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Historical Articles

June, 1954 issue of Plating

Management Problems of the Metal Finishing Shop

Presented at the Boston Annual Educational Session, May, 1954.

Bruce E. Warner, President and Treasurer, New England Plating Company, Worcester, Mass.

You don’t give a hot drink for the bellyache caused by a ruptured appendix. You treat the ailment not the symptom.

At one time or another many have been given this advice. Now the writer is going to apply this same advice to solving some management problems. The underlying causes of trouble the conditions which create the problems will be discussed. The ailment will be treated rather than the symptom.

The causes of three types of problems will be investigated. These are first, financial; second, organizational; and third, problems resulting from employee attitudes.

The author will not discuss the problems themselves. Instead, ways will be explored to see what may be done to eliminate some of the causes of these problems so that the job of managing will be simpler.

Most financial problems are solved if one operates with a plan. Managing a business is like riding a ‘horse. There are two ways to do it. The untrained rider struggles aboard the animal by one means or another. The horse ambles away. This type of rider is content to go where the horse takes him. Maybe it is because he doesn’t want to start something that he can’t carry through. Maybe it is just because he doesn’t realize there is a lot more to handling a horse than just going along for the ride. Such a rider is like the business manager drifting without a plan. A business operated this way often blunders along aimlessly until its working capital has been frittered away.

Then there is the trained rider. The moment he is in the saddle the horse knows who is boss. This rider firmly guides the horse along the path he wants it to take, and the horse goes where it is directed. A business manager of such a type is operating with a plan.

The Budget
A very important part of the plan is the budget. One doesn’t have to read books on business management to set up a simple budget for a shop any more than one has to read books on budgeting to set one up for one’s home. Records will tell what percentage of the sales dollar has been spent for direct labor, indirect labor and other profit-and-loss sheet cost items in past years. A prudent manager decides on the percentage of the sales dollars to spend on each item to be budgeted. .He then attempts to keep the amount spent for each budgeted item within the per cent of sales figure selected. As sales increase the business moves further from its break-even point. Then it becomes easier to keep within the budget. As sales drop and the break-even point is approached, some items of cost will exceed the budgeted figure. The very fact that a budget is being used will lower a business’ break even point.

There are more scientific ways of budgeting. But this simple plan is better than no plan at all. It is an initial step in financial planning.

Of course, a shop should have a monthly profit and loss sheet and financial statement. Operating without them is like night driving without lights. One can’t know where one is going, and disaster can be expected.

Organizational problems begin when the owner decides he no longer has to spend all his time in the shop. He makes his right-hand man a working foreman; then he goes out to call on a customer. A fellow worker questions the one foreman’s authority, and trouble results. This trouble ordinarily can be avoided. All that is necessary usually is a clearly written notice spelling out the new supervisor’s responsibility and the authority he has been given to handle his job.

Whether there is but one working foreman or a number of supervisors the solution is the same. The duties of each, and the fact that each has been given the authority to do his- job, should be put in writing. This is important-for four reasons. First, the supervisor must know exactly what is expected of him. Second, the other employees must know the extent of his responsibility. Third, both the supervisor and the employees under him must know that he has the necessary authority. Fourth, employees must understand that when he uses his authority properly he will be backed up by his superior.

Line and Staff Method
One method of organizing a business, is called line and staff. Line jobs are those of a clear-cut supervisory nature such as president, superintendent and foreman. As a business grows larger, supervisory people need assistants. Such assistant takes care of a particular detail for the supervisor. These details might be solution control, production control or quality control. These are called staff jobs.

Now, staff people often have difficulty getting things done. The other employees know they are not supervisors. Some employees may refuse to cooperate. If staff people are not protected from this, their jobs are miserable and their efficiency suers.

The answer is a written notice explaining that the person-holding a staff job gets his authority from the supervisor on whose staff he works. As long as he is performing his specialized staff duty he speaks for his supervisor. Also, he speaks with the authority of his supervisor. But his supervisory authority does not go beyond that necessary to carry out his particular staff duties.

Organizational Chart Analysis
Here is another common problem having to do with organization. A business grows. Some hard-working supervisor appears to be slipping. Reluctantly, one reaches the conclusion that the supervisor’s job has grown too big for him,—that he reached the limit of his ability while the job kept growing. The trouble may be with the job and not with the man. The difficulty should be analyzed by drawing part of an organizational chart. A rectangle is drawn and labeled to represent the supervisor. Then a separate rectangle is drawn for each department or finishing cycle which reports directly to him. Next a line is drawn from the rectangle representing the supervisor to each of the other rectangles. The number of individual rectangles reporting directly to him are counted. In some cases there should not be more than five. In other cases ten would not be too many. It depends on how active the lines of communication are between the supervisor and the operations he controls. Knowledge of each particular shop will help determine this once the chart analysis is made.

If the supervisor seems overworked and the active operations reporting directly to him are well above five, he probably is carrying too great a work load. If he is a superintendent he may need staff assistance. Staff jobs could be set up to handle solution control, production control and quality control. This plan makes the lines of communication to the superintendent less active. He then can supervise more operations efficiently.
If a foreman is overloaded it may be more economical to hire an additional foreman and redistribute the work load. Better supervision could result in savings which would more than offset the increase in supervisory expense.

Management people generally agree on one thing: the attitude of the average man in the shop toward his job and company changed for the worse during the 40’s. There is less agreement on what to do about it.

Worker Attitudes
Now if a man had a job that was all he thought it should be, he would not want to lose it. He would cooperate to the best of his ability. He would probably turn out a little more work than was expected of him. He would not want the boss to feel that a better man might be found to replace him.

Just what does a man look for in his work? What does he expect of it? The following list has been suggested as the six things a worker desires of his job.

1. Fair pay;
2. A congenial environment in which to work;
3. A sense of security;
4. An opportunity for promotion to higher job classifications; to more important tasks;
5. Recognition of his work as being important to the enterprise;
6. Participation. A feeling that his ideas are considered and that he is accepted as a person capable of contributing to the joint effort.

This is not too much for a man to expect. As one looks back over the list it is seen that management people want the same things. What a man desires of his job is basically the same whether he is in the shop or in the front office. All want fair pay. All want congenial working conditions. All want security. Additionally, all want an opportunity to move ahead, to have their work recognized as aiding the company’s progress. And all want some degree of participation in company matters.

Employees are contented if these desires are fulfilled.

Employees are dissatisfied if these desires are not realized. Individuals will make suggestions to management to correct conditions they consider unsatisfactory. If management does not satisfy them in one way or another a feeling of frustration results. The search for an- outlet for this feeling leads to group organization and group action.

The old management concept of labor treated it as a commodity to be bought at the lowest possible price. The newer concept is that capital, management and labor are all interdependent. The success of one depends upon the welfare of the other two. This gives labor a place on the team.

And now the budget is set up. But the cooperation of the shop people is needed if ones to stay within it. Labor’s place on the team is recognized; so the goal ahead is to work toward satisfying the six job desires. But to get this across to the people in the shop something more is needed and that is a system of effective communications.

Someone once said, ”Ignorance breeds suspicion; suspicion breeds fear; fear breeds hate.” Suspicion must be overcome. To do so ignorance must be re-placed with knowledge. Employees have no sympathy for a plan unless they understand it. They also should know why the plan is important to the success of the business.

Management has no monopoly on brains. Shop people can provide a wealth of ideas because of their specialized knowledge of their jobs. But they must be told the object of the game. They must be given the incentive to play on the team.

The author’s company handles communications from management to the shop by bulletin boards and shop meetings. There is real interest in these bulletin boards. Items are removed after three days so employees will check for new material regularly.

Sometimes a notice will not be understood, or some employees may fail to act on a written request. Somebody in the shop will suggest a meeting of all employees so the matter can be explained more fully.
Meetings of all the employees who care to attend are held during a lunch period. Employees are free to eat their lunches while the meetings are going on. They understand that it costs a lot of money to shut down for a meeting during working hours. These meetings are far more effective than written notices.

Something more is needed for communications from shop employees back to management. The author’s company has an Employees’ Advisory Committee which meets with the company president once a month. Employees ask their representative to bring up matters which they might not care to discuss personally with management.

If a shop is small enough the boss can eat lunch with his employees once in a while, and all these employees can be on an advisory committee. In a larger shop, four or five elected representatives meeting with the manager will accomplish more than a bigger group.

And so, if a shop has no financial plan, the manager is advised to pull cost data out of plant records. He then should evaluate the data, and set up a simple budget.

The positions of the supervisory and staff personnel should be reviewed. Any doubt about the scope of their jobs should be removed and the extent of their authority should be spelled out by written notice.

Then management should consider the reasons for the attitude of its employees. Does the shop satisfy the employees six job desires? Is the atmosphere in the shop such that employees have an incentive to contribute ideas and expand real effort on the job?

Clarence Francis, Chairman of General Foods, had this to say, ”You can buy a man’s time, his presence and his motion. But you can’t buy his heart’s devotion or his enthusiasm. These must be earned. The human will to work cannot be bought.”



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