Case study Smithers at Sigtek Unit


Casestudy: Smithers at Sigtek


Sigtekis a small telecommunications company based in New Englandspecializing in printed circuit boards. The firm, founded 25 yearsago by three veterans from Western Electric, has faced a mixture offortunes over the years. At its peak, the firm boasted of $60 millionin annual sales and about 1000 employees. However, industry changessaw the firm’s annual sales drop to $40 million with 200 employeesaxed. The firm has changed ownership twice and the current parentcompany, Telwork, a European telecommunications giant, is keen toinitiate a Total Quality Management program to improve performance.The implementation of this new approach has served to highlight theproblems facing the firm. The engineering department is not in tandemwith the operations department and so are their respective managers.John Smithers, the Engineering Services Manager, is one of themid-level managers caught between the antagonisms of the two sides.Having been appointed to undergo TQM training and become aninstructor mandated to teach and oversee implementation of this newapproach, he comes face to face with the larger issues facing thefirm. The “John Smithers at Sigtek” case narrates hwo things atthe firm have unfolded. Smithers views and that of others capturewhat is ailing the firm which seems on slow death as witnessed bywaves of layoffs. This paper uses a critical approach informed bycurrent readings on management to assess the problems facing Sigtek,their impact on operations, possible alternatives and providesrecommendations and an implementation plan in brief.

  1. Problem definition

Theimplementation of TQM at Sigtek has been a disaster. The QualityImprovement Team mandated to facilitate and coordinate the TQMprocess did not play its role. Smithers and Murphy, who were mandatedto train employees, worked in isolation without support from thehigher management and also without support from the onsite team. As aresult, the changes that TQM is supposed to deliver as promisedthrough TQM training offered by Murphy and Smithers is nowhere to beseen. Employees are demotivated and the various departments are nowworking together to enhance quality and performance as expected. Thefabric that holds employees together in form of culture is workingagainst the firm itself. For Sigtek to turn improve its performanceand quality, it requires to reconstitute its culture, changemanagement and approach TQM implementation in a better way more so inpreparing for change.

  1. Problem causes

Sigtek’spresident, Charles Bradley, is accused of being consistently absentin running the organization such that a there is a leadership vacuum.This has worked as the fuel that drives competition and unhealthyrivalry between the vice president in charge of engineering design,Andrew Cross, and the vice president in charge of operations, RichardPatricof. Their rivalry has been transferred to their respectivedepartments resulting in poor coordination and cooperation.

Poorplanning: Implementation of TQM is a step in the right direction inthat the approach seeks to continuously improve quality in all areasof an organization. However, the implementation process isproblematic. The onsite team charged with overseeing the implementingand offering advice to Simthers and Murphy is not doing its work.Patricof, as the leader overseeing the TQM implementation is notsupporting the trainers in any way. He even denies them a break tocatch up on their other roles. There is also no evidence that thechange was planned for n terms of training of all employees.

Interpersonalconflicts and differences between Patricof and Cross seem to havebeen going on forever with no attempts to reconcile the two sides.This rivalry between two senior managers who oversee differentdepartments has forced other managers and employees to take sidessplitting the organization into two. The same can be said of Smithersand Murphy who despite working together have their own personaldifferences that they are unwilling to address for the good of thecompany.

Weakorganizational culture. There is a very negative culture at Sigtek.Majority of employees feel that that they are just there to make asalary and not really contribute to improvement of the organization.Smithers’ attempts to create a cross-functional team harmonizeoperations between groups and departments fizzled out because othermanagers were not bothered.

  1. Systems affected

Theproblems facing Sigtek affect nearly all the major systems that makethe organization tick. The new system being implemented has affectemployees’ expectations, moral and created divisions among seniormanagers. This has structural,psychological, technical, managerial, and goal setting systems indiverse ways.

Sigtek’sorganizational structure is under threat. Smithers and Murphy havebeen assigned new roles in implementing TQM through trainingemployees which have seen them neglect their officially assignedduties as per the organizational structure. Their attempts to seek abreak in TQM meetings to address these official duties have been shotdown by Patricof.

Psychologicalsystem in the organization has been negatively affected. There is nomorale in the workforce and negative energy seems to be flowing. Thisis best captured by the response that Smithers gets from one employeefrom accounting and a retiring manager who perceives the wholeorganization as a tug of war between Patricof and Cross.

Themanagement levels and flow of authority have been ignored. Upontaking the position of president, Patricof assumes the task ofimplementing and training employees on TQM. This is totally absurd assuch roles are way below his rank. He cannot interact with employeesfreely in an organization that values an autocratic system.

  1. Alternatives

Theonsite TQM team should be replaced immediately. The replacementshould be a team of managers from all levels who understand theintricate issues happening at the organization. Furthermore, by anall-inclusive team, the organization will be capable to infiltratethe highly autocratic structure that does not favor dissemination ofinformation and knowledge sharing.

Radicalchange in the organizational culture to support change. Change is acontinuous process and organizations need to adopt a culture thatembraces change in order to navigate through change effectively. Itis clear that Sigtek is stuck in a comfort zone and some senior andmid-level managers are opposed to TQM simply to maintain the statusquo.

Anew president for the firm is necessary. It is clear from the casethat Patricof is opposed to change and his position as presidentundermines implementation of TQM. This might also mean removing othermanagers opposed to change.

Creationof a cross-functional team to coordinate all operations in theorganization. This will also ensure raid implementation of decisions.

  1. Recommendations

SackingPatricof. From the case, it is clear that Patricof is opposed tochange and is position using his new position to settle personalscores with Cross rather than head unite all people in the firm.Sacking him will create room for a better and more change orientedpresident who will steer Sigtek in the right direction and overseeimplementation of TQM successfully.

Changein culture. The firm suffers from lack of winning culture. A winningorganizational culture is based on shared values, vision and heritagethat make up the personality of an organization in which everyemployee must identify with (Harvard Business School 2008). As it is,different managers are pulling in different directions and theemployees are left confused and disillusioned.

Conflictresolution training for all employees including senior managers. Itperfectly normal for human beings to disagree, however, how theyresolve these personal differences without sabotaging work is ofutmost importance. At Sigtek, personal differences reign supreme aswitnessed by the case of Cross and Patricof and Murphy and Smithers.

  1. Implementation plan

Toattain a winning culture, the firm will need to carry out a cultureaudit that seeks to identify cultural icons in the organization, itsheritage, vision, and value statements among others which will bealigned to the organization’s goals. Weaknesses in the currentsituation will be identified and addressed. One key issue that needsto be addressed is aligning the management team to give it a commonfocus and shared direction. As it is, the management has divergentviews of how the firm should proceed.

Thefirm needs assess the leadership qualities that define a good leaderand one who believes in change and experienced in TQM implementation.Telwork should carry out a recruitment exercise for a new president.The current president is the greatest hindrance to change as he doesnot believe in TQM going by his approach and is more interested inwinning his own personal battles rather than taking the organizationforward. The new president should be experienced in TQMimplementation to move Sigtek through this tricky transition phase.

Telworkshould appoint a qualified third party to train employees on conflictresolution. A key strategy in conflict resolution approach is givingdialogue and free communication a chance. The communication systemsat Sigtek are broken and they need to be repaired to facilitateconflict resolution.


HarvardBusiness School. (1998). John Smithers at Sigtek.

HarvardBusiness School. (2008). Creating and Sustaining a Winning Culture.retrieved online

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