Nothing gets the attention of a reader better than a headline that declares the death of something. For example, Wired's story "The Web Is Dead. Long Live the Internet" has generated all sorts of discussion as people debate whether apps, such as iTunes and Facebook, will continue to grow in popularity and generally replace search engines as the means to find information. It's an interesting read, but hardly one that will make a difference to someone trying to turn around 500 metal assemblies for a morning delivery to an OEM customer.
This article, however, might be of interest to that metal fabricator. More than likely, The Wall Street Journal story "The End of Management" will verify something that the fabricator knew all along: Big bureaucracies don't cut it anymore.
Author Alan Murray explained it best: "In recent years, however, most of the greatest management stories have been not triumphs of the corporation, but triumphs over the corporation. General Electric's Jack Welch may have been the last of the great corporate builders. But even Mr. Welch was famous for waging war on bureaucracy. Other management icons of recent decades earned their reputations by attacking entrenched corporate cultures, bypassing corporate hierarchies, undermining corporate structures, and otherwise using the tactics of revolution in a desperate effort to make the elephants dance. The best corporate managers have become, in a sense, enemies of the corporation.
"The reasons for this are clear enough. Corporations are bureaucracies and managers are bureaucrats. Their fundamental tendency is toward self-perpetuation. They are, almost by definition, resistant to change. They were designed and tasked, not with reinforcing market forces, but with supplanting and even resisting the market."
Simply put, these bureaucracies can't react fast enough to changes in the marketplace. Decision-making takes place at a glacial pace, sabotaging any chance to compete with smaller and much nimbler competitors. Take a look at the extreme measures Sergio Marchionne had taken to flatten the Chrysler organization.
Of course, metal fabricators know this already. That's why they are having a difficult time filling certain jobs. Companies don't need button-pushers; they need individuals who can make intelligent decisions and understand how their contributions influence the organization's overall success.
Take General MetalWorks, Mequon, Wis., as an example. The FABRICATOR Industry Award winner for 2010 believes that its employees are an integral part of the company's prosperity, and they treat them as such. When the shop floor requested two press brakes and hardened, precision-ground tooling, they had to prepare a cost justification for the investment. When the company started to pursue ISO certification, shop floor employees emerged as leaders and guided the entire effort. Lean manufacturing consultants aren't needed, as employees are trained as lean leaders and influence the production activities of their colleagues. This type of structure allows company leaders to focus on strategic planning and developing new business, not micromanaging every aspect of day-to-day affairs.
The Great Recession has flattened these organizations even more. There's not a lot of fat left in these companies to trim.
Once again, real-life experience proves to be a better course in management than anything that can be read in a book or taught in a graduate-level course. Imagine what else Wall Street executives, management gurus, and Washington policymakers might find out if they ever left their plush, air-conditioned offices. This country definitely would be better off.