Case Studies from Gareth Jone - Ob

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Case 14 “Ramrod” Stockwell
Teaching Notes
Copyright © Gareth R. Jones, 1994

Synopsis
This case considers conflict and politics in organizational settings. Ramsey “‘Ramrod” Stockwell, vice president for Production at Benson Metals, is becoming very uncooperative and difficult. Ramrod is having frequent run-ins with sales, who are exasperated with his uncooperativeness and refusal to supply them with reliable information concerning delivery dates, and production scheduling. Most students feel the problems stem from Ramrod, his obstinacy and “rough diamond” personality. They favor firing to reducing conflict and getting Benson Metals back on track. The problem is due to the internal power structure, unchanged in a changed environment with more importance placed on production than on sales. More company revenues come from the production and specialty steels, only produced because of skills in manufacturing. Historically, sales has been the most important function in Benson, and it is not willing to relinquish power and prerogatives and adjust to changing realities. Backed into a corner, Ramrod is fighting to protect the integrity of his department by being uncooperative and hoarding power to make others dependent on him. The case illustrates the difference between personal and institutional power. It highlights the need to analyze the context of behavior, not just the behavior itself.

Teaching Objectives

1.To show students how the power structure in an organization changes as contingencies—from the environment and technology—change.2.To expose students to the sources of conflict in organizational settings.3.To provide a vehicle for an action plan to resolve organizational conflict and devise a strategy for change. Based on real people and events, the case is best used after Chapter 14, on conflict and politics, so students have can analyze the power structure. It takes from 45 minutes to an hour to analyze, and with the Rondell Data case, it provides good exposure to managing organizational politics and conflict.

Pop Quiz Questions
1.What is Ramrod Stockwell’s title?
Answer: Vice president for production2.Which function is Ramrod having the most problems with? Answer: Sales

Issues and Discussion Questions
1.What kinds of products and technologies does Benson Metals use? How have these been changing recently?

Benson Metals, a medium-sized maker of specialty steel products, has traditionally used a crafts like technology to produce a variety of metals. In terms of Perrow’s model of technology, task variety andtask analyzability are low, as there is still guesswork, skill, and even some “black magic” in manufacturing products. Benson also produces metals in very small quantities—pounds not tons—so that in terms of Woodward’s model it is small batch, and the skills and knowledge of production people are more important than machines in getting the job done—task complexity is low. Recently, the company has moved into making sophisticated and technically difficult steels for the aerospace industry. Not only are they difficult to produce, these steels require more research skills, metallurgical analysis, and delicate handling in all stages of production. They are produced to very stringent specifications. In terms of Perrow’s model, task variety has increased and task analyzability has fallen—production is more non routine and research oriented and depends more on the skills, experience, knowledge, and judgment of production personnel. Companies cannot imitate these skills, so they form a competitive advantage. The environment surrounding the company has changed to more uncertainty because a new range of products is manufactured. Both technology and environment have changed, affecting the contingencies facing the company, and increasing potential risks and returns.

2.What problems is Benson Metals encountering as it changes products and technologies?...
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