefits. This seemed a good deal to management earning 5 times what an hourly person earns. Let them eat the leftovers.

3)    There is a profit sharing plan, for permanent workers. It pays back 10% of the profits of the facility. No profit is mentioned, no profit is sold to the workers. With all the overhead, shouting about NOT hitting production #’s no one believes there is any profit to share.

4)    The company built a pool for the local community center, but doesn’t want anyone to know about it.

5)    And here is the BEST reason the organization could come up with to work there: “It is a recession. People who work here get paid, and get overtime. We give them an opportunity to work.” Yes. So does McDonald’s.

There is never a mention about the customer, or the quality of the product or anything that any hourly person (or salaried for that matter) could relate to. There is NOTHING that any manager can say to a $9 per hour person about “What’s in it for you”. Even the line managers are tired of working 90 hours and getting paid for 40. And getting constant beatings. Hourly people don’t even get thanked for doing their jobs.

How do I know that? I thanked a crowd of about 50 “workers”, shook their hands, looked them in their eyes with sincerity and told them how much I appreciated the work they did. My company is a vendor. They about fell over. At least two people cried. No one had been told “thank you” by any of the organization’s managers before. They had no idea why they were working there, except for a paycheck.

It boils down to this: This organization is so mired in “hitting the numbers”, abusing employees and vendors, that they have forgotten how creating a path to goals can be accomplished: a Purpose that precedes everything they do. A purpose that is an Ideal. A purpose that is not preceded by this sign: #.

The company management justifies the entire attitude by saying that their business is a brutal one. Vendors and people in it get treated poorly by everyone and anyone that comes in contact with the companies functioning in the business. Vendors and employees are not completely to blame for the issues, but they need to live with it, find solutions, and the main company will continue to do things the way they always have. The company simply won’t change, even though some change would put it on a path to solutions.

Next: Part II of Case study #2: Non-Collaboration: The Participant’s beating.