In Elextra-Quik, the manufacturing manager, Barbara was very happy about her job of problem-solving team leader and her team did a lot of efforts to contribute company’s empowerment campaign. But when they were ready to implement the new ideas, they found not only the top manager Martin, but also the middle level managers resisted the ideas. Therefore, this case leads to questions-how a company change to be a learning organisation? What can Barbara do to continue her ideas in the company? In following part, this paper will answer these questions based on three questions.
How might top management have done a better job changing Electra-Quik into a learning organisation? What might they do now to get the empowerment process back on the track?
According to ECU study book (2011), learning organization is an organization in which everyone is engaged in identifying and solving problems. The characteristics of learning organization are creating shared vision, team-based structure, employee empowerment, share information, participative strategy, adaptive culture and so on. In order to build a learning organization, the whole levels of company staff need to contribute.
Firstly, the top management plays the most important role for transfer organization into a learning organization. They need to do a better job on introducing the plans about changes carefully and deliberately. According to Samson & Daft (2009) management is the attainment of organizational goals in an effective and efficient manger through planning, organizing, leading and controlling organizational resources. So the top management is the maker of company’s strategy. They guide the direction of where should company go. When there is a change within organization, some problems can not be avoided, such as resistances from lower level staff. So top management does a good job on introducing change is necessary. They need to introduce the plan in detail to make staff and middle managers to better understand the plan. They can show the evaluation about the advantages and benefits of the change to employees. With that, the plan can be accepted by everyone in the company. In Electra-Quik, Martin needs to keep enthusiastic all the time and support Barbara’s ideas in order to make Barbara’s plan can be accepted in the meeting.
Secondly, in the process of building a learning organization, the middle level managers and employees also play an important role. Middle level managers are the links between top management and employees; they monitor the changes, collect the feedback of changes and report the effects of changes to the top. Employees conduct the changes and provide the feedback to tops. Generally speaking, in learning organizations, participative strategy emerges bottom up as well as top down. Top management shape the vision and direction, and middle managers and employees support and believe in. They are committed to the vision and contribute to the development of strategy (Samson & Daft, 2009, p.59). In Electra-Quik, middle manager should evaluate Barbara’s ideas even Martin is absent for meeting and transfer the ideas to their staffs.
In order to get the empowerment process back on track, Martin needs to step first. He needs to understand Barbara’s ideas again and do a personal appraisal. Then on the company’s meeting, he should support Barbara’s ideas and support her ideas when Barbara explaining the changes. Also he needs to consult with managers and empower employees to resolve the problem, as well as providing the training. With Martin’s efforts, the middle managers may change their ideas to support Barbara and conduct the changes in whole organization. Also, Martin can implement self-directed teams as the solution. Self-directed team refer to a multi-skilled cross-functional group of employees who share responsibilities for producing service of product (Rockfordconsulting, N, D). In Electra-Quik, Martin may set up some self-directed teams to conduct the empowerment process, and then they can share the responsibility to get the process back on track.
Question 2: Can you think of ways Barbara Russell could have avoided the problems her team faced in the meeting with department heads?
Middle management jobs have undergone dramatic changes over the last two decades (Samson & Daft, 2009, p.24). Many organizations were expected to downsize their middle managers and slash management levels to become more efficient and facilitate decision-making process and to better adapt to the changing environment as well. The department heads are not favor of this empowerment campaign since they are used to managing the flow of information up and down the hierarchy. But today’s middle managers should be responsible for the horizontal network for now most work is organized around teams.
In addition, the trend in recent years has been towards wider span of control as a way to facilitate delegation (Samson & Daft, 2009, p.37). Compared with tall structure, the flat structure has a wider span of control and is horizontally dispersed, which means it has less hierarchical levels and therefore the organization is able to better respond and adapt to change. That’s why the company initiates the empowerment campaign to let employees more involved in the decision-making process and assume more responsibility and enhance the collaboration. In such a structure, it is easier to build the self-directed teams since more authority and responsibility can be delegated to lower managers and employees.
However, the department heads are likely to feel anxious and even threatened by new empowerment campaign. According to Samson & Daft (2009, p.373), the attempt by the top management of the empowerment usually gets the deadlock because middle managers are unable to delegate. The possible reasons can be listed as following: They are accustomed to make familiar decisions; they feel they may lose personal status by delegating tasks; they believe they can do better job themselves and they are resistant to change because the performance of each department ultimately rests with them.
