The Effects of the GM/UAW Saturn Partnership on Quality Performance: A Brief Overview of Preliminary Findings
Author(s)Rubinstein, Saul; Kochan, Thomas
This project analyzes the effects of the co-management arrangements built into the first line of supervision (module advisors) at the Saturn Corporation on first time quality (FTQ) performance and improvements in first time quality. This is a very unique organizational arrangement wherein represented (i.e., unionized) and non-represented (i.e., managers) partners share responsibilities for co-managing production work teams. The purpose of this portion of our work is to test whether this co-management arrangement contributes to the performance of these work units and thereby adds value to Saturn as a whole. We focus on first time quality as the performance measure. In order to analyze the value-added to quality performance by Saturn's system of comanagement, represented and non-represented operations department-level middle managers were studied. A detailed analysis of the supervisory system at the department or module level across Saturn's three plants (called business units) allowed us to test whether the variations in the comanagement system and quality performance are systematically related. We analyzed the relationship between the behavior patterns and supervisory methods of both union and non-union middle managers, attributes of their individual union-management partnerships, differences in the patterns of communication and coordination of each group, and performance outcomes, in particular first-time-quality improvement. We also studied time use and the dynamics of partnerships, including the balancing of social and economic tasks, as well as the division of labor between represented and non-represented management. Specifically, we examined: 1) Whether represented managers were indeed managing people and technical aspects of the production process (called resources); 2) If represented managers were managing, did they manage their time, priorities, and communications differently than did their non-represented partners. 3) Whether the behaviors of represented managers added value to quality performance. 4) Whether the nature of the individual represented and non-represented manager partnerships at the department level had an impact on quality performance. These questions are important because some industry observers believe that while over half of the middle management positions at Saturn were indeed being filled by union members, Saturn had simply bought labor peace at a high price. They contended that only the non-represented managers were truly functioning in that role while the union members were either free riders or acting as grievance committeemen focusing exclusively on people issues. Another explanation for Saturn's remarkable quality performance is that a new 'effort bargain' was struck between GM and the UAW (i.e. workers simply work harder). We test our alternative hypothesis that this system of partnership and co-management systematically adds value by increasing the rate of first-time-quality improvement. These data allow us to test which, if any, of the specific attributes of the partnership (i.e. task balancing, represented and non-represented relationships, communication density, problem solving, etc.) predict quality performance. Data were collected via surveys from 150 managers across the three business units. Multiple regression techniques were used to analyze these data, and to test for the relationship of these specific aspects of the co-management system to first-time-quality improvement. Managers provided data on how they used their time during the day, how they thought they should allocate their time, and on their communications with others in the Saturn operations. The communications data were collected over a two week time period. The differences in the level and nature of communications were then analyzed to see if they affected quality performance outcomes. Two measures of quality serve as the performance outcomes to assess the impact of the Saturn partnership arrangements: 1) first time quality; and 2) quality improvement.
co-management arrangements, Saturn Corporation, first time quality