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Similar to other companies, PPG struggled with the cost-benefit ration inherent in a relationship between management and labor unions (Klein & Gavin, 1992). PPG operates in a traditional fashion using labor unions as a partner in its business expansion. PPG benefits from the human resources stability that labor union brings to the bargaining table. However, when there is a disagreement between two parties, PPG also experiences significant problems, especially when the workers instigate a labor strike. Due to the galling experience with labor unions, top corporate leaders at PPG were compelled to consider a win-win solution for the workers and the company, and the decision that the leaders agree on was to create self-directed teams. The first attempt to develop a self-directed workforce failed. The second attempt was a success in terms of creating a viable self-directed team; however, the issue that remains unsolved is sustainability. Corporate leaders must develop appropriate and cost-efficient solutions in order to sustain the self-directed work force approach in new plants.
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The key issues that need resolution are the following: 1) shifting roles; 2) recognition and rewards; 3) policymaking, and 4) peer review challenges. In regard to the “shifting roles” issue, corporate leaders face one of the major growth pains of the newly established manufacturing facilities. The experiment regarding the creation of a self-directed workforce was working; however, there was a problem in terms of its sustainability. In the self-directed work force framework, team work means the collaboration of workers, from the support team to the technicians. Thus, there was no foreman and there was no single individual that leads the manufacturing teams. Therefore, they expected the same culture to exist all throughout the manufacturing schedule of the said facility. They believed that there should be no seniority within the factory; however, the low-ranking workers felt that this claim is not supported by real events that are happening within the company. For example, they believe that the copany demonstrated its deference towards the technicians. This has caused significant resentment in the hearts and minds of the support workers. As a result, the support team members aspired to become technician, and this kind of mindset has created competition when the workers were supposed to dwell on the idea promoted by the concept of total teamwork. Thus, they wanted to have more time learning the other aspects of the manufacturing process so that they could also be promoted as technicians.
Due to the problems associated with shifting roles and the growing prominence of the technicians within the organization, it was almost inevitable to evade problems related to recognition and rewards. There were no clear standards and policies with respect to the promotion of workers from support status to technicians. It has to be pointed out that the presence of a “recognition and rewards” system within the organization is a powerful motivational tool for workers. When there is an effective “recognition and rewards” system, workers find ways to work beyond the call of duty. More importantly, the presence of a faulty and ineffective rewards system can be a major source of conflict and resentment for the workers.
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The third issue is related to the type of leadership framework that the top leaders at PPG adhere to because there was confusion when it came to setting specific policies at the newly established manufacturing facilities. Due to the need to establish self-directed work forces, corporate leaders had a hard time trying to understand when to come in and intervene. On the other hand, the employees are waiting for the leaders to take the initiative and make decisions for the workers, especially on such challenging issue as work shifts.
The fourth and final issue that the manufacturing facility has to resolve is related to the concept of peer review. Corporate leaders are willing to experiment with peer review protocols because of the need to create a self-directed work force. Many believe that this is the final and crucial step towards creating an effective and cost-efficcient self-directed work force. However, the problem with policymaking and the problem with recognition and rewards compounded the difficulties that are associated with peer review.
There are two possible alternatives. The first one calls for a refinement of the strategies and policies that were implemented in order to create a self-directed work force. The second alternative is to use the best one between a manufacturing facility that is being operated on using unionized labor and a manufacturing facility that is being operated on by union-free workforce and self-directed teams.
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With respect to the first alternative, corporate leaders simply apply new rules and regulations to manage the problems caused by the creation of a self-directed workforce. For example, in regard to shifting roles, the company increases the work time in order to provide support workers with multiple opportunities to learn the other aspects of the manufacturing process. They can also command supervisors to distribute the workload and require the participation of support team members in problem solving and implementation of strategies.
In terms of the recognition and rewards, the possible solution is to strive to improve the assessment of the worker's contributions and skill level. They can improve the paperwork and create new jobs that will evaluate the performance and monitoring of workers. In regard to policymaking, the corporate leaders may get involve in greater levels of collaboration with the workers and managers in order to create the most appropriate solutions to the problems mentioned above.
In the context of the peer review issue, the corporate leaders may empower the workers to increase their participation in the peer review process. However, this approach will not be successful if there will be no changes in the overall framework that the company must use in order to solve the mentioned problems. At the heart of the issue, there are not just the growth pains as the direct result of the self-direct work approach.
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