In Durham, North Carolina, 170 GE employees work in nine teams to produce the GE90 jet engines


In Durham, North Carolina, 170 GE employees work in nine teams to produce the GE90 jet engines that Boeing installs in its long-range 777 aircraft. Each team “owns” the engines they build—from the beginning of the assembly process to getting them loaded onto a truck for delivery. As they begin work on each engine, these teams generally receive no instructions except for the date on which the engine is to be shipped from the plant. Getting the engine produced is the team goal, but that goal can be reached only if the teams effectively manage themselves. Besides producing an 8.5-ton jet engine out of 10,000 individual parts, team members order tools and parts; schedule their vacations, training, and overtime; make adjustments to the production process to improve their efficiency; monitor their product quality; and take responsibility for diagnosing and resolving problems that arise among members of a team.

Decisions about these and all other issues that the teams face are made by consensus, which was a founding principle for the plant. Each employee understands that living with ideas that they don’t necessarily agree with is part of the job. They don’t blame others when things go wrong, because they make the decisions. The process of reaching agreement on decisions is so much a way of life here that people routinely talk about “consensusing” on this or that.

The one boss in this plant—plant manager Paula Sims—keeps everyone’s attention focused on the common goal: making perfect jet engines correctly, quickly, and cheaply.

Her job is (1) to make sure that the efforts of all teams are coordinated so that together their decisions optimize the plant’s performance and then (2) to free up resources for growth and improvement.

In her 4 years as the plant manager responsible for GE’s jet engine production teams, Sims has learned that communicating what you intend to communicate isn’t always easy. She describes her job as plant manager as “the most challenging 4 years of my life—and also the most rewarding. To do it well requires a different level of listening skills—significantly different.

More and more of what I do involves listening to people, to teams, to councils, to ideas, trying to find common themes.”

In this culture of continuous feedback, one reason Sims has listened so carefully is to monitor her own effectiveness. She learned early that her actions can be easily misinterpreted.

Recalling an incident from her early days, she explained, “An employee came to me and said, ‘Paula, you realize that you don’t need to follow up with us to make sure we’re doing what we agreed to do. If we say we’ll do something, we’ll do it. You don’t need to micromanage us.’” At most plants, following up is just part of a manager’s job, but here it was sending the wrong message. Because she always followed up, people concluded that she didn’t trust them. The real problem was that she had not yet learned the plant’s norms about decision making.

Sims also listens when the plant is trying to solve a problem. At other companies, the title of manager almost means “decision maker.” At GE/Durham, however, the manager actually makes only about a dozen major decisions each year. All other decisions either rely heavily on input from the other plant employees or are actually made by them. The plant manager is responsible for making sure that plant employees know about problems and for informing the GE managers that she reports to about the solutions. But to get the solutions, the plant manager is expected to listen, not decide. For major issues, such as reducing costs or improving safety, a task force is formed to decide how to address the problem. The plant manager educates the task force and everyone else about the problem and explains why it is important. Then the task force takes responsibility for finding solutions. When they have a plan for the future, the plant manager informs those above her about how the plant will proceed and makes sure the higher-ups are on board with the plan.

Sims has approached you, the HR manager for the plant, with a request: She wants you to help her install a crowdsourced feedback process for everyone in the plant, including her. The crowdsourced feedback will not replace the other performance measures that already are being used. They will simply be added on as a new element in the performance management process.

You have expressed some concerns about the idea, but she is determined to move ahead with the plan. Describe how you will proceed.


Begin by analyzing the possible advantages and disadvantages of using crowdsourced feedback in this plant. Then indicate the decisions you would make regarding each of the following questions:

1. Will you use one set of performance dimensions for everyone, or will different dimensions be used for people in different jobs? Explain your logic.

2. How will you determine the specific technology to use for the crowdsourced feedback form?

3. What type of format will be used to provide feedback? Will it focus strictly on giving feedback to improve performance or will it also include evaluative performance ratings?

4. For members of the nine production teams, who will be allowed to give feedback? All members of the team? Members of other teams? Will Sims provide evaluations of all employees?

5. What performance information will be used in decisions about who to promote?


6. The plant is operating well right now. What steps will you take to ensure that this new crowdsourcing tool doesn’t reduce employee engagement or harm productivity?

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Managing Human Resources

ISBN: 978-8522104291

12th Edition

Authors: Susan E Jackson, Randall S Schuler, Steve Werner

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