Management History

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J. David Hunger, Ph.D.


Management 370

College of Business

Iowa State University



But I'm coming to believe that all of us are ghosts .... It's not just what we inherit from our mothers or fathers. It's also the shadows of dead ideas and opinions and convictions. They're no longer alive, but they grip us all the same, and hold on to us against our will.

- Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts

Is there one best way to manage the activities of people in an organization? Many beginning managers (and even some experienced ones) look to books, consultants, and courses in management searching for "the answer" to problems as if managing could be reduced to a cookbook listing of "dos" and don'ts". Don't fall into that trap. If the history of management teaches us anything, it is that management practices must change to suit the particular situation facing the manager. The key to success is to be aware of the key variables in any management situation and to apply those concepts and techniques which are most likely to succeed. The following example at Hovey and Beard Company shows what can happen when managers fail to consider all the variables in a work situation in an attempt to increase productivity.

The Hovey and Beard Company manufactured wooden toys of various kinds: wooden animals, pull toys, and the like. One part of the manufacturing process involved people spraying paint on the partially assembled toys.

The toys were cut, sanded, and partially assembled in the wood room. Then they were dipped into shellac, following which they were painted. The toys were predominantly two-colored; a few were made in more than two colors. Each color required an additional trip through the paint room.

For a number of years, production of these toys had been entirely handwork. However, to meet tremendously increased demand, the painting operation had recently been re-engineered so that the eight operators who did the painting sat in a line by an endless chain of hooks. These hooks were in continuous motion, past the line of operators and into a long horizontal oven. Each person sat at her own painting booth so designed as to carry away fumes and to backstop excess paint. The operator would take a toy from the tray beside her, position it in a jig inside the painting cubicle, spray on the color according to a pattern, then release the toy and hang it on the hook passing by. The rate at which the hooks moved had been calculated by the engineers so that each person, when fully trained, would be able to hang a painted toy on each hook before it passed beyond her reach.

The operators working in the paint room were on a group bonus plan. Since the operation was new to them, they were receiving a learning bonus that decreased by regular amounts each month. The learning bonus was scheduled to vanish in six months, by which time it was expected that they would be on their own -- that is, able to meet the standard and to earn a group bonus when they exceeded it.

By the second month of the training period trouble had developed. The employees learned more slowly than had been anticipated, and it began to look as though their production would stabilize far below what was planned for. Many of the hooks were going by empty. The workers complained that the hooks were going by too fast, and that the time-study man had set the rates wrong. A few people quit and had to be replaced with new operators, which further aggravated the learning problem. The team spirit that the management had expected to develop automatically through the group bonus was not in evidence except as an expression of what the engineers called "resistance." One person whom the group regarded as its leader (and the management...
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