CASE 05: BRIDGING THE TWO WORLDS—THE ORGANIZATIONAL DILEMMA
William Todorovic, Purdue University
I had been hired by Aluminum Elements Corp. (AEC), and it was my first day of work. I was 26 years old, and I was now the manager of AEC’s customer service group, which looked after customers, logistics, and some of the raw material purchasing. My superior, George, was the vice president of the company. AEC manufactured most its products, a majority of which were destined for the construction industry, from aluminum.
As I walked around the shop floor, the employees appeared to be concentrating on their jobs, barely noticing me. Management held daily meetings in which various production ...view middle of the document...
I just looked at him, and then said that I began working here only last week, and I thought that I address some of their issues. Tony gave me a strange look, shook his head, and went back to his machine. I could hear him still swearing as I left. Later I realized that most of the office staff were also offended by Tony’s language.
On the way back to my office, Lesley a recently hired engineer from Russia, approached me and pointed out that the employees were not accustomed to managers talking to them. Managers only issued orders and made demands. As we discussed the different perceptions between office and floor staff, we were interrupted by a loud lunch bell, which startled me. I was happy to join Lesley for lunch, but she asked me why I was not eating in the office lunchroom. I replied that if I was going to understand how AEC worked, I had to get to know all the people better. In addition, I realized that this was not how things were done, and I wondered about the nature of this apparent division between the managers and the floor workers. In the lunchroom the other workers were amazed to see me there, commenting that I was just new and had not learned the ropes yet.
After lunch, when I asked George, my supervisor, about his recent confrontation with John, George was surprised that John got upset, and exclaimed, “I just wanted John to know that he did a great job, and as a result, we will be able to ship on time one large order to the West Coast. In fact, I thought I was complimenting him.”
Earlier, Lesley had indicated that certain behavior was expected from managers and therefore from me. I reasoned that I do not think that this behavior works, and besides it is not what I believe or how I care to behave. For the next couple of months I simply walked around the floor and took every opportunity to talk to the shop employees. Often when the employees related specific information about their workplaces, I felt that it went over my head. Frequently I had to write down the information and revisit it later. I made a point of listening to them, identifying where they were coming from, and trying to understand them. I needed to keep my mind open to new ideas. Because the shop employees expected me to make requests and demands, I made a point of not doing any of that. Soon...