Case Studies for Knowledge Maturing in Organizations

Food manufacturing company

This food manufacturing company is a well-established company located in Northern Ireland with clearly defined processes and operation techniques. It was established over 100 years ago so has experience significant shifts in work processes and technology in order to remain competitive. The company is constantly involved in the technical development of new products. Most of the processes in the factory are now automated. 

During the interview, it was evident that a major factor within the organisation was maintaining control over all operations at all stages. Much of this is achieved because of the automation aspect of the operation, but there are a number of operations within the process where human interface is required. It is possible to replace the human operations with technology, but the cost to do this is currently restrictive. There were clear instances when established procedures and instructions were not adhered to, and the need for consistency of operations is critical. It was noted that there is little room for error or waste within the manufacturing process.

  Organisational members are made aware of their duties and responsibilities and how do they “know” what they are required to do was explored in the interview. It was explained that for each product, there are written down formulae and methodologies, which have been developed by a technical department, whose role it is to develop new products; to improve upon existing products; and finally to support production when problems arise on current product manufacture. 170 new products have been developed by a New Product Development (NPD) Department, who spend approximately 80% of their time on NPD, 10% on product improvement; and 10% on problem solving activities. Procedures and work instructions are prepared and these are the instructions which operators are required to follow. These documents are used to form part of operator training and most factory floor operator training is given “on-the-job”. This is documented by means of a "Training Matrix" which lists all tasks and equipment for which each person has demonstrated their capability. This is normally signed for by supervision upon satisfactory completion of the training. 

  A daily “quality meeting” is held at the start of each day to discuss the previous days' production and to review any non-conformances and waste, in order to decide what happened and any corrective and preventative measures that need to be taken. The meetings are attended by all production supervisors and the process is designed as a continuous improvement activity where lessons were learned from mistakes made. Supervisors are encouraged to hold similar meetings with staff to pass on this knowledge and also to set and agree targets with shop floor operators. This is hoped to eventually provide a two-way communication link but at present the main approach is to communicate from the top down to the shop floor. This new communication system between the supervisors and shop floor operators has only recently been introduced. It was explained that some of the supervisors have not yet engaged fully with this because "conducting such meetings are outside of their comfort zone". Other forms of communication are via notice-boards and newsletters. 

The company has a high reliance upon ICT and over the past 2 years it has implemented a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) business management system designed to control business operations. This relies upon a company based intranet system which was installed approximately 2 years ago and is still under development. This new system was the concept of the company CEO who was concerned that the previous MRP system was becoming antiquated and needed to be replaced. The project was presented to and agreed by the Executive Board and a project team was established to specify a system, and identify the different options and systems available. The system supplier was tasked with the role of not only producing the new system, but training all company staff. As appropriate to the business needs, teams were established to integrate the various parts of the software package to the relevant departments of the business.

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model

In terms of the knowledge maturing model, the methodology in which ideas are expressed or generated through appropriation, development to eventual standardisation, the organisation adopts a structured approach. A New Product Development team exists for the purpose of not only generating and developing new product ideas, but also, refining and improving existing processes and products currently being manufactured. Idea expression and generation are not confined to this department, as examples were given of the major project carried out over the past year to introduce new business software to replace the previous obsolete system.

Ideas and suggestions are encouraged by the business through a suggestion scheme which has returned a low success rate due to the limited uptake of employees through lack of interest or appreciation of the benefits to be gained from the scheme. It is accepted that management need to address this issue and it was stressed that is underway. The company has in place formal systems, both electronic and documented, to record and disseminate knowledge within the organisation. Teamwork and effective communication is being encouraged and developed within the business, through a process of establishing quality meetings to identify problems and solutions.

In terms of a measure of success of the effectiveness of the knowledge and idea generation the response is that the organisation considered itself generally effective in achieving this, but that there was scope for improvement in some areas, particularly the encouragement of idea generation from rank and file employees and improving the communication chain through supervisors and managers to the shop floor.

Manufacturing Company

The company manufactures pre-cast concrete products for agricultural and civil engineering industries. Typical products are bridge beams, box culverts, retaining walls, concrete pipes, agricultural slurry tanks and other concrete items such as water and animal feeding troughs for farms. They produce a range of standard and bespoke products. Several years ago the business diversified into manufacture of pre-cast units and got involved in distribution, which required a shift in work processes and the development of new knowledge. These developments have taken place in the past 10 years as a direct consequence of improvements and business developments generated by the new Directors, who focused on investment in new plant and a marketing strategy to grow the business.

