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Company Morale and Motivation

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The B.R. Richardson Timber Products Corporation in Papoose, Oregon, was seeking guidance concerning the possibility of a motivational course presentation for its employees. Richard Bowman, the industrial relations officer, had been informed that Jack Lawler would be a good contact for creating this situation. "Bowman had heard of Lawler's management training and consulting reputation" and decided to pursue his advice. After the contact was made, Bowman informed Lawler that the plant exhibited low morale and that a fatality had occurred at the plant in recent months. He also shared with him that "the plant manager was a bit authoritative." Due to the remark pertaining to the plant manager, Lawler wanted to know if the manager was in favor of a motivation course being provided. Bowman's response was that he didn't know but that the president of the firm, B.R. Richardson, was supportive of the idea. Lawler went on to say that more information was needed before he could adequately make a decision concerning an appropriate course of action and felt that a meeting with Richardson and Bowman should first take place. A meeting was decided upon, and Lawler explained that a diagnosis of the situation needed to first be conducted. Within a matter of days, Lawler responded to Richard Bowman and presented three alternatives: a recommendation for someone "who could design and/or present the 'motivation' course for the laminating workers" he himself could serve as a consultant with a diagnosis being made personally by him; or the involvement of graduate students who would both design and conduct the course for the plant. All parties "agreed that a more adequate diagnosis was probably a useful first step." Lawler made a decision to involve two of his graduate students, Mike and Mitch, to aid him in making the correct evaluation and decided that all observing and interviewing would take place within the framework of a single day. This information would then later be shared in class, and the seminar participants would participate in making the desired diagnosis. Before the actual field experience took place, Lawler presented his class with "an organization chart on the blackboard that showed the various segments of the corporation and the lamination business, including the personal and main work groups." He also drew a layout of the plant so that the students could visualize more clearly the plant itself. He explained to the class that the company was a family owned corporation consisting of a logging operation, a lumber mill, the laminating plant, and a mill located in the eastern part of Oregon. He informed them that the laminating plant (which is the focal point of the diagnosis) resembled a long airplane hangar and that the finished products produced at this plant are "long, laminated wood roof trusses or beams like you sometimes see in supermarkets and arenas." He continued by describing the beams as being composed of multiple layers of "two-by-fours, two-by-sixes, and two-by-eights" which have actually been glued together "end-to-end and then side-to-side." Notches were even created in the ends to serve as a connection means to make really long pieces, if needed. This description allowed the students to realize the weight involved of the finished product produced at the laminating plant. The beams were stacked at one end of the plant as high as fifteen feet and, at times, have to be transported to different parts of the plant for needed specifications - not an easy task. He emphasized high noise level due to varying machines. Tools were stacked everywhere and maneuverability on the floor presented difficulty. Lawler had the class divide itself into two groups with Mike and Mitch at the center with the intent of helping to prepare them for their given task. "It was important to clarify what information might be usefully sought and how informal interviewing on the work floor might be accomplished." Lawler, along with Mike and Mitch drove to Papoose, Oregon, to meet with Richard Bowman who took them to the lamination plant where they met Joe Bamford, the manager. Lawler decided that he and his students would meet for lunch and would then summarize what they had so far learned. Lawler stressed the value of note taking and shared his opinion that the more notes taken, the better. On the drive home, Mike and Mitch were to dictate their information using their notes. When back at his office, Jack Lawler focused on the Richardson file by reviewing the notes taken by both him and his students so that he would be prepared for his upcoming meeting with Richardson and Bowman.

While reviewing his own notes, Lawler discovered a number of issues that posed a problem for the laminating plant's operation. He read of Ben Richardson as being described as very authoritarian and how he also has an extreme dislike for matters pertaining to workers' compensation. He further read that "approximately 70% of laminating plant lumber purchased outside" which means only 30% was being purchased from the Richardson mill. His notes stated that the quality of the material used at the plant was described as being only mid-range. Turnover was definitely a huge issue because from his own notes, Lawler read: "Turnover has consistently been high and continues. For a company as a whole it is around 72 to 76%. In the lam plant there was 100% turnover last year." Other areas of concern drawn from his notes mentioned the fact that there was no pension nor bonus unless you reported directly to Richardson. Overall, from his notes, Jack read that the supervisors were basically described as just plodding along. Turnover, accidents, and the recent fatality have given the plant a bad reputation within the community setting. The one thing that was in its favor was that it was considered to be economically successful. Bulletin boards posted outside of the office had all sorts of information attached to it and a blackboard in the lunchroom had jokes and congratulations (among other things) written on it. The notes showed a total disregard for computer use and awkward phone coverage. Follow up on sales was said to be weak, and a lack of supervision over key people was also mentioned. Shoddy secretarial work was apparent and left much to be desired. Lawler also read that scheduling was a major concern.

