The politics of engineering

The board members of the large engineering firm were delighted when they were presented with the opportunity to acquire a somewhat smaller firm that manufactured products complementary to its own.

They saw it as a perfect chance to expand their own empire, and to provide their customers with an enhanced and more comprehensive product range.

Unchallenged by the regulator, the deal went ahead, and once it was completed, the management of both companies sat down together to discuss how they might work effectively together to forge a bright new future for all concerned.

As it transpired, the engineering departments of the two companies had some very different philosophies on how best to design, develop and manufacture new products. So, the management at the larger company decided to take a democratic approach to resolving the different working practices, rather than impose their own rigid organisational values on the engineering department of the company that they had purchased.

To ensure that a happy compromise was reached, they set up several working groups comprised of representatives from the engineering departments in both the companies to work out the details.

After several months of deliberations, the middle managers from both companies had hammered out an arrangement that they felt would appeal to all their engineers. The managers at the smaller company had fought hard to retain what they considered to be their best working practices, while their counterparts at the larger company successfully managed to convince them to change a few aspects of their organisation to bring them more in line to those of its own.

The board members were pleased with the results that its middle management had achieved. And for a year, they lived with the arrangement that they had struck up, much to the delight of the staff at the smaller company who viewed the democratic process as indicative of the larger outfit’s genuine concern for their happiness and well being.

But I’m sorry to say that the larger company’s altruistic approach was short lived. The board members were only too aware that to effect genuine synergies between the two companies, they would really need to impose their organisational will on the smaller company in no uncertain terms so that they could create an environment that they themselves could manage more effectively.

So over the years, the larger company amended the smaller company’s working practices one step at a time, moving so imperceptibly slowly in bringing them in line with its own that the middle management at the smaller outfit were almost oblivious to the changes that were taking place.

Today, the highly profitable company is again looking to take over yet another complementary smaller engineering firm. And you can be sure that, once again, the individuals who work there will be promised that their views will not go unheard. What they won’t be told, of course, is for how long that will be.

Thank heavens that our political parties here in the UK would never behave in such a way!

Dave Wilson
Editor, Engineeringtalk

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