In a professional context, a team is no different. Composed of people with varying competence and skills, their mutual goal is, or should be, success. It goes to follow that when both main office and plant want to be successful on the market, they should all pull together. And pull they do, but not toward the same goal. HQ and plant are faced off in a tug-of-war, opposing teams whose sole intention is to conquer the other by pulling them over the center line. Neither the daily market competition nor a confrontation with a prominent rival are rooting them on to the height of performance – this is not a tug-of- war between Pepsi and Cola, McDonalds and Burger King or iPhone and Samsung – the opponents are on the same side but not on the same team. […]

Neither side is completely innocent in this often deadlocked situation. From the plant workers’ point of view the people at the main office are inflated fatheads. Who is actually producing something here? Who’s ultimately creating added value? (says the shift leader) Those people at the main office earn a boatload of cash, but when you need them, a veritable army of suits drive or even fly down here, acting like they’re the Almighty’s gift to the universe but probably have never seen the inside of a plant – heaven forbid worked there. Then they just make things more complicated than they are, keep my people from working and don’t offer a single useful solution to the problem. […]

It doesn’t help soften hostilities when the plant asks HQ for help with a critical situation and no one comes. Instead the plant manager gets an email with various forms to fill out so HQ can first analyze the problem from their end. “Is it really asking too much to send someone here to look at the problem firsthand?” is the plant’s response. “Those city slickers think they’re too good to get their hands dirty!” “Damned of you do, damned if you don’t,” HQ thinks. You really shouldn’t be surprised when plant workers react to unnecessary bureaucracy with hostility. When the main office creates blanket regulations and guidelines for the entire company they have little knowledge what waves they make in the individual plants. The people responsible for quoting at the main office have probably never assembled a product with their own hands. So how are they to know the domino effect they create for production when installing what they consider to be minimal changes? While the main office strives for standardization, cost and process optimization, tarring everything with the same brush, they often forget to account for the special onsite circumstances surrounding each plant. Not all factories are alike. Not by a long shot. […]

Such conflicts that arise from dichotomous viewpoints are sometimes founded on the same principle we described in Question 6, where we illustrated the cooperation business, the main office must deftly juggle several layers of time at once, i.e. cope with current doings while nurturing future prospects, not to mention having both eyes on the panorama of all plants. In contrast, each plant, like each works council, is primarily concerned with the here and now, i.e. securing production on a daily basis. What happens five years from now isn’t important. Slap a piece of chewing gum between two components if there’s no other way to have the parts ready so they leave the plant on time. The customer will be satisfied – at least for now. Should this improvised solution trigger a mass recall four or five years down the road, well, that’s HQ’s problem. […]

The strained relations between main office and plant often lie in each team member’s function. Main office managers work with structures, processes, numbers, data and facts such as quarterly and yearly results, workload, etc. As a rule, they are quite good at what they do. Still, HQ managers have never worked in a plant so they are unfamiliar with operative processes.

At the plant you find leaders. Their involvement in day to day business leaves them little time for strategic planning. They are responsible for people, so their full attention is on people work. Leaders must create a professional home for their employees, a place of well-being and productivity. When the main office plans factory expansion and neglects to provide sufficient employee parking or to enlarge the lunchroom; when they skimp on production equipment and facilities, resulting in malfunctioning processes in the new hall, stress and overwhelm are inevitable. The leader is confronted with burdens that could well have been avoided. Her employees’ motivation drops from optimal to minimal and, if the problems persist without any prospects of improvement, many may choose to leave.

An excerpt from the book “Leadership is More – 27 Questions We Too Can Answer” written by Gianni, Jan & Marcello Liscia, 2022

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