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John Smithers at Sigtek – Organizational Behavior

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Implementing organizational change is typically a three-step process involving unfreezing, implementing change, and refreezing. Unfreezing refers to the idea of getting the organization to recognize the need for change, while refreezing refers to the solidification of new attitudes and practices put in place.

At Sigtek, John Smithers and Telwork, the parent company, essentially attempted to implement change without undertaking the unfreezing process. In other words, Telwork and Smithers attempted to force change upon an organization that had not yet concluded that there was a need for change or that the old way of doing things was no longer acceptable. Since management did not support change, structural inertia and work group inertia continued the pre-existing formal and informal social structures. Thus, though Smithers was initially successful in involving low-level employees in the change effort, he failed to educate senior and middle management as to the need for change.

In addition to failing to initiate the unfreezing process and establish a compelling business reason for change, Smithers and Telwork made several implementation errors. First, Smithers and Telwork failed to win the political support of senior management and did not use them to lead the change effort. Second, Telwork failed to give Smithers the power to change work structures and reward constructive behavior. Third, Smithers and Telwork failed to tailor the quality initiative to the specific needs of Sigtek. Fourth, Telwork imposed strict deadlines for implementing the quality initiative and failed to recognize that change is a slow process that requires flexibility. Fifth, Telwork failed to anticipate that the functional structure of Sigtek would lead to natural conflicts in implementation between Engineering and Operations, particularly given Bradley’s weak leadership. Finally, Telwork failed to set specific and measurable goals for senior management, and Smithers failed to set specific and measurable goals for middle management.

In short, Telwork and Smithers attempted to change Sigtek’s strategy towards focusing on quality without changing the structure, rewards, processes, or people of the organization. For example, since structure did not change, line workers did not have the authority to implement change. Since processes did not change, no time was budgeted for quality circle meetings. Since rewards did not change, management had no incentive to support change. Finally, the people left in charge were inappropriate to the change in strategy; Bradley was a weak leader, while Patricof lacked the knowledge and understanding required to implement a quality initiative.

Potential Implementation Improvements

Smithers could have implemented a number of initiatives to smooth the introduction of the Total Quality (TQ) initiative. In particular, he could have initiated efforts to:

1) Gain support from top management;

2) Increase participation;

3) Set specific and measurable goals for management;

4) Recommend changes in the reward structure;

5) Recommend changes in the work structure;

6) Recommend a more flexible time line and implementation to corporate management;

7) Increase Smithers’ own position power to facilitate implementation;

Gain support from top management. Smithers should have gained the support of top management before quality training began in order to initiate the unfreezing process. Smithers could have gained Bradley and Patricof’s support by educating and better communicating with Bradley, Patricof, and their staff. In particular, Smithers could have asked Bradley’s and Patricof’s superiors from Telwork to give a seminar to upper and middle management on the strategic need for change at Sigtek, highlighting Sigtek’s increasingly dire situation, competitor quality levels, and the increasing importance of quality in the industry. Not only would such a presentation demonstrate the real need for change, but would also signal Bradley and Patricof that they were accountable for implementation. In addition, it would create pressure on Bradley and Patricof from their mid-level managers to ensure implementation of the TQ program if they faltered. Finally, if Smithers played a prominent role in the seminar, this would signal Smithers’ own network power with the corporate staff as well as his position power.

Increase participation. Once the need (or at least the argument) for change had been established with senior and mid-level managers, Smithers should have involved them in the change process in order to get them to have a stake in the change process and create the opportunity to solve their own problems. One way that Smithers could have increased participation was by conferencing with these managers for a day, perhaps even in the form of a retreat, to identify areas where they felt that quality initiatives could benefit Sigtek (e.g. suppliers, manufacturing, customer service, etc.) and then letting them brainstorm solutions. To ensure a maximum of ideas and broad participation, Smithers could break them up into teams of 3 managers and let them compete to see who had the most ideas and solutions. By involving these managers, Smithers would then have made them active participants in the change process and would have opened their minds to the potential of the change process for solving their own problems, thus aligning their interests with Smithers’ interests.

Set specific and measurable goals for management. Neither Telwork nor Smithers set specific and measurable goals for individual managers. As a consequence, they were unable to identify implementation problems early on. By setting using goal setting techniques to establish specific and measurable goals for each manager and then providing feedback to managers, Smithers could have made them accountable. One way Smithers could have implemented this recommendation would be by deciding on a targeted quality improvement with each manager and then meeting with them weekly to assess progress.

