Printer Friendly

Using cultural strengths can win back manufacturing.

Using Cultural Strengths Can Win Back Manufacturing

North American manufacturing has been devastated by competition. For the last decade, pundits have returned, mainly from Japan, with tool boxes full of tricks and treats to restore the losses. But the tricks fail and the touted treats don't work either. The pundits have retired to their cloisters to scratch their heads. The devastation persists.

This article suggests how to win back manufacturing by working with North American cultural strengths. It starts first with a brief digression to set a few ground rules and look at Heinz Weihrich's question, asked in these pages, "Is management culture bound?" The different foci in Japanese and North American cultures are then highlighted and, finally, four strategies, anchored in North American culture, are offered as mechanisms to win back lost manufacturing. The strategies being suggested follow but changing to them will be neither quick nor easy.

* Assure intellectual consistency

* Invoke meritorious succession

* Design for people in frugal manufacture

* Return to experimentation and tinkering

What is Culture?

In the murky past, when we swung down from the trees and on to the savannas, our right brain, custodian of our emotions, instincts and fears, kept us together. We learned to scream at each other and eventually mastered the 60-odd sounds which make up the elements of all languages. One group wove the sounds together this way; another, that way, forcing new words into our left brain for recognition and meaning. We shared information through language. Soon this powerful technology for survival became indispensable and we enshrined it by making language learning innate. Two technologies for survival, the group and language, combined to point to the first glimmerings of culture.

As time went on, altruism prompted man to codify the lessons for survival in tribal rituals. These, in turn, modulated behavior and became traditions. The behaviors and traditions were codified as elements of survival, now thought of as culture. Culture implies reverence for the intellectual stuff of life, information, as an enhanced technology for survival. Man used one technology, language, as the building block of a second, more advanced technology, culture. Thus, without man no culture and, without culture no man.

Reverence for information, even in primitive societies, meant deifying culture, combining technologies and the institutions appropriate to nurture them.

The mapping looks like: Basic Need --> Cultural technology --> Appropriate Institution

Culture soon became an umbrella which embodied basic need, technology and the appropriate institutions. It is still used as an umbrella to protect all manner of ambitions from tribal independence and separation to economic unity and common markets, from power brokering to fund raising, with no end in sight. The challenge today is to perceive the basic survival need preserved by the culture and institution. Malinkowski does this neatly in Table A.

Management has been added to Malinkowski's list, in response to Weihrich's question, "Is management culture bound?." Management is not a survival need and, therefore, cannot be culturally bound or culturally driven. A second test would be to look at the variety of political institutions, those adaptations we use to manage nations, and seek some universality or uniformity in how these institutions enhance survival. A quick look at the Middle East, and closer at local political performances, will show the political exercise of power is often indifferent to any societal survival imperative. We narrow down culture further, to serve our context, by examining the managerial institutions in Japan and North America which underpin the cultural attributes, in the following exposition. We will ignore the tough question: is the institution appropriate for the culture to survive?

The Japanese Way

The Japanese Way is scrupulous consistency, MAKOTO. It has also been translated as sincerity and uniformly underpins all institutions and dealings which support or even remotely link to culture. An historical note will reinforce the point, often missed in western literature on Japan.

In June 1944, cultural anthropologist Ruth Benedict was engaged by the U.S. Office of War Information to identify Japanese patterns of culture and to predict the behavioral patterns to expect when hostilities ceased. The Chrysanthemum and the Sword emerged in 1946, from her work and perceptive insight. It remains a classic and Table B is taken from her analysis. Benedict predicted the Japanese would be totally cooperative in defeat and as tenacious as they were in war. Her peers had great difficulty accepting her thesis prior to 1945.

A Japanese mother admonishes her child with, "People will laugh at you." Guilt and shame cultures are different. The guilty might feel shame but guilt can be expiated with confession, exorcising shame. A shame (HAJI) society has no confession. Shame becomes the root of virtue. One who is sensitive to shame will carry out the rules of good behavior. Shame is a reaction to other people's criticism, a rejection by society. Shame does the heavy work of morality.