Apart from the two directors the company has no management structure. A production manager has been appointed to co-ordinate all manufacturing operations, and there is a finance controller, but an external business consultant who advises on financial matters. Most expertise is generally subcontracted: Marketing consultants are employed to analyse and report on specific market data; Civil Engineering consultants perform structural calculations, stress analysis and theoretical modeling as required. These reports are fed into the business via the directors.

Individual products and projects are divided among internal expertise in the form of the project engineers who are employed. These are generally personnel who have been recruited for their knowledge or experience. Individual engineers are encouraged and given a lot of freedom to keep abreast of and explore new technology via the internet and relevant technical journals. Additionally, the sales and marketing personnel are encouraged to monitor market trends.

While there is encouragement at this level within the organisation it is evident that much of these activities are performed by each project engineer in isolation. The directors hold ad hoc discussions with each engineer to review specific projects, but there are no formal reviews or exchange of ideas among personnel, and communication is restricted to verbal exchanges and conversations. Project engineers and designers will record information and knowledge acquired but there is no formal process or central database for this. Individuals store their records and information on their own PC and this is generally not shared.

  With regard to idea generation at shop floor level there is no mechanism to encourage or develop new initiatives. The manufacturing operations are largely labour intensive. There are no formal procedures or work instructions unless individual project managers explicit request a specific methodology be adopted. This is always passed on by word of mouth and training is "on the job" and learn from a colleague approach. Some operators are very knowledgeable and skilled at their specific tasks but in many cases there are tasks which only one or a few operators perform and even then there are no standard operating procedures. 

The only company manufacturing related database which exists and is used regularly is the mixing control software. This stores the formulae and controls delivery via a batching plant of ingredient quantities for each batch of concrete for specific products. The operator of the batching plant can call up a program to produce a concrete mix but he cannot alter the program. This can only be carried out by two of the engineers and one of the company directors and requires a password.

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model

In terms of applying the knowledge Maturation process within the organisation, there are certain aspects where this is encouraged and is successful, but there are a number of aspects of the process where it is either not performed at all or it is not being operated to a high level of success. Nevertheless, this is a very successful and growing business. Because it is a family run business it is evident that much of the control and decision making is retained within a very small group.

Knowledge is acquired either through outside expert bodies and passed on via the directors to relevant staff. Or it is acquired by individual engineers who are encouraged and provided with facilities and support to carry out research, but then this is retained by the individual and some of it passed onto or discussed with the directors. What does not appear to be occurring successfully is the sharing and dissemination of the knowledge gained throughout the business.

No formal documentation very little training is provided for staff. Expertise is either recruited or subcontracted. Shop floor personnel only learn by doing or by being shown and only individual engineers who learn and develop processes and products maintain private records. It is expected that the production manager maintains control over processes by instruction and monitoring operators. To some extent this is acceptable since many of the products do not require a high degree of control over their manufacture and the nature of the processes require low levels of skill to perform.

  In certain products some of the very professional civil engineering construction industry clients require a much higher degree of control to be exercised and demonstrated in the manufacture of their products and therefore the business may have to take steps to improve upon this aspect of their activity, and in particular the documentation of and training of staff in procedures and in knowledge retention and standardisation.

Electrical repair, installation and maintenance company

This is a small industrial company based in the South East with around 55 staff, many of whom are contracted. The director of the company, who responded to the interview, set up the company just over 9 years ago and now has a £1.5 million annual turnover. It specialises in the industrial and petrochemical field and mainly works in the installation, repair and maintenance of electrical equipment for industrial/manufacturing organisations. 

Within the company, there is a clear management structure and staff have clearly defined roles and responsibilities. This structure has grown as the company has increased in size. The director oversees all work and tendering. Four senior managers are responsible for the different elements of work undertaken by the company and they oversee the day-to-day management of contracted staff. The office based staff are responsible for day-to-day running of the organisation - such as financial records, managing tenders and contracts, website maintenance, plus maintenance of vehicles and equipment. The company has achieved ISO quality status so many of their procedures and policies are well documented. 

