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Tuesday 24 April 2018
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Implementing Change Case Study – Ambridge Electronics

Version: PS/OC/3/1.0

 

From Evans, D. 1986 2nd Ed. Supervisory Management: Principles & Practice. Cassell.


 

This case study is about the implementation of quality circles in the fictitious Ambridge Electronics. A quality circle is composed of workers or even students, usually volunteers, usually under the leadership of their supervisor or an elected team leader. The group is trained to identify, analyse and solve work-related problems and present their solutions to management in order to improve the performance of the organisation, and motivate and enrich the work of employees, or life of students. When matured, true quality circles become self-managing, having gained the confidence of management.

 

The Board of Ambridge Electronics decided quality circles must be introduced thought the whole organisation quickly. The directors proposed to ask for 100% co-operation from the workforce at a mass meeting, when all the details and implications would be spelt out to the 250 strong workforce.

 

‘Communication is important’, Joint Managing Director Julia Asher emphasised. (Julia had recently returned from a management training course on introducing change.) ‘People must be given all the facts: no-one must be left in the dark. Doubt breeds insecurity. We must avoid any doubts or feeling of insecurity which may arise from ignorance. The company cannot therefore afford to waste time fiddle-faddling about over minor details, leaving major decisions hanging in the air’. Julia’s view prevailed.

 

The mass meeting was duly held and the details of the scheme announced. A quality circle was to be set up in every department and circle leaders’ names were read out. Meetings would start immediately and be held weekly, on Monday mornings. It was stressed that this was the chance for every employee to be involved in coping with the changes envisaged in the near future, as well as with quality control.

 

The news was heard quietly and Julia was surprised that there was little reaction to the idea, with only a few questions being asked, about meeting times and no comments.

 

Julian, Julia’s brother and co-managing director, decided to visit the inaugural meetings the following Monday. He found it a disturbing experience. Confusion reigned in most, arguments raged in some, and many workers just sat and watched the proceedings. Worse of all, not all workers were present. By the end of the second week, Julian was totally disillusioned. Morale was lower than before, production was down and the circle leaders had resigned. ‘It was a silly idea Julia’, he said, ‘I’m afraid all your wonderful theories don’t work out in practice!’

 

Task: Discuss what went wrong at Ambridge Electronics. How could the introduction of quality circles have been launched with a better chance of success?

 

 

NOTES FOR TRAINERS

Here are some things to draw out:

The nature of quality circles is predominantly voluntary. Imposing any change is likely to be unwelcome and with quality circles it is essentially at odds with their concept.

The senior management team is not on board with the implementation approach. Julia appears isolated but her view predominates.

Julia makes the mistake of thinking that telling people once is enough.

The idea is introduced with indecent haste.

There is no planned implementation, no piloting of the scheme in, say, one department, no training for staff and no support.

There is a lack of clarity about the purpose of circles, the roles of staff and the parameters of the work.

It is presented as ‘the chance’ for employee involvement – almost a ‘use it or lose it’ ultimatum.

Julia does not investigate the ‘quiet response’ in her meeting, missing an opportunity to prevent further negative consequences.

Julian is keen to see how things are working out...and perhaps even keener to see that things are not going well (link to lack of senior management support at the outset).

 

 

And some things to do differently:

Secure senior management consensus about the way forward.

Give clear information about the proposed change in multiple formats, and repeat messages.

Ensure there are key change agents – not necessarily the circle leaders, but possibly.

Seek early support, look for volunteers.

Establish an implementation plan, possibly piloting in one site or team first.

Provide training and support for staff.

Make sure people know what they are expected to do, what autonomy, influence and control they have.

Build in a feedback system to check that the process is running smoothly.