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With (and Without) Pressure

Salon today features an article about external pressures on Wal-Mart: national protest campaigns, a documentary film, and other efforts to change how the biggest-box retailer works.

Compare those makings of change to parallel efforts at American Airlines. There, employees on the inside are striving to save money — as well as jobs and the company's future. Their small, sensible steps remind me of those taken on the USS Benfold.

Just goes to show, ideas are free, and sometimes, you just have to look close to home. What's most likely to change your company: inside or outside pressure?

Take the Fast Company poll.

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  • Steve B

    While it is unfortunate, many of today's struggling companies really do not want to change. They will hire consultants and create quality teams, but when push comes to shove, they return to the old way of doing things. You only have to look at the two industries mentioned, automotive and airlines, to see how true this is. Both industries are blaming their problems on high labor costs instead of looking at the core issue which is how they conduct business.

    The Big Three continue to crush their suppliers while being overly bureaucratic and slow to react to the marketplace. There are three or four layers that have to agree for any decision to be made and no will take responsibility for it. It would be interesting to see how the percentage of non-manufaction employees has changed in the last twenty years and what the overall effect on the bottom line has been. My guess is that while the percentage of employees actually building cars has dropped so has the profitability of the companies.

    The same issues are true with the traditional airlines. They continue to say that they cannot compete due to wage issues and at the same time build Taj Mahals for terminals. Most travelers that I know could care less about where they wait for a plane as long as its on time and the employees are courteous. This high level of dissonance has led to disasters at places such as US Air and United.

    Management would much rather blame competiton or front line employees than look at themselves as the problem.

  • Stephen

    You better believe business is about change now. I work in the automotive industry and everyone is in a mad rush to get leaner. Everyone wants a piece of the pie: China, Mexico, Brazil. It is no longer a given that US suppliers get the automotive contracts.

    Quality is a given. You don't even get to the table without quality. Cost is now the battleground. US companies must find a way to compete with "low cost" countries that offer significantly lower wages.

    The only way is to re-think the way business is done. Thus the popularity of six sigma and the Toyota Production System. Everyone seems to be copying the latter.

    Me? I think that people need to change. More specifically, the systems that support people need to change. (Ex. education) Are our children developing the skills necessary to hold jobs in America? Sometimes I think not.

    For example, quality engineering is a big part of most manufacturing organizations. Yet, most universities do not offer this as a major. I have a side business that helps engineers become certified as quality engineers. (I've been doing this since 1991). When a student comes to my class, I assume that he knows the basics. I often find just the opposite. The engineers only know a fraction of what it takes to be a quality engineer.