Recommend changing the reward structure. Once Smithers achieved initial buy-in, he should have recommended changing the reward system in order to ensure that management was incentivized to actually implement the quality initiative. Although it might be unrealistic to expect Smithers to be able to change the entire compensation system immediately, it would certainly be realistic for Smithers to recommend to corporate that they allocate funds for a monthly quality improvement bonus pool, rewarding managers publicly for demonstrated improvements in quality as measured by number of defects, etc. In addition, Smithers could award monthly non-monetary awards for runners-up, work teams, etc. The use of monetary rewards will not only capitalize upon the value of setting goals, but also use expectancy theory to indicate instrumentality, meaning the idea that their actions will be rewarded.

Recommend changing the work structure. After achieving initial management buy-in, Smithers should have recommended to Bradley, Patricof, and the middle managers that the line workers should be given increased autonomy and decision-making power to address quality issues, such as the bouncing circuit board problem. Smithers could implement this recommendation by personally managing quality circles for different work teams and personally assisting in implementing improvements in order to short circuit middle management bureaucracy. In addition, he could have recommended implementing a less formal team-based divisional structure that merged Engineering and Operations in order to align their interests. Thus, for example, teams of engineers and manufacturing specialists would be responsible for the design, manufacturing, and quality of various components of the circuit boards being manufactured.

Recommend a more flexible time line and implementation to corporate management. Smithers should have recommended a more flexible time line and implementation to corporate management, in order to allow a buffer for the inevitable delays and setbacks and enable Sigtek to focus more on the substance of the initiative rather the style. In addition, Smithers should have asked corporate to be allowed to tailor the quality initiative to Sigtek’s specific needs in order to increase the program’s relevance and utility to middle management. Not only would tailoring the quality initiative to Sigtek’s needs ensure that they were solving the right problems, involving management in diagnosing Sigtek’s specific strengths and weaknesses, and setting change goals would have achieved further management buy-in.

Increase Smithers’ own position power. In addition to the recommended implementation changes, Smithers should also have sought to increase his own position power in order to improve his ability to effect change.

Expand his contact network. In particular, Smithers could have used his job as site quality instructor expand his contact network to enable him to talk with quality instructors in other divisions, as well as with other senior managers. Networking would offer increased information about how implementation was going at other facilities, what problems other instructors were facing, and how they dealt with them. In addition, this expanded network would give him potential allies in case Bradley or Patricof were to block his efforts.

Perform more novel tasks. Smithers could also have increased his position power by performing more novel tasks, such as creating a quality index for the division or undertaking a comparative benchmarking study for the division.

Increase the visibility of his position. Another way that Smithers could have increased his position power is by increasing the visibility of his position. Smithers could implement this by publishing a weekly “Quality Update” in the plant, sending copies of reports to corporate quality management, and volunteering for corporate level task forces.

Become more involved in the organization’s central activities. Finally, Smithers could have increased his position power by becoming more involved in activities central to the organization’s top priorities. Specifically, Smithers could have made a greater effort to meet with Operations and identify their needs and potential problems. Not only would this have helped to bridge the gap between engineering and operations, as well as increase Smithers power by making him a linking pin, it would have improved his relationship with Patricof.

Options for Smithers at Christmas

At Christmas, Smithers can pursue one of three strategies if he wants to keep the Total Quality initiative moving forward in addition to saving his own job:

1) a collaborative strategy, whereby he works with Patricof and pursues his own goals as well;

2) an avoiding/ignoring strategy in which he ignores Patricof altogether and pursues solely his own initiatives; or

3) a competing/hostile strategy, in which he works against Patricof.

Collaborative Strategy. If Smithers chooses to pursue a collaborative strategy, he could continue teaching as Patricof requested, build his relationship with Patricof, and attempt to continue implementing the quality initiative. Smithers could attempt to build his relationship with Patricof by meeting with him and expressing support for common areas of interest, such as impressing corporate management and improving profitability to look good to them. After identifying common interests, Smithers could point out that they needed to keep the TQ program in place since it was a corporate initiative, but that the scale of the initiative and the associated disruptions could be minimized in order to enable Patricof to meet his profitability targets. This alternative would likely save Smithers’ job, and keep the TQ program in a downsized form. This is a low risk, low return strategy since Smithers will likely be able to keep his job given his unique, specialized knowledge, but the program will survive in only a weakened form. However, this strategy does leave open up the opportunity for implementing a strengthened TQ later either through convincing Patricof or convincing middle management of its importance..

