1. Study the case and be ready to discuss the situation.
Levi Strauss & Company
Levi-Strauss & Company (LS&CO) has been known as "a great place to work" for years. One reason for its reputation is its Aspiration Statement, developed in 1987, which records the ideals by which every operation, department, and employee is evaluated. The Aspiration Statement is not simply words on paper, according to top management, but it is woven into every aspect of the workplace:
We all want a Company that our people are proud of and committed to, where all employees have an opportunity to contribute, learn, grow and advance based on merit, not politics or background. We want our people to feel respected, treated fairly, listened to and involved. Above all, we want satisfaction from accomplishments and friendships, balanced personal and professional lives, and to have fun in our endeavors.
When we describe this kind of LS&CO we want in the future, what we are talking about is building on the foundation we have inherited: affirming the best of our Company's traditions, closing gaps that may exist between principles and practices, and updating some of our values to reflect contemporary circumstances.
LS&CO has identified six types of "aspirational" leadership behavior needed to carry out the company's overall mission. Every manager is evaluated on these behaviors; for senior managers, the behaviors are weighted more heavily.
1) Diversity: Leadership that values a diverse demographic work force (age, gender, ethnic group, etc.), diversity inexperience, and diversity in perspectives.
2) New Behaviors: Leadership that exemplifies directness, openness to influence, commitment to the success of others, willingness to acknowledge our own contributions to problems, personal accountability, teamwork, and trust.
3) Recognition: Leadership that provides both financial and "psychic" recognition for individuals and teams that contribute to LS&CO's success.
4)Ethical Management Practices: Leadership that represents stated standards of ethical behavior, providing clear expectations and enforcing these standards through the corporation.
5)Communication: Leadership that is clear about what is expected of workers, providing workers with timely and honest feedback on their performance and career aspirations.
6) Empowerment: Authority and responsibility for those closest to products and customers. Managers need to actively push responsibility, trust, and recognition into the organization.
How are these "ideals" integrated into the everyday work lives of LS&CO employees? Instead of top management "setting" HR policies and practices, employees have both the opportunity and responsibility to communicate what they need and to share what they think are good ideas for the future. For instance, during Aspirations training, employees challenged the company to define its commitment to balanced personal and professional lives. A task force promoted by Bob Haas, CEO and great-great-grandnephew of founder Levi Strauss, was created to identify broad issues facing all levels of employees in different parts of the United States. More than 17,000 workers completed a 27-page survey, which resulted in awareness training throughout the firm to communicate management's commitment to creating a comfortable work-and-family environment; flexible work hours; a new time-off-with-pay program (TOPP) to replace separate vacation, sick leave, and floating holiday plans; child-care leave expanded to include leave to care for other family members or significant others; a corporate child-care fund ranging from infant care to after-school programs, based on worker needs; a child-care voucher system for hourly workers in field locations; and expansion of employee-assistance program services in the field.
Besides actively seeking employee input, the human resource staff at LS&CO has an overall guiding philosophy that employee "niches" are important. "One thing I learned a while back is that you really have to pay attention to the little niches," says Reese Smith, director of employee benefits. Whereas most companies design benefits for the majority of employees, LS&CO tries to say "OK, we've made 90 percent of the people happy, but what about the other 10 percent? What about the niches within that 10 percent?" A relevant example is that of providing domestic partner benefits for unmarried couples. After an employee presented Smith with a written proposal on the subject, a consulting firm was contacted, and cost estimates and plans were gathered. Top management then approved the plan. Smith says, "It all boils down to aligning our practice of non-discrimination with our policy. We say that we don't discriminate because of marital status, so we had to change our practice to coincide with our policy." Now the company offers unmarried couples and their dependents the same medical and dental benefits as those offered to married couples.
Overall, LS&CO has adopted the view that employees are responsible adults. The company has no dress code because it assumes that employees will look professional. If problems arise, it is up to management to coach the person. Trust in the employees' good judgment ties in with the concept of empowerment, one of the six aspirations. For example, TOPP was developed to give employees a choice about how to use their time away from work, and a flexitime plan allows the employee and manager to figure out what his or her 40-hour week will be.
Recognition comes in two major forms, financial and psychic. LS&CO's total compensation package is designed to include a savings plan (the company matches up to 10 percent of pay), pension, short- and long-term disability, profit-sharing, and a choice of five medical options including dental and vision. The company has about 100 applicants for every open position. The psychic aspect of recognition comes primarily in the form of fun, according to Donna Goya, senior vice president for personnel, who encourages people to explore their fun in different ways including performing plays "poking fun at management programs or policies," or dressing up for Halloween.
But with superior compensation also comes responsibility - lots of it. At Leviís 27 U.S. manufacturing plants, workers participate in a team process called Alternative Manufacturing System (AMS), which ties compensation and incentives to team goals. Under AMS, sewing machine operators sit in a horseshoe configuration that allows them to see what everyone else is doing, where work is piling up, etc. If a backlog occurs, employees decide how to manage the problem. Managers are team leaders who train their own teams, usually composed of 35 workers. Employees get 80 to 150 hours of training in AMS, which includes communication, teamwork, problem identification, brainstorming, and conflict resolution. Production, budgeting, workflow, and product-mix training is also provided. Under AMS, teams have to solve problems "or the work doesn't get done, and nobody goes home," as one worker explains. Teams can choose their own schedules within the number of hours a facility is open. The result of AMS has been encouraging so far. Plants have had lower inventories, shorter lead times, better quality, decreased absenteeism and turnover, and fewer injuries.
2. Divide into three groups. Discuss the answers to your questions.
Group 1. Given LS&CO's apparent success with its HR programs, why don't most companies adopt a similar strategy? (What are basic requirements or resources of an organization in order to do what LS&CO has done?)
Group 2. Envision yourself as a sewing machine operator for LS&CO. What would make you want to remain an employee? Is there anything you would not care for in terms of the policies, practices, or the job itself?
Group 3. Imagine yourself as a HR vice president for a company. What are the advantages of actively soliciting employee input and implementing those ideas? What are the disadvantages?