Elektra Products, Inc.
Barbara Russell, a manufacturing vice president,
walked into the monthly companywide meeting with
a light step and a hopefulness she hadn’t felt in a long
time. The company’s new, dynamic CEO was going
to announce a new era of employee involvement and
empowerment at Elektra Products, an 80-year-old,
publicly held company that had once been a leading
manufacturer and retailer of electrical products and
supplies. In recent years, the company experienced a
host of problems: market share was declining in the
face of increased foreign and domestic competition;
new product ideas were few and far between; departments
such as manufacturing and sales barely spoke
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We made it great once, and we can do it again. Just get out of
our way.” Simon had been a manufacturing engineer
with Elektra Products for more than 20 years. Barbara
knew he was extremely loyal to the company, but
he—and a lot of others like him—were going to be an
obstacle to the empowerment efforts.
Top management assigned selected managers to
several problem-solving teams to come up with ideas
for implementing the empowerment campaign. Barbara
loved her assignment as team leader of the manufacturing
team, working on ideas to improve how
retail stores got the merchandise they needed when
they needed it. The team thrived, and trust blossomed
among the members. They even spent nights and
weekends working to complete their report. They
were proud of their ideas, which they believed were
innovative but easily achievable: permit a manager
to follow a product from design through sales to customers;
allow salespeople to refund up to $500 worth
of merchandise on the spot; make information available
to salespeople about future products; and swap
sales and manufacturing personnel for short periods
to let them get to know one another’s jobs.
When the team presented its report to department
heads, Martin Griffi n was enthusiastic. But shortly
into the meeting he had to excuse himself because of a
late-breaking deal with a major hardware store chain.
With Martin absent, the department heads...