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Critical thinking - Essay Example

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It is an account of how Malcolm Walker, the Chief Executive of Iceland Frozen Foods, a food retailing supermarket chain, reversed the flagging fortunes of his company, saving it…
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Critical thinking
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Boss is the king of cool ‘Boss is the king of cool’ is an article which appeared in The Sunday Times on 8th March 2009. It is an account of how Malcolm Walker, the Chief Executive of Iceland Frozen Foods, a food retailing supermarket chain, reversed the flagging fortunes of his company, saving it from near bankruptcy and turning into one of the top best three companies to work for as rated by the employees.
The purpose of this paper is to hypothesise and examine the processes and procedures by which the CEO was enabled to make his company turn into one of the best performing, profitable companies in the UK. Its workforce of over 17, 000 men and women voted Iceland Frozen Foods the third most successful company compared with all other companies in motivating them to do their best.
Four years before the turnaround, morale was ‘at rock bottom after 40% of staff at the Deeside head office were made redundant’ (The Sunday Times, 2009). It is quite reasonable to assume in retrospect that top management at the time was incapable of motivating the workforce to achieve profitability and ensure the survival of the firm. It is quite likely that ‘scientific management’ or Taylorism as it is also called, may have been, the paradigm under which the top managers of Iceland Frozen Foods worked, in running the day to day affairs of the company. Or, they may not even have given much thought to motivating the workforce, but merely continued on traditional lines, hiring and firing believing that labour was a disposable item.
Taylorism is explained as the ‘decoupling of the labour process from the skills of the workforce’, and has been defined as ‘management strategies that are based upon the separation of conception from execution’ Pruijt, 2000). The knowledge and skills of how best to run the enterprise are confined to the heads of the few top mangers. The rest of the workforce merely follows orders to the letter. They have no discretion as to how they do their day to day jobs. They have to follow strictly laid out procedures. This may work well in some industries, say on a car assembly line, but in enterprises with close customer contact, this approach is unlikely to be optimal. Nevertheless, Prujit also acknowledges that McDonalds and call centres (customer service operations) use such strategies and can claim success by ensuring ‘predictability and controllability’ (op. cit.).
After Taylorism , Herzberg’s two-factor motivational theory became influential in alerting management to the value of tapping into the need for achievement and recognition on the part of the workforce. Merely attending to ‘hygiene’ factors such as company policy, better pay and perks alone will not motivate workers to give of their best. Herzberg, (2003) advocates ‘job enrichment’ not merely ‘job enlargement’ which may be how Malcolm Walker was able to get the workforce to have ‘confidence in the leadership skills of the senior management team giving a top 10 score of 73%’ (The Sunday Times (2009). What demotivates workers are the opposites of what motivates them. What Herzberg calls KITA, or using threats and admonishments may work temporarily, but is counterproductive in the long run. In those days labour, it was thought, could ‘be bought and sold just like any other “commodity” and (could) be treated in the same way’ (Reis & Pena, 2001). They call for ‘delegation of authority, employee autonomy, trust and openness, interpersonal dynamics and cooperation instead of competition’ (op. cit.) Herzberg (2003) agrees in saying that ‘people are motivated by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility’.
The awareness that workers were not mere ciphers to be manipulated for the ends of the organisation but that they had rights was to some extent the result of Trades Unions taking up the cause of workers. Not only that, as technology became ever more complex, firms required well-trained, knowledge workers, not mere factory hands. ‘In addition, political, social, and cultural changes required for new patterns of leadership, for authoritarian styles no longer became easily accepted’ (Reis & Pena, 2001) This strand of motivational theory expounded during ‘the 1950s and 1960s (was referred to as) the human relations movement (which) made enormous progress and enlisted many followers’ (op. cit.). In the UK, researchers at the Tavistock Institute conducting investigations among coal miners found that ‘job simplification and specialization did not work under conditions of uncertainty and non-routine tasks’ (op. cit.).
This type of motivation is in accord with Maslow’s needs hierarchy (Ramlall, 2004). As the basic needs of employees for fair wages, reasonable hours at work, holidays, non-discrimination (sex, race, disability etc.) i.e. equal opportunities, are respected (they are now legal requirements), workers will look for higher order needs to be satisfied through their employment. It is quite certain that ‘the king of cool’ Malcolm Walker realised this in time, so that he could initiate measures to provide his workers with opportunities to achieve promotions etc. by hard and intelligent work. Not only did he attend to ‘hygiene’ factors when he would increase pay by 6% when, according to the ‘finance guy’ the ‘going rate is 3%., more important, he also paid attention to motivational factors (as for example) when a worker who started with the firm as a home delivery driver could achieve promotion to the position of senior supervisor. It is claimed that staff at Iceland ‘don’t feel under too much pressure... and don’t tend to suffer from work-related stress’ (The Sunday Times, 2009).
Neverthless, no motivation theory however benign can work in all circumstances. One such theory is what Reis and Pena (2001) call ‘reengineering’. It was misconstrued by management as a recipe for downsizing. At a time of economic crisis, like the present, it is very likely that a CEO of Malcolm Walker’s calibre would see that the labour force would be attenuated by natural wastage, or through redeployment or retraining, and try to minimise the heartache of redundancy and job loss.
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