From Mitch's notes, scheduling problems were also brought to light, as well as the fact that "if they fall behind, they have no chance to catch up." Mitch stated that Joe had assumed a buddy relationship with those working under him which infringed upon him being in charge. Safety aspects also were written as a major concern due to the fact that "stuff" was strewn everywhere. Looking at Mike's notes, it was found that "the men change jobs so much that it's hard to train them." He also mentioned the fact of low morale due to both safety and overtime.

The fix for B.R. Richardson Timber Products Corporation will not take place over night. There are serious issues and more than one solution that need to take place. The company as a whole will need to be restructured. This will start by finding the correct structural design that will fit within the company. There are five structural designs to choose from: functional, divisional, matrix, process, and customer-centric. B.R. Richardson Company will benefit from using the process-based structure. The process-based structure consists of four levels. There is the senior management team, developing new products process, acquiring and filling customer orders process, and supporting customer usage process. "Process structures eliminate many of the hierarchical and departmental boundaries that can impede task coordination and slow decision making and task performance." The features of this process are characterized as work adds value, teams are functional, customers define performance, teams are rewarded for performance, teams are tightly linked, and team members are well informed and trained. Other key advantages of this process are: "improves speed and efficiency, adapts to environmental change rapidly, increases ability to see total work flow, enhances employee involvement, and lowers costs because of less overhead structure."

The next in resolving the company's problems is to use employee involvement. "Employee involvement seeks to increase members' input into decisions that affect organization performance and employee well-being." The four key elements in using employee involvement are: power, information, knowledge and skills, and rewards. Power provides people with enough authority to make work-related decisions covering various issues such as work methods. Information consists of accessing relevant information in a timely manner for effective decision making. Knowledge and skills are important to make sure employees are skillful enough and knowledgeable enough to make good decisions. Rewards are important because people generally do those things for which they are recognized. The company can also benefit from using performance management. An organization has a well-developed performance management process it can often outperform those who without one. The performance management model consists of practices and methods for goal setting, performance appraisal and reward systems which all influences individual and group performance. "Goal setting specifies the kinds of performances that are desired; performance appraisal assesses those outcomes; reward systems provide the reinforcers to ensure that desired outcomes are repeated."

In exploring the case of B.R. Richardson Timber Products Corporation, the main issues were not found within the employees themselves; however, on a top management level. There was little to no communication, the goals and strategies had different meanings to everyone, and no concern for the actual plant workers and their hard work. Even though the company was gradually growing from the previous year, the need to make adjustments was not relevant to top management. In order for this company to stay current and relevant in its market, the process discussed above should be taken into consideration. This will allow them to move in the right direction to a more efficient and safer environment for all who is involved.

Case Template
Case Title: B.R. Richardson Timber Products Corporation

Highlights of the Case: Jack Lawler, a professor and consultant, was hired to address the morale and motivation needs of B.R. Richardson Timber Products Corporation in Papoose, Oregon. After visiting the plant alone, Lawler gave the president, B.R. Richardson, three options to his approach of dealing with the company's issues. Of the three options, B.R. chose to allow Lawler along with some of his students to explore and question employees of the plant and analyze the data that was collected. This was chosen to save the company money that they did not want to spend. The two students that were selected were Mike and Mitch. After visiting the plant for a day, Lawler along with the two students reviewed their notes of their findings. This will allow Lawler to explore options that will best suite the company for their problems.

Key Problem(s): There were several problems within the company. However the key problems that stood out were:
Lack of communication
Low morale
Management style
Organizational structure

Possible Alternatives to Address Problem(s): The possible solutions to these issues were not easily thought of and are not guaranteed to fix all the problems right away. However, these solutions can guide the company in taking the right steps towards the improvements. The solutions that were found were:

Restructuring the organization by using the process-based structure.
Using employment involvement to understand the wants, needs, and what motivates the employees.
Also, the use of performance management which allows the function of goal setting.

Primary Learning from the Case: The B.R. Timber Company was very profitable but, had problems that could possibly close the plant down for good. It is noted in several areas of the case that management was too busy fighting for authority rather than focused on the struggles and safety of their employees. This company is an example of how even when money is being made, there are still problems that need to be addressed and resolved.

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