The Lost Art of Chewing Out

Managerial postures have shifted greatly over the years.  In the thirties and early forties, management operated in hard nosed direct order - you did it or else mode.  Industrial psychology had not yet reared its ugly head.  No manager of that era was concerned with labor saving devices.  Workers were supposed to get tired on the job.  Indeed if you were to look at the workload of that era, you would find, on a high speed press, one man hand feeding ink to two eight unit presses.  One man tending to two roll stands.  Three men jogging four delivery points.  Each of these jobs required an almost breaking point physical effort.  I know all of these jobs because I did each on and believe me, I was glad to have had the opportunity.

Physical amenities in those days were Spartan to say the least.  Dark, gloomy, noisy, ominous, was the norm for press rooms.  Absolutely no smoking was allowed even in the washrooms.  Smokers would sneak a smoke by exhaling into a flushing toilet to escape detection.  A work break was not even an idea in those days - you worked from bell to bell with no relief.  Shutting the machine down for a break was unheard of; providing a relief person was also unknown.  After and during the world war 2 women got work breaks and men followed later.

During this period the straw boss concept of management prevailed.  His job was to push people and machines to their maximum.  The straw boss ruled with an iron hand.  He did not issue orders, he made commands.  The straw boss was the disciplinarian and the enforcer of the work loads.  He ruled by fear and threats.  In many cases the straw bosses went beyond actual company policies, but no one complained for fear of losing that job and the management allowed the excesses to continue as long as the performance in the factory was acceptable.  These straw boss excesses led to the dramatic rise of organized labor.  With the arrival of unions, work practices were changed, crew sizes were increased and the straw boss was eliminated in many cases.  The backlash of the straw boss is that even today in some union press rooms a foreman can only reprimand a crewman through the union standard.  This was a direct result of workers needing protection from the brutal straw bosses of the past.

With the shift from straw boss to more professional managerial control there was a growing awareness that brutal enforcing efficiency could be replaced by improvement of methods, tools, and environments.  Western Electric did a landmark study on the impact of improved working conditions of productivity.

That became the era of management enlightenment.  The new manager moved toward Big Brother concepts, like asking instead of ordering for instance.  Personal involvement with each worker was the new mode.  Reason with and provide an atmosphere of growth and fulfillment became a manager's task.  The work place shifted from Dungeons and Dragons to Sesame Street.  Managers went to charm school instead of grumble and roar training.

From a technological standpoint the printing process moved from a craft intensive era where a pressman would require a five year apprenticeship, to the cold type, offset, where quality was almost totally dependent on pre-press input and the almost instant pressman was created.  Automation replaced training and skill.  With this shift from heavy craft requirements, the new breed of managers moved further from direct supervision of day to day production problems.  Crews were left on their own more and more.  Jobs moved almost autonomously from customer input to the shipping room.  The new era spawned the "what you got is what you get" concept.  If a red coat came out purple, it was not the pressman's fault, it was the pre-press.  he really could not fix it on the press.  This impotence gradually shifted to indifference.  One must realize that this wasn't all bad.  The run of the mill quality of the offset process was for the most part better than the craft intensive and supervisor involved quality of letterpress.  One quick reference point, in letterpress each plate was underlayed, spotted up, dropped, shaved, carded out, twisted, cut and stretched.  Impression was adjusted in the packing and under each plate.  Only the foreman was allowed to mark up impression.  He did that in a special booth using both surface and oblique light.  Each press had 128 individual plates.  Now, in offset, eight plates do it all, and impression is standard from job to job.  Make ready time shifted from days to hours, and sometimes recently, from hours to minutes.

now the marketplace has shifted again.  The "what you got it what you get" concept has been replaced by new, much more demanding standards.  Customers no longer will accept purple dresses where red was specified.  Waste factors are big items  in the much more price competitive, tight profit margin world.  Customers are no longer ecstatic about run of the mill quality.  Loose management is having a difficult time controlling a tough process that has escalated into higher and higher press speeds and more and more sophisticated machines.  on today's presses, the peripheral add-ons are much more of a problem than the actual printing unit.  You have dryers, chill drums, cut off controls, reels and in feeds.  To say the least, running a press is no longer an amateur sport.

So that brings us full circle from where we started.  We began with a very tough labor and skill intensive process which was driven by the straw boss.  Now we have moved into a very technologically driven process that has a very low tolerance for error.  Waste costs at current speeds are almost intolerable for instance.  That is our dilemma today.  We have a destructured managerial posture that is focused on paper work and office control functions while a much more sophisticated pressroom has slid into place almost unnoticed by those that should know.  This didn't happen overnight.  the offset process lent itself to short run fast turnaround jobs.  The paper work escalated as jobs came in and went out.  this demanded clerical types of press related skills.  To illustrate my point - I recently visited a very large pressroom.  Two managers ran the plant.  Here's an actual quote from the foreman, "I know we have a problem with that press.  I don't know what it is, and I don't have the time to find out."

The essence of what I have been driving at is that the foreman has indeed lost his capacity to chew out.  Why?  Because he doesn't have the foggiest idea of what's going on in his press and God help him if someone asks him what to do.  That's where our new managerial techniques have taken us.  We have shifted from people and process managers to number jugglers, bottom liners, and the proverbial upwardly mobile hotshots.

So where do we go from here?  It's really quite simple.  we have to restructure the manger's job and put him back in charge.  The first line manager must become totally involved with the job at hand.  Management must establish quality standards and enforce them.  Managers must train, lead, plan, and participate.  that's the operative word - "participate".  You cannot run a pressroom with smoke signals.  You cannot run a pressroom with computer printouts.  The answer does not lie in simply adding more supervisors.  You will only fill up more office space that way.  What must be done is to re-train managers to be managers.

As you look back over the years you can see management techniques on a pendulum.  We had management excesses in the forties where harshness was the mode.  Then unions took over and labor excesses were the mode.  We are now in a mid-swing era.  The unions have become more passive with limited leadership roles, but in many cases management has not seized the opportunity to fill the leadership vacuum.

Foremen must become involved with the press crews to cope with the more sophisticated presses that are in place today.  The combination of higher quality demands, much higher speeds, escalating costs of material, and critical press controls.  These managers must be trained to understand craft skills and the new sophisticated automated functions.  They must have the ability to relate to and participate in production and quality decisions.  One must remember that any manager must have the time to participate.  If paperwork fills out his day, it is not likely that participation on the pressroom is possible.

What we must have as we move ahead into the eighties and nineties is a restoration of the team concept where first line management would lead and support the man on the line.  Any pressroom that fails to provide total management involvement with their crews will find a process out of control and profits dwindling to zero very quickly.  Let's restore the label of craftsman and more importantly restore the role of the foreman.  He must re-acquire the ability to chew out because that honor only goes to one who knows and cares about the daily operations.

by Frank Drazan

Related articles:
Fear - The Greatest Motivator
The Motivational Pyramid For Pressrooms

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