The concept poised to play the starring role in improving American
competitiveness had an unlikely origin - the research of social
psychologist Kurt Lewin and anthropologist Margaret Mead, working
with housewives during World War II to reduce consumption of
Their pioneering experiments in ``group dynamics'' involved, for
example, two sets of women who made grocery-purchasing decisions.
- One group was given the facts about rationing and was urged
to discuss solutions; they subsequently altered their food purchase
- The other group, which had received the same information via
lecture, exhibited little or no change in behavior.
Mead said that she ad Lewin learned ``you cannot do things to
people, but only with them.''
In the World War II experiments, ``participation'' was never
conceived as a kinder, gentler approach to management. The pressing
aim was to modify the behavior of large numbers of people. The
research revealed the inefficiency of trying to induce lasting change
through order giving.
Spurred by necessity, these ideas are belatedly beginning to
Start on the shop floor. I've discussed in this space the power
of involvement (psychological ``ownership'') among hourly workers
and work teams at the likes of Worthington Industries, Johnsonville
Foods, Harley-Davidson, New United Motors Manufacturing Inc. and the
Aid Association for Lutherans. In each instance, management has
been taken aback by just how far involvement can proceed - and by
what stunning results can be achieved in short order.
Next, consider ``ownership'' among managers. Consultant Kiyoshi
Suzaki recently reported in the magazine Success on a turnabout at a
2,600-person Borg-Warner operation. Each mid-level manager was
named ``president'' of a company bearing her or his name. The next
department ``down'' the line became a customer; the one ``up'' the
line, a supplier. The ``boss'' is banker.
Wayne Annen, transfer-case division maintenance manager, is
president of Annen Maintenance Engineering. He makes regular
customer calls on Fred Boyd Co., which is the steel parts
manufacturing department. Each manager-president presents an annual
business plan to his or her banker, like any small-business person
Even senior management suffers from disenfranchisement. In
fact, ``ownership'' can have its most dramatic effect near the top.
A recent A.T. Kearney study used long-run financial criteria to
pick out the best-managed Fortune 200 firms. Near the top of the
brief list of traits distinguishing the standout firms from others:
Division manager spending authority among the best averaged about
$20 million, 10 times that among same-sized also rans. …