I have had the very fortunate opportunity to work for two privately held, family owned medium sized manufacturing firms.  In each case, my job was to re-design the HR and Management System in keeping with a deeply held business belief by the owner.  So designing a management system becomes easier when the owner’s values are known and acted upon.

Designing a management system must be like branding a product, we try to create a feel and a sense of identity.  The “brand” becomes larger than the sum of the parts.  Quite frankly, every company’s management system is branded.  The good brands are usuall the result of a conscious and competent architect.  Bad ones are usually the result of negligence and ignorance.  When a business is small enough it is usually the owner that is the architect.  As the business grows and typical complexity sneeks in and good workers get promoted to become crappy leaders and layers of “supervision” begins to fog the message of the owner, it will take a competent OD/HR person to get it back on track.  The longer an owner waits the harder it is to turn it around.

My work was made easy by owners who’s heart was bigger than their heads.  Both owners wore their values on their sleeves, so it was not difficult to determine the priorities.  I had to listen, observe, inquire, and study a lot to begin the process of design.  These were the typical questions I asked myself –

Based on the owner’s belief system, how would you:

administer pay programs?

structure the benefits program?

recognize and reward  employees?

select new employees to the team?

structure the work?

handle discipline?

manage attendance?

train leaders?

design the organization?


In one company, the owner felt that Dr. Deming’s philosophy resonated most  – so we had to dig deep into the material and understand Deming’s philosophical underpinnings and we asked ourselves the same questions.  Fortunately, Deming had a lot to say about those items.  It helped, but it was still a difficult task. 

In another company, one small plant was underperforming so the options on the table were to shut it down or “team it”.  I was brought in to “team it”.  And team it we did!

Imagine – teams of employees having more decision making capability than most supervisors in most companies.  Teams of employees deciding who got hired, who got fired, who got raises, who got promoted, who got disciplined.  The employees did a far better job than the managers.  Not that the managers were bad, they just were not as close to the action.  Also, we had teams with performance metrics, that worked towards a daily goal.  At the end of the shift (sometimes at midshift) they would meet for 15-20 minutes and capture on a flip chart – what went well that day?  what were the opportunities for improvement?  And then they would action plan for the next day – who does what by when.

So – what was the design?  See next post.

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