Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Management's Second Thoughts

July 1, 1988 -

Du Pont Canada, with 4,200 employees and $1.3 billion in sales, recently scrapped its old-fashioned, military style of management and replaced it with one in which responsibility is moved downward. An unwieldy eleven levels of authority have been slashed to six. Decisions once made via a complicated bureaucratic process are now often made on the spot by the technician or operator involved.

The company calls the new approach "self-management." It doesn't mean that people do what they want, but it means that their range of decision making has been expanded. Foremen have been eliminated and operators and technicians are now in direct contact with customers. If an operator needs a new tool, he no longer puts in a request to his supervisor, he calls the supplier and orders it.

Ted Newall, Du Pont Canada's president, explains that the old management approach was inefficient and did not make use of the intelligence of all workers. His favourite author is Peter Drucker, the highly respected American management expert, who has pointed out that companies will be forced to change their hierarchical structure because "knowledge workers" won't accept "command and control" management. The changes at Du Pont eliminated hundreds of middle managers, mostly through early retirement or attrition.

Not all workers on the plant floor welcomed the changes, though. Many older workers find the adjustment difficult. Roger Ladouceur, a shop floor employee and member of the executive of Local 28 of the Energy & Chemical Workers Union, says "most of the hourly paid workers in the nylon intermediates plant don't want extra responsibilities." Furthermore, they think any extra responsibility should mean immediate pay increases (even though with overtime, most workers at the Maitland plant are earning more than $40,000 per year).

Du Pont's management is admittedly motivated by a need to cut costs and to operate more efficiently in a highly competitive international market. Nonetheless, management's respect for workers' intelligence and ability and for their need to experience a sense of achievement is most beneficial to both employers and employees. Hopefully the ideology of the Left, a la Canadian Dimension, and the social policies of CUPW and similar unions will not triumph in Canada. The decision between the revolution of the Left or step-by-step improvement in human relations in the workplace may well be the most important choice facing the leadership of the Canadian Labour Congress. Judging by the sounds emanating from that body, it is rather confused about this dilemma.