The obligations of ON, Table B, underpin Japanese society. The ON obligation occurs at birth. To ignore ON brings shame for denying the privilege of membership in the nation, society, and family. One cannot repay even 1/10,000 part of the obligations to the Emperor, to parents, and to a work boss.

Three examples of how the ON works will be illustrated:

* The obligation to the Emperor is CHU. The late Hirohito appealed to his nation to lay down arms, in 1945, ".... it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for the grand peace for all generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering the insufferable." The appeal, the touching Voice of the Crane, averted millions of deaths only imagined in the 1: 120 ratio of Japanese captured to dead.

* The exploration of obligation to family, KO, is a subject for Japanese soap operas. Mothers-in-law can banish beloved brides from their homes. Sons accept the banishment of an adored wife and the break up of their marriage without complaint.

* A defeated baseball team might huddle and have a public cry in acknowledging GIRI to the world, shame in losing an important game. Generals asked permission to commit suicide wishing ten thousand deaths for failing their leaders.

People will laugh at individuals who fail to honor their obligations to society. The contempt stings and prompts careful exploitation of the nuances and interplay of the three levels of obligation in carefully constructed morality plays, taught to children. However, it would be wrong to suggest that the tough obligations make for a severe, humorless society. There is humor, often ironic and pragmatic in applying obligations in real life, illustrated in the following notes:

* Rather than strike, Japanese workers will increase output to make owners/managers look ridiculous, so people will laugh at them.

* Farmers had access to the Shogun's exclusive complaint box. To lodge a complaint, the farmer would have to go over the head of his samurai. The Shogun could redress the complaint, but the farmer, on returning home, would be confronted with the need to acknowledge NIMMU, duty to one's work, and perhaps lose his own head, in the process, not unique to old Japan, perhaps.

* Wives look after the family purse. Many of them prepare their husbands for his occasional night on the town, with not just the boys.

Let us end this section with HAIKU by the old Kamikaze warrior Admiral Onishi, a real man with his head in the clouds.

The battle is ended

but the rainy sky of the gloomy


remains over us.

Contemplating the Moon

I mourn

the enemy's sacrifice.

The North American Way

North American reality is a dichotomy of two conflicting cultures. The dour Puritan forefathers clash with the free wheeling, Old West cowboy, guns and all. Coupled to this is the overwhelming sadness in the vestiges of slavery, the festering social problems left unaddressed. The confrontation results in inconsistency and ambiguity. The culture of democracy, the core value, gets lost in the shuffle. Institutions finish up defending the cultures instead of reinforcing them.

We pay a heavy price for ambiguity in the work place. David Ellerman, MIT philosopher and mathematician, traces structural root causes, which go back two to three hundred years. Table C maps out his argument.

Ellerman asserts the right to productive activities, like self management in the work place, is an inalienable right of humans. As such, it can't be bought, assumed or surrendered in any way. In reality, the rights to the productive process are usurped for individual benefits over group benefits, the cowboy sticking up the Puritan. There are no neat cultural obligations, contrived or real, to deflect or mask the inevitable conflict. As a result, industrial signals flip and flop between serving the individual or the group. All parties in the contract become confused, except the individual who has wrested an unconscionable salary and a golden, no risk, parachute from the process. Abegglen and Stark, of the Boston Consulting Group, aptly refer to the North American executive style as "man on horseback."

The vital contractual flaw permeates industrial life. We see it in fear of the leader's feudal power. It surfaces in industrial conflict, the rise of unionism and the frozen faced worker. It rears its head in the North American penchant to sail close to the wind, pretending conflict of interest has degrees of severity. It drives politics where the art of the possible makes no pretense of any morality. Institutions like the Church, and the psychology of Freud, preach individuality in a unique contract with God, or freedom to act one's individual libido, without any social referent. Ranking the individual above the group, contradicts the carefully worked out cultures inherited from antiquity, suggested in Table A, with painful results.

We can do much better by reverting to a democratic culture. Under each of our strategies, we have restricted our lists to five actionable points. We think of these as providing direction, as distinct from exhausting the strategies and associated opportunities.

Assure Intellectual Consistency

The North American core culture is democracy. What would we do differently to underpin company cultures with this democratic ideal? Recall we defined culture as a codification of technologies for survival.

