Theory and Policy encounter Power and Motivation – A Case

Understand the historical context in which the systems approach, contingency approach, and dynamic engagement approach to management theory have developed.

These more integrative approaches are useful in thinking about management in today’s fast paced world, where change is a constant and relationships(inside and outside the organization) are more numerous and more complex than ever before. In this context, the systems approach gives managers a way of looking at the organizations as a whole and as a part of the larger, external environment. The contingency approach focuses on the interdependence of the many factors involved in the management situation. And the dynamic engagement approach is an unfolding set of challenges to the way we think about management and organizations on the eve of the twenty-first century. The relevant case is given below.

Two young automobile assembly line workers, disgruntled over failing to get their supervisor transferred, shut off the electric power supply to an auto assembly line and closed it down at Consolidated Automobile Manufacturers, Inc.

The electric power supply area, containing transformers, switches, and other high voltage electrical equipment, was positioned near the center of the plant in a 6 by 7 foot area. Enclosing this area was a 10 foot high chain link fence with a [protective cage] around the facility and provided a measure of security.

The two assembly line worker, William Strong and Larry Kane, gained access to the electric power supply area by scaling the fence. Once inside, they halted the assembly line by opening the switches and cutting off the electrical power.

Strong and Kane, who worked as spot welder, had taken matters into their hands when the union’s grievance procedure had not worked fast enough to satisfy them. Co-workers idled by the dramatic protest and the motionless assembly line, grouped themselves around the fenced area, shouting encouragement to the two men inside. In response, Strong and Kane were chanting, When you cut the power you’ve got the power. They were in the process of becoming folk heroes to their co-workers.

Sam Winfare, who supervised Strong and Kane and who was the target of their protest, had been supervisor for only a short time. In explaining the events that led to the protest, Winfare said that production on the assembly line had been chronically below quota before he took charge, and the plant manager had plainly told him that his job was to improve the production rate. Production has improved markedly in the short time that Winfare had been supervisor.

Winfare advised the plant manager that his transfer would only set a serious long term precedent. The company’s action to remove me would create a situation where the operations of the plant would be subject to the whims of any employees with a grudge, he argued. His contention was confirmed by the comments of a union steward, who said there were other conditions in the plant that needed improving such as the cafeteria food and relief from the more that 100 degree heat in the metal shop. Moreover, the steward said, there was at least one other supervisor who should be removed. He implied that, if successful, the power cage protest would achieve two goals namely employees could dictate the company’s problem solving agenda and simultaneously undermine its power to determine decision making priorities. The union steward’s final comment was that two men on the unauthorized, wildcat strike might accomplish the same thing as a full blown strike.

Each passing minute was costing the company a production loss of one automobile unit valued at $6,000; the cost of each lost production hour, therefore, was $360,000.

As he began a staff meeting to resolve the dilemma, the plant manager felt pressure to accomplish two objectives: (1) to restore production on the profitless assembly line (a solution about which he was uncertain) and (2) to develop policies for preventing future interruptions by assembly line workers.

The plant manager must listen carefully to the problems acting as constraints for production including supervisors’ and that of workers’. He should try to evolve a consensus solution by highlighting the benefit of non-interruptions in production and also possible incentives beyond certain production level subject to management ratification. Later he can plan to send the supervisors and workers separately for training in behavioral sciences and productivity enhancement.

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