Dupont Case Study

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  • Published : January 13, 2013
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As w e walked t hrough t he m anufacturing
areas o f Dupont, t he p lant m anager, Tom
Harris, g reeted e ach worker by name. The
p lant was o n a site t hat s tretched over 10
acres beside t he South River on t he e dge
o f t own a nd it was t he major employer in
t he community.
The p lant s eemed t o b e a p ermanent
fixture, o r a t least m ore p ermanent t han
most things. There had been changes, big
ones, b ut t he p lant was still t he plant. The
Orion m anufacturing operation h ad b een
s hut down, t he e quipment dismantled a nd
s ent t o China. As far as I could find o ut
early in my work there, t hese changes,
despite their magnitude, w ere s een as
doing t he r egular business o f t he e nterprise. No o ne f ramed t he c hanges as needing unusual attention, so t here was n o c hange m anagement design. The projects-getting rid o f o ne o peration a nd installing a nother-were p lanned a nd

e xecuted just like a ny project. Change
m anagement was n ot a rubric used t o
e ither accomplish o r explain w hat was
going on. More changes were coming,
w hether t here was any formal practice o f
c hange m anagement o r not. The plant
w ould s oon e nough look very different
from w hat I s aw on t hat first t our with
I first m et Tom when he came t o t he
University o f Virginia seeking t o m ake
contact with t he academic community in
o rder t o bring some o f t he l atest thinking
in busines~ t o his o peration. His i nterest
lay in ir¢roducihg his m anagers t o n ew
ideas, a nd in applying those. ideas t o
improving t he plant. He was n ot, h e said,
looking for solutions t o specific problems,
b ut r ather in improving overall organization effectiveness. This was important because h e was under increasing pressure
t o d o m ore with less.
In February this general bulletin was
s ent t o all employees, a nd I b egan t he
field-work from which a portrayal o f t he
work culture would b e built.

Gib Akin, a professor from t he
University of Virginia, will be spending
time a t t he plant. He has been asked t o
give us some new perspectives on our
work and our organization that we
might use t o help us develop people and
continually improve. Most importantly,
he is here t o help us appreciate and
develop what goes right, assist us in
building on our strengths, t o make the
plant work better for everybody. His
presence is not due t o any particular
problem, but is a result of our desire t o
continuously improve.
Over t he n ext six m onths I c onducted
interviews with workers a nd m anagers,
spending time in t he workplace, learning
a bout everyday life t here. This yielded a
thick description o f t he s hared stock o f
k nowledge t hat o rganizational members
used t o i nterpret events a nd g enerate
behavior. What we made explicit with this
process was t he local, widely used, everyday, common-sense model o f work performance, unique t o this scene. In a sense this was t he local o rganization theory t hat
p eople used for getting along a t work.
Of course this theory was more important t han a ny imported academic theory o f o rganization, because it had t o work
well o r t he users w ould n ot b e successful
in t heir work. This was t he practical theory
in use every day and by everyone. Such
culturally e mbedded t heory also t ends t o
c reate w hat it is i ntended t o explain,
t hus making it even more powerful a nd
generati~. For example, in this p lant
the"local model o f t eamwork was organIzed a round a s outhern stock-car racing metaphor, which was n ot only used t o
explain t eamwork b ut was also t he
p attern f or accomplishing it. And since
everyone knew t he m etaphor, a nd used it,
it became so.
Tom a nd t he o ther m anagers were
surprised t o learn o f t he NASCAR ( the
premier stock-car racing organization)
metaphor, b ut it explained why t hey had


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Chapter 7

lmplementin!; Change

n ot r ecognized...
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