For Barbara Russell, she needs to consult with each department head before the meeting so as to avoid the problems. There are a number of ways that Barbara could use to resolve the problems. The leading point is that the team must identify the problems first and give their suggestions. Therefore communication plays a significant part. She should talk with department heads to be aware of what issues they want to address and how they address them. After they get the information, they can provide their support in helping them to resolve the problems. For example, the team can come up with a reward plan to encourage each department to solve their own issues and allocate some funds to assist them.
The members in manufacturing team cooperate with each other very well, but the final report they presented failed to meet the expectations of the department heads.
However, Barbara Russell could have avoided the problems if the top management considered building a cross-functional team at the very beginning rather than just rely on her own manufacturing team. According to Graff et al (N, D), the diverse teams can be more innovative and can develop more precise strategies and have advantages over functional homogenous teams in introducing organizational changes. According to Parker (2003), the competitive advantages of setting up a cross-functional team can be listed as following¼šthey may accelerate the process of problem solving; solve complex problems; more closely to connect with customers and meet their needs; they can produce more innovative ideas; members are more able to share information and facilitate the cooperation among departments. But on the other hand, we cannot neglect the barriers in building such a team since it will increase conflict and competition within the organization with diverse team members. Therefore, the trust and open communication seems significant in a cross-functional team.
Question 3: If you were Barbara Russell, what would you do now? Why?
If I am Barbara Russell, I will improve own leading skills and make some changes based on six elements mentioned in Figure 1.
Figure 1: The web of interacting elements in a learning organization
Strong, adaptive culture
In a learning organization, as a leader of team, Barbara should focus on using personal power and empowerment to manage the team, and try to be a democratic leader to influences and motive the employees. She should learn to share and explain the company vision, facilitate teamwork, initiate change and expand the capacity of people to shape the future. As a middle level manager, she should pay more attention to try to make the team member to understand the company objectives and goals, and be a bridge of communication between employee and top management. In a learning organization, Barbara also should be a transformational leader, who can create significant change in both followers and the organization (Samson & Craft, cited in bass, 1995; Devanna &Tichy, 1986; Eastman&Pawar, 1997). Leaders in a learning organization have three distinct roles: 1) Create a shared vision 2) Design the structure 3) practice servant leadership (Samson & Craft, 2009). Barbara should work to fulfill employees’ needs and goals as well as to achieve the organization’s larger mission.
In this case, the department heads complained that changes would destroy the carefully crafted job categories, and $500 refunds would create unethical behaviors, and industrial spy because of bad communication between top management and departments. Here, the communication means two-way communication including horizontal and vertical, exchange information between departments or team. Barbara should practice more active listening skills to interpret and feedback the information and give some suggestions or recommendations to help other departments to figure out the problems.
Self-directed teams are the fundamental unit in a learning organization (Samson & Craft, 2009). Barbara has to her roll from a traditional manager to a coordinator or consultant to control with team members in stead of control over them. Meanwhile, Barbara should understand that the jobs and objectives are based on team-based structure instead of individual input and effort. Barbara should work with other departments and subordinates as a team.
Traditionally, managers take all responsibility for the whole departments. Now in a learning organization, all employees are authorized to participate the decision making while the leadership is changing to be transformational. Barbara should change her roll to adapt the changing situation and give all team members the power, freedom to make decision and perform effectively. Also Barbara should use more personnel power and empowerment to motivate employees.
Learning organizations have permeable boundaries and often are linked with other organizations, give each organization greater access to information about new strategic needs and directions (Samson & Craft, cited in McCune, 1997). Basically, participative strategy means organization sets up the link of the whole supplier chain to share the information internally and externally. With the globalization of business, information becomes more and more important. To some extent, successful companies depend on the most updated information like lasted technology. Barbara should share the information timely and participate the whole link to get the most updated information to achieve the company goals.
In this case, one of important purposes of hiring new CEO is to rebuild the company culture. Top management realized the previous culture focused on hierarchy and centralization, which did not adapt the change of environment and became an obstacle to develop the company. As a leader of manufacturing, Barbara should learn and help to build the strong, adaptive culture within the manufactory, and influence other departments as well.
In conclusion, Barbara should change the leadership style into democratic and transformational leader, and self-improvement of leading skills in order to adapt the learning organization culture. She has to change her roll in new culture as well, and try to be a consultant, servant and helper within the team, and improve the skills of communication to share the information in time internally and externally. Finally, the company can be successful to transfer from the traditional organization to the learning one.
Overall, learning organization is very important for today’s companies. In learning organizations, all the people are committed to a vision, learn and share information. With that, the whole company will be more efficient and effective. In Electra-Quik, the paper also provide solutions for top management and Barbara to solve the problem when they conducting the changes and empowerment process.
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