* Persuade the "horsemen" that marshalling chickens on horseback, to quote the delightful Norman Augustine, is not very bright. Ask him to dismount and look closely at the chicken coop; probe and measure, rather than guess at, what the many cocks have done for the coop/enterprise lately.

* Restore the right to productive processes to the worker and start saving real money wasted on control, supervision, and other forms of distrust. Start this process by contracting out production to groups of workers and listen to their inputs. Make the changes which best serve the enterprise.

* Look closely at the institutions in companies, the budget process, marketing functions, human relations activity, and all the props non-productive groups need to enhance their positions. If they do not impact directly on the products of the enterprise, abandon them.

* Refocus the enterprise on solving problems, one project at a time. Insist every one does projects, counting them off from a well maintained inventory of problems. Expect projects to be the first responsibility of employees and allocate them to every level of the organization. Use the request for funds as the control and set different hurdle rates for various end uses, long term pay back for new business or more market share and short term paybacks for maintaining existing business.

* Abandon internal correspondence. Insist on face to face dialogue in resolving issues and conflict. Encourage position papers in identifying problems and expect well thought data to accompany the submissions to the collection point. Abandon the private office with secretary enclave, where cardinals strut and reign supreme.

Invoke Meritorious Succession

In Search of Excellence brought a fresh breath of optimism in a tundra of despair. The eight strategies offered placated bruised egos among North American managers and armed them with "Made in America" recipes to contest the Japanese encroachment. It didn't happen. Since the 1982 publication, only one third of the touted companies have sustained their esteemed positions. The anecdotal evidence did, however, show that sist on face to face dialogue in resolving issues and conflict. Encourage position papers in identifying problems and expect well thought data to accompany the submissions to the collection point. Abandon the private office with secretary enclave, where cardinals strut and reign supreme.

Invoke Meritorious Succession

In Search of Excellence brought a fresh breath of optimism in a tundra of despair. The eight strategies offered placated bruised egos among North American managers and armed them with "Made in America" recipes to contest the Japanese encroachment. It didn't happen. Since the 1982 publication, only one third of the touted companies have sustained their esteemed positions. The anecdotal evidence did, however, show that successful companies had visionary leaders.

A far more devastating study presented by Robert Jackall in the Harvard Business Review, showed that leaders were selected against five ranked criteria: appearance, self control, perception as a team player (that is aligned with the team in power), style, and finally, patron power. The Ellerman paradigm offers an explanation for this obvious aberration. Since rights to the productive activities were usurped, clearly the leader must demonstrate baronial traits of self interest and managing power. We pay an awful price in abandoning the tried and tested military model for succession.

What might we do differently?

* Place new hires on two year probations. Sketch out educational program requirements for permanency. With compliance, make permanent but stepped off contract terms in five year increments. If personal growth is not up to expectations, a golden handshake or an early retirement should follow. Consider an open, company vote for a new leader or executive vacancy. Review people often and in a tightly orchestrated process with several people sharing in the appraisal. Look for strengths to exploit rather than failures to censure. Listen to people.

* Limit the company to no more than 10 pay grades, with the highest being no more than five times the lowest. Publish the grade salary ranges, the people in the grades and the salary being paid. Set up a common incentive system to allow for payment for extraordinary performances, tying it to the completed projects so that some visibility accompanies the incentive. Operate with no more than three hierarchical levels naming them judiciously, say director, facilitator, operator.

* Promote from within. If a function is inadequately staffed, engage an interim manager until an employee has been trained to take over the job. Keep the promotion lanes clear using five year terms to adjust the more senior staff levels, as practiced by the military. Find tough, mean projects for the enthusiasts, the Jesuits.

* Do not parachute in senior executives. This is the most destabilizing action any company can contemplate. Companies take at least three years to recover from even a superb parachutist.

Design for Frugal Manufacturing

The general upgrading of quality in industry has had an excellent impact on products and services offered by companies. Unfortunately, the process of ensuring the continuity of excellent products has not yet been built into organizational structures or processes. The functional fragmentation in operations means the best design, fabrication, packaging and shipping do not come together until the product has aged for well over a year. In the meantime, it might already have failed because of one fixable flaw.

