Worker Leadership

Worker Leadership: America's Secret Weapon in the Battle for Industrial Competitiveness

Fred Stahl
foreword by Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 332
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  • Book Info
    Worker Leadership
    Book Description:

    How can American manufacturing recapture its former dominance in the globalized industrial economy? InWorker Leadership, Fred Stahl proposes a strategy to boost enterprise productivity and restore America's industrial power. Stahl outlines a revolutionary transformation of industrial culture that offers workers real control of production operations and manufacturing processes (as well as a monetary share of the savings from productivity gains). Stahl develops this new Theory of Worker Productivity into a strategy of Worker Leadership, with concrete, real-world examples. Combining some of the methods of lean manufacturing made famous by Toyota with genuine worker empowerment unlike anything at Toyota, Worker Leadership creates highly productive jobs loaded with responsibility and authority. Workers, Stahl writes, love these jobs precisely because of the opportunities to be creative and productive. Worker Leadership also offers important benefits for organized labor. It promotes the vitality and growth of labor unions through a shared responsibility with management for growth and profitability.Stahl's approach was inspired by changes implemented at John Deere factories by a general manager named Dick Kleine. Stahl uses the story of Kleine's transformation of the Deere factories to construct a checklist of essential conditions for Worker Leadership. He also discusses competition with China and South Korea and tells the story of production that GE recently "reshored" from China to the United States. Stahl considers the potential for applying Worker Leadership beyond manufacturing, provides a brief history of manufacturing, and even reveals the dark side of Toyota's system that opens another competitive opportunity for America.Worker Leadershipoffers a blueprint for global competitive advantage that should be read by anyone concerned about America's current productivity paralysis.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31727-6
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Joel Cutcher-Gershenfeld

    Virtually all major corporations survey the engagement of their employees and evaluate managers not just on performance as seen by upper managers but also on the level of engagement of those working for them. Similarly, virtually every major corporation has some form of “lean” or “Six Sigma” initiative or some other continuous-improvement program. Appropriately, these initiatives seek to reduce variability, eliminate waste, and improve the flow of value to customers.

    Fred Stahl asks whether this is the best we can do. For transformational performance, is it enough to have a highly engaged workforce and apply continuous-improvement tools and methods? Stahl...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xx)
  6. 1 America’s Productivity Paralysis
    (pp. 1-8)

    America can again be the manufacturing juggernaut it once was. The secret of success will be a new kind of production system. More than any other, this new system of work uses the most valuable asset of any enterprise—the minds of its workers—to lead production.

    This revolutionary production system depends on an unconventional theory for organizing work and managing workers. Many managers strive to improve productivity by supervising workers using methods derived from a popular but ineffectual premise: that a happy worker is a productive worker. The new Theory of Worker Productivity releases the productive power of the...

  7. 2 How Did We Get Into This Mess?
    (pp. 9-26)

    Fixing the productivity stagnation described in chapter 1 requires an appreciation of its origins and how the culture and institutions of production have evolved over millennia. We can find robust and effective solutions to our productivity paralysis only if we understand the history of how competitive pressures have shaped the technical, managerial, human, and business features of production systems that now seem to fail to deliver the competitiveness we need. This chapter tells the story of that evolution from ancient times to today’s global industries, highlighting the traditions and practices that should inform our search for better ways to make...

  8. 3 The Quest for the Holy Grail of Production Management
    (pp. 27-42)

    In the late 1970s, in the midst of an energy crisis and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology launched a research program to examine the troubled global automobile industry. The International Automobile Program assembled a research team of representatives of automakers from around the world. Its charter was to analyze the industrial, social, environmental, and economic issues surrounding the production, the use, and the long-term future of the automobile.

    In 1984 the team published its 325-page report, titledThe Future of the Automobile.² The report put forth a wide-ranging batch of conclusions having...

  9. 4 A Revolution at John Deere
    (pp. 43-64)

    Deere & Company—today a global corporation with $56 billion in assets and employing more than 66,000—began with one man in a nineteenth-century blacksmith shop.²

    When economic hard times hit Vermont in 1836, John Deere sold his business, packed up his tools, and set out for the American Midwest, then called the “Golden West.” He set up shop at Grand Detour, Illinois, near where some other Vermonters had settled. Just as he had been told, farmers breaking the rich soil in the northern plains needed the products and services of a smith. Within two days of his arrival, Deere’s forge...

  10. 5 First Change the Culture, Then Change Production
    (pp. 65-84)

    Markets for agricultural equipment steadily deteriorated through the 1980s. Annual capital expenditures by American farmers declined from a historic high of $21 billion in 1979 to a stunning low of $9 billion in 1986. As one after another of Deere’s competitors closed its doors or merged itself away, the company’s leaders in Moline struggled to keep the company alive and intact.

    The three factories of the Harvester Works were hurting worse than the rest of the company. Together they had more than 7,000 employees in the late 1970s. By the mid 1980s, they had only 3,500. The Planter Factory had...

  11. 6 Redesigning the Planter Factory for Worker Leadership
    (pp. 85-96)

    In December of 1989, Dick Kleine chose Bob Mays, a mid-career manager in the department of production engineering, to lead the planning and implementation team at Deere’s Planter Factory. In the spirit of “Working Together,” Mays recruited three union members (an assembler, a press operator, and an electrician) and nine salaried employees (from production engineering, production control, product engineering, purchasing, marketing, accounting, computer systems, manufacturing, and the corporate office) to take part in redesigning the factory.

    For the first few months, Kleine personally guided the redesign team, introducing his concept of modules and teaching his principles of density, flow, and...

  12. 7 Reaping the Fruits of Worker Leadership at the Harvester Works
    (pp. 97-110)

    How mighty were the forces for efficiency, quality, and job enrichment that Dick Kleine, the managers, the union leaders, and the workers unleashed in the Planter Factory? Was what they achieved a genuine success, or merely a rich source of anecdotes about factory change? What do the data show?

    Approving major capital investments is a responsibility of a corporation’s board of directors. Responsible stewardship ensures productive use of funds invested in the enterprise. One measure of capital productivity is return on assets—the ratio of operating profits to working capital plus total capital investment (including inventory, equipment, facilities, and capital...

  13. 8 A Bigger Picture of Change at Deere
    (pp. 111-126)

    Deere has two distinct businesses. The smaller of the two, with revenues of $2.2 billion in 2012, is Financial Services. The larger is Equipment Operations, which has two major components: Agriculture & Turf (tractors, landscaping and consumer equipment, and seeding and harvesting machinery) and Construction & Forestry. Equipment Operations had net sales of $34 billion in 2012.²

    Equipment Operations experienced good growth in the last decade of the twentieth century. Annual worldwide equipment sales almost doubled from 1991 to 2000. Sales continued their strong growth into the twenty-first century. Annual sales went from $11 billion in 2001 to $30 billion in 2011.³...

  14. 9 Worker Leadership
    (pp. 127-160)

    It might surprise you to learn when the following words were spoken:

    I am of the firm belief that business and labor, the leaders as well as the institutions, must change the way we’ve been doing business with each other over the last forty to fifty years, in order to regain our competitive edge.

    They sound recent, because they are so relevant today, but it was 1990 when Morton Bahr, who led the Communications Workers of America from 1985 to 2005, spoke of the need to change the adversarial system of labor relations to respond to global competition and social...

  15. Appendix A: A Brief History of Production and Production Management
    (pp. 161-210)
  16. Appendix B: Toyota’s Secret Precept
    (pp. 211-224)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 225-240)
  18. Index
    (pp. 241-245)