Avoiding/Ignoring Strategy. If Smithers chooses to pursue an avoiding/ignoring strategy, he could keep teaching and refuse to negotiate or play politics with Patricof. In continuing his teaching effort Smithers could continue to attempt to rally support for TQ among line workers and middle management in an attempt to build a coalition with them and thereby pressure and convince Patricof of the importance of TQ. Smithers could also work with Cross on the side to apply TQ to Cross’ newly assigned and faltering product line in the hopes of demonstrating the usefulness of TQ techniques to Patricof. This alternative could lead to continued loss of credibility for Smithers among line workers and middle managers if he does not first convince middle management of the need for change so that he can change work structures and reward systems. Smithers also risks a loss of credibility if he is unable to revive the faltering product line. This is a moderately risky strategy since even if Smithers is successful in revving the product line, gaining credibility for TQ, and restoring his own reputation, Patricof has no incentive to retain him. In fact, if Smithers is successful in reviving the line, Patricof will look foolish and, therefore, will have an additional incentive to fire him.

Competing/Hostile Strategy. If Smithers chooses to pursue a competing/hostile strategy, he can pursue either an overtly hostile strategy or a clandestinely hostile strategy. If Smithers chooses to pursue an overtly hostile strategy, he could appeal to Patricof’s boss at Telwork or the TQ committee to point out that Patricof is using the company’s TQ initiative to advance his own personal political goals of demoting his peers. In addition, Smithers could increase his own credibility by pointing out his own successes at Sigtek and offering these superiors suggestions for improving the implementation of TQ at Sigtek. For instance, Smithers could suggest increasing the visibility of TQ, restoring cross-functional teams, integrating the engineering and operations departments, introducing bonuses tied to quality, etc. This is a high-risk, high-reward alternative since it could leak to either Smithers or Patricof being fired.

If Smithers chooses to pursue a clandestinely hostile strategy, he could attempt to create a favorable impression with Patricof by identifying common interests, as previously described, while restricting Patricof’s access to information, and secretly rallying support among the line workers by blaming Patricof and middle management for implementation failures. In addition, in order to improve his own job security, Smithers could attempt to secretly build alliances with quality managers at corporate headquarters and on the Quality Committee, while also letting them know about the problems at Sigtek. This is also a high-risk strategy, but with only moderate rewards since Smithers will certainly get fired if Patricof finds out. Even if Smithers is successful, however, in rallying support against Patricof, Smithers runs the risk of corporate management labeling him for “playing politics” and using inappropriate tactics against his boss.


I recommend that Smithers begin by pursuing a collaborative strategy with Patricof since this strategy has the highest probability of saving Smithers’ job and then pursue an overtly hostile strategy if the collaborative effort fails. As previously mentioned, Smithers could implement this strategy by meeting with Patricof finding common areas of interest and attempting to invent options for mutual gain. Although Patricof clearly plays politics, it does not appear that he has any actual goal conflict with Smithers. Rather, Patricof either fails to see the need for the program (cognitive conflict) or does not feel Smithers is implementing it appropriately (procedural conflict).

Since the latter two forms of conflict can be resolved by increased communication, the option of working with Patricof actually the most potential of any option since it could lead to a win-win situation where Smithers is able to continue implementing TQ, perhaps in a more limited way, while Patricof can look good to management without having to fire a highly visible employee. Even taking into consideration a more modest outcome in which Smithers may have to manage a slimmed down TQ program, continued tenure at Sigtek and an improved relationship with Patricof will allow for the possibility of convincing Patricof of the merits of TQ later on. As a consequence, Smithers best option is to pursue a collaborative strategy with Patricof and improve communication with him in order to identify each party’s true interests (as opposed to their perceived positions) and then work together to invent options for mutual gain.

If the collaborative effort fails, Smithers should then initiate the overtly hostile strategy since he would have nothing to lose at this point. Pursuing the avoiding strategy would be useless since Patricof would have no incentive to retain Smithers and, therefore, it would only be a question of time until he was fired. Once collaborative negotiations have failed, Smithers has no choice but to pursue the overtly hostile strategy since Smithers will be unable to maintain the pretense of common interests if Patricof refuses to work with him. It is extremely unlikely that the overtly strategy would succeed, which is why the collaborative strategy is the primary recommendation.

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