March 2005

The Circles of Solidarity for Manufacturing Success

Part 2 - Integrity

A company without integrity cannot have solidarity.

By Tom Dossenbach

Author's Note: Over the years as a woodworking industry consultant, I have found that when a client is in trouble or floundering, there is usually a lack of solidarity among the people within the company. This lack of solidarity represents a serious crack in the company's foundation. Hopefully, the information imparted in this three-part series will help you repair any weakness in your company's foundation and, as a bonus, help you improve your employee recruitment and retention efforts.

Remember the definition of solidarity from last month's column? "A woodworking company with solidarity is one where there is a union of interests, a purpose, a fellowship of responsibilities and all of its people are in the same boat (so to speak)."

Solidarity within a company is composed of three principles: Communication, Integrity and Empowerment. This month, we will look at Integrity within the fictitious Deep River Millwork Company (DRM). As you might recall from last month's column, DRM experienced very intense competition from a cross-town rival as well as a new start-up 50 miles away. In fact, the company struggled for its very survival.

To make matters worse, DRM suffered from a serious lack of communication throughout its organization. This problem created intense anxiety among employees as the company cut back its workforce.

Ken Crowsen, the owner and president of DRM, came to the conclusion that something had to be done - and quick - to turn the company around. In light of the company's cash flow problems, he was uncertain whether or not he would be able to make the next payroll or pay the bills. He became fed up looking at his financial statements and was determined to shake things up to yield immediate results.

'The Blame Game'

Crowsen decided to meet with his plant managers to discuss the crisis. During the meeting, he told them that he was "sick and tired of the laziness in the plant," and he expected them to do something about it. "How can you possibly think this is an acceptable performance level?" he bellowed. "I am watching my life's savings go down the drain while everyone else is just going along for the ride!"

The managers were stunned. This was the first time Crowsen had told them the company was in dire financial trouble. Up until the meeting, they could only guess how serious the company's problems were.

Crowsen finally began to communicate. Sadly, though, he managed to make all of his employees, including his plant managers, scapegoats for DRM's downward spiral. In Crowsen's mind, everyone else was to blame for the company's failure. He paid people to do a job and it was not getting done.

In "The Blame Game," there are no winners, only bitter players filled with resentment and a lack of trust. How could there be solidarity at DRM after its president placed all the blame for its imminent demise on the shoulders of supervisors and employees?

If you have ever been made a scapegoat, then you know how the supervisors of DRM felt. In a sense, Crowsen accused everyone in the company of stealing from his life's savings. Crowsen's tirade may have gotten their attention, but it did not earn their respect.

What course of action do you think the supervisors took? Do you think they went to the employees of their respective departments and said they had failed as supervisors and as a result, the company was going down the tube?

Of course not.

Instead, they took the knee-jerk lead of their boss and went out into the plant and started hammering on anyone they could find who made the smallest mistake or who took a little too long of a restroom break. They let everyone know that the boss was angry and things had to change PDQ! Plant workers were now the scapegoats and they knew it.

As could be expected, the employees lost what respect they had for Crowsen and the company's managers. There was a lot of grumbling among the ranks. The cracks in DRM's foundation split wider still.

No Solidarity without Integrity

Predictably, the troubles at DRM went from bad to worse. The lack of communication was compounded by a total lack of integrity of management in the eyes of the employees. No one can fault the employees for losing respect for Crowsen, considering the way he treated them.

A woodworking company with solidarity is one where there is a union of interests, a purpose, a fellowship of responsibilities and all of its people feel that they are in the same boat pulling the oars in unison. This hardly describes what was happening at DRM.

No doubt, DRM was in a tough spot and Crowsen had good reason to be concerned. But his actions only made things worse; he alienated his entire workforce. Instead of a feeling of solidarity in this time of great difficulty, the company became bitterly divided. He failed to foster any "fellowship of responsibility" by playing "The Blame Game."

Unlike Crowsen, managers must be willing to shoulder responsibility and blame - even when it is not their fault alone. Those who work for you are always watching to see how you react to adversity and to the daily challenges of the manufacturing environment. A true leader not only refuses to play "The Blame Game," but instead he or she becomes a sterling example of integrity.

DRM's troubles did not happen overnight. While the root causes of the problems needed to be identified, there was no point for Crowsen to blame the managers and for the managers, in turn, to blame the employees. Crowsen must have known the company was sliding downward for two or three years. He should have communicated this fact much sooner to his managers and looked to them for solutions.

Crowsen must accept the fact that he failed to set clear goals for the company. It was also his fault that communication was poor and employees were not being motivated to work together as a team. He was the root cause of many of DRM's problems, problems he made all the worse by flying off in a rage.

Without integrity there is no trust or respect. Without trust or respect, there simply cannot be any solidarity, and without solidarity there can be no future. It is impossible to accomplish greatness without a single purpose and mindset within your company.

Self Analysis

What can you do to make sure you are a perceived as a person of integrity in your company? You can answer that question by answering each of the following questions:

  • Do you like where you work and the people who work with you?
  • Do you refuse to play "The Blame Game"?
  • Can those who work with you trust you?
  • Can they look to you for leadership?
  • Is always being truthful important to you?
  • Are you willing to go to bat for others?
  • Are you open and straightforward with employees?
  • Do you promote good communications throughout the company?
  • Do you listen to others' comments and ideas?
  • Do you give feedback and/or act on these ideas without delay?
  • Do you give credit where credit is due?
  • Will you freely give to others the credit due to you?

If you can answer "YES" to all 12 questions, then you have the integrity it takes to lead a woodworking company to greatness.

DRM (or any company in trouble) will need the cooperative efforts of all employees if it is going to pull out of its crisis and move forward as a viable supplier in its market. Crowsen and his management team are not going to find out what is wrong with the company, or how to fix it, if they do not get everyone interested in helping rescue it.

You may think that the DRM situation is not typical and brush the whole issue of integrity aside. I urge you to not make that mistake. Take this month to review the integrity throughout your company, because without it, there can be no solidarity.

Next month we will look at the third circle for manufacturing success - empowerment, and tie the three together.

Tom Dossenbach is the managing director of Dossenbach Associates LLC, a Sanford, NC-based international consulting and research firm. He can be reached at (919) 775-5017 or at

Part one of this three-part series is available here.


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