The people dimension in manufacturing strategy: operators and managers

University dissertation from Chalmers University of Technology

Abstract: The manufacturing strategy (MS) field has largely focused on the MS content, and not so much on the people dimension of MS or on the process of bringing the MS out in organizations. Within companies, there is often a lack of a joint view of MS; different hierarchical levels view the strategy differently. There is a need to ensure a joint view within companies to assure strategic commitment. The MS falls short if the ideas it incorporates do not materialize into practice as intended. Therefore, this research originated in the idea that the people in manufacturing companies seldom have their voices heard in strategic discussions or in academic debate. In this thesis, individuals’ perceptions of MS are the focus. Hence, the purpose is to investigate operators’ and managers’ perceptions of MS in order to understand possibilities for a joint view of MS. This research was conducted through three studies. Two empirical studies collected data through interviews with operators and managers at Swedish metalworking small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The third study was theoretical and included a literature review where MS literature was analyzed from a behavioral operations (BO) perspective. The findings show that the people dimension in MS is not well developed. Theoretically, a gap exists between the view on people adopted in the BO field and the view on people in the MS literature. In the MS literature there are indicators of a deterministic view of human nature; individuals on the shop floor are viewed as manufacturing resources. Empirically, the findings show that operators’ and managers’ perceptions of MS are affected by many factors. These factors are, e.g., related to intra- versus inter-organizational MS dimensions, the operators as individuals, communication of MS, differences between CEOs and production managers, shift work, and mental distances between hierarchical levels. This research contributes to the work with MS at manufacturing companies by categorizing factors that influence movement towards a joint view of MS. Further, this research contributes to a developed people dimension within the MS field. It offers a viewpoint that indicates the importance of addressing operators and managers as individuals and to viewing the connection between operators and managers a bilateral relationship rather than as a unilateral link. This implies that this thesis strives for a more subjectivist approach to human nature than what traditionally has been the case in MS literature.

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