* Establish a cooperative open review in the launch of new products. Walk the product through each department at the conceptualization stage from marketing and engineering to fabrication and shipping. Table and review each comment and suggestion for change systematically. Make prototypes, if practical, and ask operators to

* Challenge the existence of each product in the product line through an aging review process. Look at all failure mode effects assessments and performance data and walk the product through a typical launch process again. Establish each product's future in the company stable. Sell off the duds.

* Build facilities for frugal, incremental growth, ensuring the product earns at least twice its depreciation allowance each year. The technologies in use should be appropriate for the product, its market, and the people involved. When in doubt, sub- contract parts with the understanding that the contracts could end when a given volume is reached.

* Develop layouts for people interactions, combining a variety of tasks to one work center. Add to work cycles to get at least 10 minute cycles in any work center. Cross train employees to work all the equipment in any work centre so that they might job rotate daily or more frequently.

* Restore responsibility for the productive process to workers, holding them accountable for outcomes. Abandon the foreman role as supervisor or work assigner. Encourage roles of facilitators, using "floating facilitators" to assist in floor problem solving. Expect people to set their own work standards.

Return to Experimentation & Tinkering

One of the North American cultures which has slipped into decline is the Yankee penchant for fiddling with gadgets and devices. It remains alive and well as the PC explosion has demonstrated but needs to be reinforced.

* Set aside a well tooled shop for tinkering, both with company hardware and with private hardware, during off hours. Use the workshop as a meeting place for retirees and encourage them to jaw and talk about the good old days.

* Use the workshop as a clearing house for exceptions, customer returns, fixing poor quality, and staff it when needed. Let leaders from the tinkerers bid, against outside suppliers, when appropriate. Encourage people to build their own jigs and fixtures, to facilitate operations.

* Involve the workers in setting up layouts, both at the planning and action stages. Allow them to interview and decide on contractors and inspect the completed work. Encourage and train people in small groups to solve problems. Make work fun again.

* Reinforce democratic culture by extending privileges to all employees. If a worker does not rate a company car, then neither should the on-site engineering manager, nor the chief accountant. Develop social occasions which bond people together and to the company. Engage a cultural anthropologist to identify and predict behavioral patterns between groups, management and customers.

* Play the North American trump card. Use women universally and in every decision making role. Women are smarter. They live longer, making them better survivors. They have fought hard enough for recognition to become the tried and tested warriors of our time. They are much too practical to try and marshal chickens on horseback. They are instinctive democrats, a mothering attribute.

Culture and Power

Cultural differences are unlikely causes for the breakups in groups, organizations, or nations. How can one war because technologies are different? Equal suspicion accompanies any company's wish for a quick cultural fix. In both contexts, culture is synonymous with power, or who controls the agenda, at its kindest. One can revise or revitalize a culture by substituting or focussing on different core values or technologies.

The vestiges of the old culture, or parts of it, will remain until institutions which support the new culture are made appropriate. Cultural change must be action driven, not just proclaimed, or wished. One can sit in front of a television set and speculate on what is inside the black box based on the signal, or the psychological aberration. One can open the chassis and examine the systems and networks within, to see what's there. The signals are all the nice tricks and treats repatriated from Japan. The opened chassis is the frame which contains the culture and institutions which support the culture. We have a superb North American cultural tradition. We have a few institutional problems to fix. We can win back manufacturing without indiscriminate channel switching and meddling with the signals. [Tabular Data A to C Omitted]

Bill Hyde is a professional engineer and president of Hayden Blake Inc., a consulting firm in Georgetown, Ontario. The company serves clients in the Golden Horseshoe in Ontario, Quebec and Northern New York State.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Institute of Industrial Engineers, Inc. (IIE)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Hyde, Bill
Publication:Industrial Management
Date:Jul 1, 1991
Previous Article:Flexible manufacturing systems: issues and implementation.
Next Article:Effective management techniques in business: lessons from famous athletic coaches.

Related Articles
African-American culture, identity and the corporate world.
Aboriginal film-makers shine in the spotlight.
Play your strong suit: good managers know where to invest energy. (Management).
From the editor.
Army news service (Feb. 5, 2007): Army picks top environmental programs.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters