Marginal: Under Pressure

Columns From: 4/1/2007 Automotive Design & Production, , Editor-in-Chief from Gardner Business Media, Inc.

In the short term they save money. In the long-run, they’re done.

With the on-going downsizing in the industry, there is attention paid to the large numbers of people who have lost or who are losing their jobs. But what about those who remain? Chances are, while there is more than a small percentage of them who are thankful they still receive a paycheck and benefits, there is also a non-insignificant number of employees who are feeling less than grateful to their employers, whom they now see as being heartless, merciless, and otherwise the kind of people for whom any sense of loyalty is out the window. In addition to which, there are the people who are still on the job who now find the conditions to be brutal. This is not simply something that occurs in the U.S. It is reported that in France government prosecutors are looking into working conditions at Renault’s Technocenter in Guyancourt, as three employees at that facility committed suicide between October 2006 and mid-February 2007. While the vehicle manufacturer denies any correlation between the deaths and working conditions, it seems that the French CFDT workers union is saying that there is a drive to do more faster, which may have contributed to what has occurred. What is striking about all this is that in a just-published book by the imprint of the American Management Association titled 30 Reasons Why Employees Hate Their Managers by Bruce L. Katcher with Adam Snyder (, statistics indicate that employees are less than happy for a variety of reasons, ranging from lack of respect (46%), little training (51%), and unfair pay (61%) to. . .no job security (54%). You can imagine what that does to productivity—to say nothing of high-quality work.

So what’s going on here? In a drive for reduced overhead costs, there has been a drive to reduce the number of people. At the same time, there is an insistence on producing more, different product. So think about it: More to get done and fewer people who can do it. How many managers and executives are taking the time to think about work flow, or about facilitating getting the job done? Compare whatever number you estimate as an answer to that question with the number you come up with for this: How many managers and executives are themselves under the gun by their supervisors or by Wall Street such that they’re worried about their own longevity? Around the Detroit community there is a “dead pool” in which the names of various automotive executives are floated vis-à-vis their tenure—these are well-known names, and the length of their continued employment tends to be comparatively short. Part of the trouble is that there is more doing than thinking. In order to get things done, expediency trumps reflection. Under ordinary circumstances, that might work. It might not work out ideally, but generally speaking, there probably isn’t too significant a downside. But the times right now in the auto industry are anything but ordinary. People are openly talking about the Ford Motor Company going out of business; Chrysler is seemingly on the block; General Motors executives are busy claiming that the corporation will remain in first place globally while Toyota’s sales and profits inexorably climb. And this doesn’t even take into account the moves by companies like Hyundai and the nascent Chinese challenge. No, these are not ordinary times.

Yes, there is much to do. Yes, there are fewer people to do it. But this calls for measures that are enabling, not Draconian. This calls for understanding, not penalties. It would probably be a simple thing to go to any of several automotive facilities—be it an engineering center or a manufacturing site—and to get a list of 60 Reasons Why Employees Hate Their Managers. Meanwhile, there are other organizations where the employees and the managers are in sync, where there are conditions that don’t resemble those of guerilla warfare. Which is going to be more competitive? Which is going to be more successful? Which is going to create better products? Which is going to realize superior profits? And where do you want to work? The point is, people perform better in situations wherein they feel that there is an upside. And for most people, this upside is not the avoidance of finding a cardboard box and pink slip within it on their desk. The old line “Beatings will continue until morale improves” seems to be becoming the norm in many organizations. While there is no corporal punishment going on per se, there is undoubtedly an underlying vibration that brings to mind one of those slasher movies where you know something horrible is about to happen—GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN!!!! Clearly, that’s not a place where top-notch work is going to be done. And who will be successful? The companies where that’s not the case.