Future Search The Method

Union/Management Joint Planning at 3M

St. Paul, MN, USA: 1994: "Plant Engineering 2004: Unity through Partnership" was the theme for a future search held by 3M Company's St. Paul Area Plant Engineering organization as part of an ongoing effort to improve work methods, morale, quality of work life, productivity and management practice. Internal consultants Paul Pelkola and Bob Boyd organized and ran the conference with Sandra Janoff. "Getting the workers, managers, executives, union officials and customers all in one room to shape our organization was like a pipe dream," said Pelkola, "but I became convinced that there was no other way." Union/management tensions had always made joint improvement efforts difficult. Management worried that they would lose control if they got into an open discussion with union and other stakeholders. Union officials worried that their credibility with the rank and file would be tainted if they appeared too collaborative.

On the other hand, management wanted the union to understand the company's situation and the union thought the conference might help in the negotiating process. It was a big step for both sides. To their mutual benefit, they produced a joint vision of a workplace redesigned around customer needs. They also devised processes for including people who did not attend to be implemented by conference participants. As a result, Plant Engineering moved into a large-scale redesign effort, union and management working together that included hundreds of employees.

Four years later, after a series of large planning and design conferences, Plant Engineering, which had been separate, assigned a maintenance work force directly to the manufacturing operations. At the research site, Plant Engineering organized to serve customers rather than by internal craft specialty. Lasting results include decision making based on customer needs, work priorities based on business unit needs, flexible scheduling based on workload requirements and processes to involve all stakeholders in getting the work done and resolving technical and other issues.


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