Involving individuals in the manufacturing strategy formation: Strategic consensus among workers and managers
Decisions made and actions taken by individuals in the operations function impact the formation of a company’s manufacturing strategy (MS). Therefore, it is important that the MS is understood and agreed on by all employees, that is, strategic consensus among the individuals in the operations function is essential. This research contributes to the current body of knowledge by including a workers’ perspective on MS formation. It is the workers on the shop floor who bring the MS to life in the actual operations through their daily decisions and actions. The MS falls short if the priorities outlined do not materialise in practice as intended. The purpose of this research is to investigate how the individuals in the operations function perceive the MS in order to understand how these individuals are involved in the MS formation. The research is based on five studies, differing by evidence, as follows: one theoretical, three qualitative in the setting of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and one quantitative at a large company.
Based on the findings presented in the six appended papers, the results show that empirically and conceptually, workers have been overlooked or given a passive role in the MS formation. Empirically, it is seen that workers and managers do not have a shared understanding of the underlying reasons for strategic priorities; hence, the level of strategic consensus is low. Furthermore, the level of strategic consensus varies among the different MS dimensions depending on their organisational level. Moreover, the empirical findings reveal that internal contextual factors influence the individuals’ perceptions of the MS and the possibilities for strategic consensus. Regarding the external context, the results show that major customers’ strategies influence the subcontractor SMEs’ MS formation. The usage of means of communication in the operations function has also shown to be of importance for how the MS is perceived. Conceptually, the findings indicate that the MS literature tends to treat individuals in the operations function in a deterministic manner; individuals on the shop floor are regarded as manufacturing resources. To ensure a successful MS formation process, where the patterns of the decisions made by the individuals in the operations function forms the MS, the view on human nature within the MS requires a more voluntaristic approach. This research suggests to view the MS formation as an iterative “patterning process” which builds on a reciprocal relationship between workers and managers. The introduction of the patterning process contributes to the research on MS formation by explaining the perception range within the hierarchical levels, by re-defining the hierarchical levels included in the MS formation and by detailing the activities in the MS formation.