What's Your Problem?

The transnational nature of our manufacturing company means that various product assemblies are made on different sites. Unfortunately for my immediate colleagues and me, the way we operate means that we are suffering from a distinct lack of 'product rapport'.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

We strongly feel that if we could have occasional visits to see our products actually being made, as opposed to just endlessly sitting in front of spreadsheets, it would drum up some much-needed fresh enthusiasm. How can we approach this with our management in a way that will alter their currently reticent view on our proposal?

A. Fascinating evidence from the automotive industry could help you here.

From the early days of Henry Ford, it seemed obvious enough to the Time & Motion men that to ask the same group of people to make a car from scratch was deeply inefficient. The more familiar the task, the more quickly it can be performed. Far more sensible, therefore, to allocate 100 different teams to the repetitive manufacture of 100 different component parts, to be brought together at the end of the line for final assembly.

If you ignore inconvenient factors like human nature, pride and work satisfaction - in other words, if you treat human beings as robots - The Time & Motion men are right. But human beings are not robots; and enlightened car companies discovered that teams of people working together at a single workstation could build a new car from scratch just as efficiently - and what's more, with consistently fewer glitches and gremlins. Pride in being part of the finished car led to very high levels of self-monitoring. Quality soared - and the cost of making expensive corrections plummeted.

When they first rejected your proposal, your management probably considered only the cost of the unproductive time that would be taken up in travel.

You should return to them now with the emphasis, as above, on the gains that you believe would be made in morale - and through morale, in quality and productivity. They'll be sceptical, naturally; so if you can devise some sort of pilot exercise that puts your belief to objective test, you'll greatly improve your chances of success.

Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of the Guardian Media Group; he is a non-executive director of WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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