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A case for Harvard.

Being a pooka columnist for a technical magazine is a good sideline for a guy who likes to keep up to date on what people in metalworking manufacturing are thinking and doing. One of the fringe benefits it to compare notes with other columnists and editors. It's interesting to note reactions to what they publish. In return I'm willing to swap tales of what is going on at the Joe Doaks Machine Systems Co.

Although our reason for being is to design and build special machines for the metalworking industry, there are times when we spend hours straightening out issues that seem quite unrelated to the purpose of our business.

For years we have had a tuition reimbursement plan that pays upon satisfactory completion for any course that is approved by the management. The employee must submit a written proposal to his or her department head. It should include the nature of the course of study and the organization offering it, how such study will help the employee do a better job for the company, assurance that it won't interfere with the person's regular job, and a projection of the cost to be incurred.

Myths all started originally when Unk Herb was on the local board of education and concluded that education was such a good thing that all employees ought to have more of it. If they would put up the time and effort, the company should put up the money.

To keep them serious, he set 100-percent reimbursement for those who get A; a B gets 90 percent and C gets 80 percent. Anything less gets nothing.

We've had some takers, but never as many people participating as the old man thought there should be. Maybe we don't communicate such opportunities to our people as clearly as we should. What activity we had seemed to go smoothly. At least until recently when a draftsman applied to take a course in mass communications. The word from the personnel office was that we aren't in the mass-communications business, so we don't pay for such courses. We make machinery systems, not communications media.

While "Dutch" Mattern, our chief engineer, could hardly be classed as a liberal arts enthusiast, he rose in righteous indignation that a request he approved would be knocked down by the powers that be. The ensuing discussions and memos for file have little to do with the specifics of making reliable production machinery, but to the participants have assumed an importance over other corporate matters.

When he groused about the controversy over the breakfast table, Unk Herb was told by Aunt Abby that it was no surprise that with his "trade-school-type" engineering education he could not grasp the significance of the true liberal arts concept of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

Short of Indolence 101 or Insurrection 202, she would have us pay for anything an inquisitive mind wanted to study. Besides all that, if we must take that trade school approach, wasn't it apparent that we need better communications at JDMS? Hadn't someone else already been approved for a course in assertiveness training? How does that make your spindles run faster?

What do they know?

The day after I heard Unk Herb rant about this great loss of productivity, I was fascinated to learn from Jim Keebler some reactions to the column he wrote in March. He took a swipe at the professor who stood up for mergers in the Harvard Business Review (HBR). You could say his column, "Victims of the system," shows a bias against an intellectual tendency to ignore people in trouble through no fault of their own. He wasn't really trying to put down the HBR nor the professor. They have a right to their wrong opinions. But while the elite pontificate, somebody ought to pay some attention to the swelling ranks of the unemployed.

Apparently the two jabs that cut the deepest indicated that he shouldn't have been reading that stuff in the first place. "What do they know? They never met a payroll!... They write like they have answers to questions the guy in the shop hasn't got brains enough to ask."

Realizing that thinkers don't necessrily have to get grease under their fingernails or chips in their shoes to contemplate solutions to problems, Jim had an appointment to see Alan M Kantrow, the HBR associate editor who specializes in articles on manufacturing and innovation. He wanted to find out what makes them tick editorially.

I told Jim about Cousin Freddie's great respect for the Business (B) School's case study method and his constant use of the HBR reprint dept to send him copies of classics that support some position he wants to reinforce. I perceived a chance to make his trip worthwhile and said: "While you're there, why don't you bring me something back on tuition reimbursement from the founntainhead of management thought? I might even get one up on Freddie."

He actually went there

Now that the Chairman (whose column the editor of this journal modestly titles "View from the Top") is back from the shores of the Charles River, I've interviewed him and hasten to scoop all other media by giving you the inside story of this expedition.

By way of housekeeping, it should be noted that the HBR resides on campus of the Harvard Business School. Their building is called Teele, and looks more like a huge concrete block than like the red brick structures you identify with Harvard. (Wouldn't you know he'd bring back a picture?)

Organizationally, the HBR is an executive education program of the B School. The editor, Kennth R Andrews, is a senior faculty member. In his foreword to a book Kantrow edited, "Survival Strategies for American Industry," Andrews isn't shy about tossing around superlatives. We learn that for over 60 years the HBR "... has been the farthest reaching executive program ..." of the B School; and it "... draws on the talents of the most creative people in modern business and in management education."

While that may not dampen your opinon that the people of the Crimson keep you ever aware of their elitist status, there is nothing in Jim's glowing report of the interview with Kantrow that suggests he was putting on airs.

Editorially, the HBR reflects the way the B School identifies with business. Their case method of teaching is supported by field-based case research. It turns out that most people who are willing and component to prepare the kind of articles they publish are professors or consultants. Their stated goal is to have half their authors come from the ranks of practicing managers. This isn't all that easy since people in industry generally give a host of reasons why they don't write for publications--too busy; not interested; too difficult to put it on paper; don't see adequate reward for the time spent. Manuscripts often go through too many iterations with no assurance of final acceptance.

From whatever author, a manuscript must rest on some source of legitimacy. I presume few people would want to read about fictitious happenings at imaginary companies.

True case method material tries to identify important areas for discussion, sometimes specifically asking for responses. I can see the difficulty of having a discussion with an inanimate page of a magazine. If the author hasn't generalized the case, the reader must do so as a solo act. At the least he must glean from the case some ideas he feels will be applicable to his own managerial problem.

There is merit to studies involving research and sophisticated data-base-analyses. Statistical study can take individual bias out of personal experiences. I'm reminded that George Hays used to say to steal from one source is plagiarism, while to steal from many sources is research.

I would love to have been a scholarly mouse eavesdropping on that conversation of these two practitioners of the publishing art. One from the academic background of a prestigious university. The other from a manufacturing engineering background that literally reeks of cutting fluid: the smell of the shop. Both dedicated to publishing material intended to be useful to their readers. The scope of the former is general management, which is bigger than the metal-working manufacturing boundaries of the latter. Yet their circles of influence overlap.

One could generalize manufacturing managements' problems (it appears that has already been done for the automobile industry), or could suggest specifics that manufacturing management could take from the general fund of knowledge researched.

My guess is that neither of these birds has guts enough to suggest to their readers that in the majority of cases an industrial robot makes a dumb (slow) way to load a lathe. A fact that could be discovered by a little "field-based case research" with their readers. Such barbs not withstanding to the contrary, I will watch with intereset what will show up in the pages of these magazines as a result of that meeting.

As for tuition reimbursement, Dr K introduced Mr K to Caroline Jacobs who is in charge of the HBR data base. She explained that they have full text of the HBR from 1976 to date indexed in eight controlled vocabularies. She asked Diana Lees to give the demo.

The search for tuition adjacent to assistance drew a blank. Tuition reimbursement had one hit, but the abstract indicated the article was on tax benefits for training the hard to employ. Results of searching for tuition alone were 14 items listed, but none on our problem. That took 5 min, and 1-sec connect time. The editors of this magazine can eat their hearts out wishing they had a system like HBR/ONLINE, which is marketed by John Wiley and available to you to subscribe from BRS, DIALOG, NEXIS, DATA-STAR, Executive Information Service, and BRS/After Dark. Looks like our case rests with Unk Herb.

When I last saw columnist Keebler he had his nose in the Survival book.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Joe Doaks Machine System Co.'s engineering education
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:May 1, 1985
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