Read the Hovey and Beard Company Case, and answer the following questions. 1. Discuss how the principles of job design and reinforcement theory apply to the performance problems at the Hovey and Beard Company. 2. Analyze the performance problems using the “performance diagnosis model” in Chapter 7. 3. Note: Do not answer the questions after each part of the case, although they may help you form your answer. 4. Remember to organize your answer well and write concisely because there are many points you can raise about the Hovey and Beard Company case.
The Hovey and Beard Company manufactured a variety of wooden toys, including animals, pull toys, and the like. The toys were manufactured by a transformation process that began in the wood room. There, toys were cut, sanded, and partially assembled. Then the toys were dipped into shellac and sent to the painting room. In years past, the painting had been done by hand, with each employee working with a given toy until its painting was completed. Most of the toys were only two colors, although a few required more than two.
Now, in response to increased demand for the toys, the painting operation was changed so the painters sat in a line by an endless chain of hooks. These hooks moved continuously in front of the painters and passed into a long horizontal oven. Each painter sat in a booth designed to carry away fumes and to backstop excess paint. The painters would take a toy from a nearby tray, position it in a jig inside the painting cubicle, spray on the color according to a pattern, and then hung the toy on a passing hook.
The rate at which the hooks moved was calculated by th4e engineers so that each painter, when fully trained, could hung a painted toy on each hook before it passed beyond reach. The painters were paid on a group bonus plan. Since the operation was new to them, they received a learning bonus that decreased by regular amounts each month. The learning bonus was scheduled to vanish in six months, by which time it was expected that they would be on their own- that is, able to meet the production standard and earn a group bonus when they exceeded it. By the second month of the training period, trouble developed.
The painters learned more slowly than had been anticipated, and it began to look as though their production would stabilize far below what was planned. Many of the hooks were going by empty. The painters put and had to be replaced with new ones. This further aggravated the learning problem. The team spirit that the management had expected to develop through the group bonus was not in evidence except as an expression of what the engineers called “resistance. ” One painter, whom the group regarded as its leader ( and the management regarded as the ringleader), was outspoken in taking the complaints of the group to the supervisor.
These complaints were that the job was messy, the hooks moved too fast, the incentive pay was not correctly calculated, and it was too hot working so close to the drying oven. A consultant was hired to work with the supervisor. She recommended that the painters be brought together for a general discussion of the working conditions. Although hesitant, the supervisor agreed to this plan. The first meeting was held immediately after shift was over at 4 p. m. It was attended by all eight painters. They voiced the same complaints again: The hooks went by too fast, the job was too dirty, and the room was hot and poorly ventilated.
For some reason, it was this last item that seemed to bother them most. The supervisor promised to discuss the problems of ventilation and temperature with the engineers, and a second meeting was scheduled. In the next few days the supervisor had several talks with the engineers. They, along with the plant superintendent, felt that this was really a trumped-up complaint and that the expense of corrective measures would be prohibitively high. The supervisor came to the second meeting with some apprehensions. The painters, however, did not seem to be much put out.
Rather, they had a proposal of their own to make. They felt that if several large fans were set up to circulate the air around their feet, they would be much more comfortable. After some discussion, the supervisor agreed to pursue the idea. The supervisor and the consultant discussed the idea of fans with the superintendent. Three large fans were purchased and installed. The painters were jubilant. For several days the fans were moved about in various positions until they were placed to the satisfaction of the group.
The painters seemed completely satisfied with the results, and the relations between them and the supervisor improved visibly. The supervisor, after this encouraging episode, decided that further meetings might also prove profitable. The painters were asked if they would like to meet and discuss other aspects of the work situations. They were eager to do this. Another meeting was held and the discussion quickly centered on the speed of the hooks. The painters maintained that the engineer had set them at an unreasonably fast speed and that they would never be able to fill enough of them to make a bonus.
The discussion reached a turning point when the group’s leader explained that it wasn’t that the painters couldn’t work fast enough to keep up with the hooks but that they couldn’t work at that pace all day. The supervisor explored the point. The painters were unanimous in their opinion that they could keep up with the belt for short periods if they wanted to. But they didn’t want to because if they showed they could do this for short periods then they would be expected to do it all day. The meetings ended with an unprecedented request by the painters: “ Let us adjust the speed of the belt faster or slower depending on how we feel.
The supervisor agreed to discuss this with the superintendent and the engineers. The engineers reacted negatively to the suggestion. However, after several meetings it was granted that there was some latitude within which variations in the speed of the hooks would not affect the finished product. After considerable argument with the engineers, it was agreed to try the painters’ idea. With misgivings, the supervisor had a control with a dial marked “ low, medium, fast” installed at the booth of the group leader. The speed of the belt could now be adjusted anywhere between the lower and upper limits that the engineers had set.
The painters were delighted and spent many lunch hours deciding how the speed of the belt should be varied from hour to hour throughout the day. Within a week the pattern had settled down to one in which the first half hour of the shift was run on a medium speed (a dial setting slightly above the point marked “medium”). The next two and a half hours were run at high speed, and the half hour before lunch and the half hour after lunch were run at low speed. The rest of the afternoon was run at high speed with the exception of the last 45 minutes of the shift, which was run at medium.
The constant speed at which the engineers had originally set the belt was actually slightly below the “medium” mark on the control dial; the average speed at which the painters were running the belt was on the high side of the dial. Few, if any, empty hooks entered the oven, and the inspection showed no increase of rejects from the paint room. Production increased, and within three weeks (some two months before the scheduled ending of the learning bonus) the painters were operating at 30 to 50 percent above the level that had been expected under the original arrangement.
Naturally, their earnings were correspondingly higher than anticipated. They were collecting their bass pay, earning a considerable piece-rate bonus, and still benefiting from the learning bonus. They were earning more now than many skilled workers in other parts of the plant. Management was besieged by demands that the inequity between the earnings of the painters and those of other workers in the plant be taken care of.
With growing irritation between the superintendent and the supervisor, the engineers and supervisor, and the superintendent and engineers, the situation came to a head when the superintendent revoked the learning bonus and returned the painting operation to its original status: The hooks moved again at their constant, time-studied, designated speed. Production dropped again and within a month all but two of the eight painters had quit. The supervisor stayed on for several months, but, feeling aggrieved, left for another job.
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