Level versus Style – Consultant Intervention

– W. Egan

I was in the British subsidiary of a large multi-national animal feed company undertaking management development workshops and seminars. As part of this task I was using KAI and its theory because the main themes were role analysis and work style. I was aware that this part of the company did not undertake its own research (which was in other parts of it, including Britain). Although the research departments were constantly trying to develop new combinations, mixes etc., for the animal feed, the basic milling and other aspects of its production had not changed for 30 years.

The company is lead by a highly innovative man (the management contained few women) who has had a very rapid promotion to company chairman. He likes to describe himself as a “Theory X” (McGregor) man. In this large unit, power is in the hands of the Production Department, who regard Sales as unnecessary. There were problems, however, that were brought up with me. There were a growing number of customer complaints primarily related to late delivery, poor service from the mills in general and product quality. Production management passed some of these problems off as Sales matters, but mostly they believed that they were because of deficiencies in Production lower management. Further enquiry revealed an intriguing custom in this subsidiary that had developed over the years. Production management were recruited, often for tours of duty (to broaden experience) from managers for R&D. These turned out to be on average more innovative than would be usual in other Production departments. They were, however, highly qualified as far as higher degrees were concerned. The lower ranks were clearly less formally qualified and undoubtedly more adaptive. Over recent years a gap had opened up between the two groups, one believing the other to be of lower capacity (in fact of lower qualification) and the lower group regarded their leaders as inexperienced in critical areas required by production practice. We could not test the truth of the degree of adaptiveness of the lower ranks – they were not included in the current company training program! Discussions with some of the younger managers, “on tour” from R&D suggested that this tour was a necessary chore. The reasons for customer complaints were getting clear for me, but how to get this across to the management would take longer to resolve. In the table below are the KAI scores of the 74 managers (that is, almost all of the total) involved with the training program of whom only administration yielded an expected mean score!

N Mean s.d.

All Manager 74 102.55 16

Sales 21 108.05 13

Production 23 104.4 15

Head Office 30 97.23 18

Discussion with Kirton confirmed my view that style was being taken as a level. Another level was also regarded as important, education but experience on the job (with appropriate level of training qualification) and years of experience was being played down. Fortunately, it did not take too long for management to see that they needed to review this position. In this I was helped by those R&D managers who preferred not to be sent “on tour”, except as a learning exercise. We began to regroup, not as in the past, by downgrading those in post and recruiting more innovators with superb academic qualifications but by identifying management potential among the lower production personnel (actually 3 good prospects were readily identified) and begin the task of sending them on programs to obtain more qualifications, both technical and management, not only to give them this necessary knowledge but also to raise their esteem within themselves and in their management colleagues. Meantime, a task force was set up led by a carefully selected middle manager (ex R&D but with some years of experience in this department). He picked a team of two able and long experienced foremen and they began immediately to deal intensively with customer complaints by tightening procedures and systems (as a start).

This work occurred six months ago, but a visit back gave me the opportunity to talk to the management about this re-think. They all reported a rise in moral among the whole of the Production personnel and already a drop in complaints from customers was being noticed. They seemed to have appreciated that style not only needed to be taken in account (which they had not done consciously) but it needed to be distinguished from level. Level needed to be more sharply divided between general level and those specific levels needed for each key task. Once this policy was stated, the answers began to seem obvious and many wondered how they missed them earlier. It seems it required a new insight to bring home the message and this KAI provided. The interesting element was how the measure and its theory seemed to make the discussion easier to set up. There were no recriminations but just a round-the-table debate on whether this new theory offered them what was wanted. Once they saw that it might, by turning one’s attention on how the structure was being managed in relation to the problem, the round-the-table discussion turned to how to make the changes effectively. This was better than I expected, as I was prepared for a minor war between the parties, each blaming the other.

Egan Consultants, 1987