Plant Manager, Tom Harris greeted everyone by name when he walked through the plant and as far as one could tell, it seemed to be business as usual at DuPont. Most recently, Orion, a DuPont manufacturing operation had been closed, the equipment dismantled and sent to China, but there were no particular concerns regarding this change. When Tom contacted the University of Virginia, he was not looking to solve any particular problem; rather he sought to gather information that would help improve the overall effectiveness of the organization.
This was important to him because he was being pressured to do more with less. Tom’s interest was in introducing new ideas to his managers and applying those ideas to improving the plant, change management was not a framework used to explain or accomplish anything. The consultant spent six months interviewing employees and observing the work environment. DuPont’s approach to change very much fits the classic model of OD.
Key Words: Organizational Development, OD, change management, team work, experimental learning.
Key and Underlying Issues
DuPont recently closed their Orion manufacturing operation, dismantled the equipment and shipped it to China. This change appeared to have little impact on the employees, who for the most part, appeared to view the move as routine business for the company. In the meantime, Tom Harris, the plant manager, who “…was under increasing pressure to do more with less” (Palmer, Dunford, and Atkins, 211), contacted the University of Virginia in hopes of obtaining new insights that he could share with his managers to help improve plant operations. After six months of interviews and observations, the consultant provided Tom with the results of his study.
Tom’s leadership team was instructed to introduce change to their employees as an experiment in such a way that ideas should be tried, monitored for a period of time, and stopped if they do not work. From this perspective, changes are presented as experiments and forces the leadership team (and their employees) to think things through and to decide how and when to measure any results. In analyzing the potential outcomes ahead of time, the group is able maintain a certain amount of control over the process. Even if the results are not as expected, the experiment can still be viewed as a positive experience from which everyone learned something (Palmer, Dunford, and Atkins, 212).
Facts, Tentative Solutions, and Potential Follow-up
DuPont’s approach to change appears to fit the classic model of OD. The initiative has the support of the plant manager. Changes to the organization are planned and executed like other projects within the company, while executing real actions being a key priority. DuPont also focused on the local culture with the use of a NASCAR metaphor to help employees understand the importance of effective teamwork. The NASCAR metaphor allowed DuPont to get across the point that performance matters in a way that employees could relate to.
DuPont’s approach to change also encourages experimental learning (risk taking). According to (Palmer, Dunford, and Atkins, 211) “If you describe every change as an experiment, the ability of people to digest it goes up an order of magnitude.” From this perspective, plant management is encouraged to try different processes and procedures as long as they are willing to stop experiments that are not working.
A weakness with strategy, however, is that it is time consuming. In order to remain competitive, changes often need to be implemented quickly and efficiently. Traditional OD is not quick or efficient. DuPont would be well served to explore a contingency approach(s) that would allow the organization to adapt quickly, if needed, to certain changes in the environment. In keeping with the spirit of participatory management, the leaders could challenge employees to develop strategies that would allow it to respond quickly to changes in the environment. Since employees developed the ideas themselves, they would be more likely to implement the changes when needed.
The strength of DuPont’s approach has to do with the fact that management and workers appear to have a hand in decision making. According to (Witt, L., 1992) “workers will manifest responsible adult behaviors only when their managers realize that they want to be involved in making decisions.” Giving workers a voice can include allowing them to help define the problems and/or solutions, or as in the case of DuPont, they are encouraged to experiment with different ideas and they are free to decide to stop if the outcomes are not favorable.
Palmer, I., Dunford, R., & Akin, G. (2009). Managing organizational change: a multiple perspectives approach (2nd ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill Irwin.
Witt, L. (1992). ORGANIZATIONAL POLITICS, PARTICIPATION IN DECISIONMAKING, AND JOB SATISFACTION. Office of Aviation Medicine Federal Aviation Administration, DOT/FAA/AM-92/17(April), 1-15.