Work is gained through a tendering process, which the company are notified of by email or telephone - much of the company's business has been built up by word-of-mouth and reputation. The organisation has specialist skills and expertise, and there is very little competition in their area for the work. The tendering process is managed by the director with some input from senior managers. Tenders are firstly discussed at the weekly management meetings - i.e. evaluation and discussion about capacity, skills, costs, work schedule etc. The director admitted that this is not always possible, but in principle this is what should happen at the start of the tendering process and, as a minimum, he would discuss a tender with the senior manager in the relevant section of the company. He recognises that this is part of the process of sharing information, but time-constraints and tender deadlines means that it is not always possible and ultimately it is his decision as to whether the company should tender for the work. A standard document is used to tender for work and this is in MS office Word. Estimating software is used to detail parts and supplies required, and their costs. Standard calculations are used to cost staff time and additional costs such as operating costs. All of the costs are manually entered in to the tender template. 

As part of the tendering process, a feasibility consultation is provided to the client to produce a range of engineering design options to meet their requirements. When the work has been commissioned the most effective design solution that meets the client's needs is agreed in consultation. At this stage of the commissioning process, the director and senior manager(s) will set out the work schedule and work plan with agreed deadlines, identify appropriate staff, review contractors, and delegate work through team meetings. Therefore, skill and competency requirements for each project are assessed and matched to available resources. Much of the organisations work is offsite so staff undergo site inductions before work is started. 

Staff use the project method statement and risk assessments throughout the project. At each stage of a project, work is checked by the senior manager and then the director, before confirmation of project stage completion is reported to the client. At each stage, the work, resources and checks are recorded as part of the quality assurance procedures and ensuring the work will be completed on time and within budget. All staff have to submit detailed timesheets to senior managers who are responsible for checking before it is sent to be processed.

If it is a large project involving several organisations completing different aspects of the job, over-runs and delays in the project are normally the result of other organisations failing to complete work. Design changes and non-conformance reports are recorded, reported and resolved according to the company's quality assurance procedure. When a project has been completed the director will go through the work with the client, ensuring that all aspects have been completed to their satisfaction before the final hand-over. For build and procurement projects, all sub-assembled packages and equipment are checked for compliance in line with the Quality Assurance system prior to delivery. Clients are provided with document maintenance schedules and procedures upon completion of the work, which can lead to further work. 

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model 

The interviewee reported that within the company there are clear management and communication structures, plus processes and procedures are well documented which fit well with the knowledge maturing model. However, he was unsure as to whether ad-hoc training was well implemented within the company suggesting that the pressures of other commitments, work deadlines, and sometimes lack of understanding that some information should be shared prevented this happening as well as it should. In terms of knowledge maturing, the fact that the company is fairly small was considered positive as the clearly defined roles means that individuals know their responsibilities and know what others do. It was thought that knowledge maturing in the company was less successful when there is a heavy workload, information is not shared and there is limited time for training or reflection. Everything in the organisation is well documented and reported so information is shared and there is a good understanding of the status of projects. However, this seems to be restricted to senior management. It was recognised that the company is not very good at finding time for staff training unless there is a legal requirement or that knowledge/skills need updating. Updating knowledge and skills was considered essential to maintaining the track record and reputation of the company. Gaining ISO was considered a positive step in the company documenting, recording, maintaining and controlling work processes and procedures. Overall, there is considered to be good communication and openness in the company, which is believed to be key to successful knowledge maturing in the company. IT is used as a tool to support work processes recording and documenting information. Knowledge maturing is supported through open communication with the company and is not reliant on IT.

Company manufacturing plastics products 

This company is located in Northern Ireland and is part of a larger international organisation, who have a headquarters in Kremsmunster, Austria. The consolidated turnover is 350M Euros and the group employs approximately 3,000 people in 21 businesses located throughout Europe. The factory achieved a turnover in 2008 of £20M, which was a significant growth from a 2004 turnover of £11M (80% in 4 years). The factory was founded in 1972 and was taken over in January 2006 by the international organisation, which is also when the interviewee was promoted and appointed to be the new Managing Director. 

The interviewee had previously been employed at a senior manager level having joined the international group in 2003. Prior to his employment at the factory, he had gained earlier experience in other organisations in Austria and in Madrid. He had gained a degree in Finance and Operations Management at Boston University, in Massachusetts, USA. He is currently completing further studies and is about to submit his final dissertation for a Master of Business Administration (MBA) at Queen's University Belfast. 

The factory has between 185-200 employees and is responsible for the manufacture of rigid plastic containers for the food industry. These are typically yoghurt pots, containers for cream or dessert cups, mainly used within the dairy industry. The manufacturing processes used are thermoplastic forming and extrusion or blow moulding followed by either printing, attachment of pre-printed adhesive labels or sleeving where a printed plastic sleeve is placed over the product.

These manufacturing operations are highly automated and a team of process engineers typically develop the tooling and equipment required. They also provide the methodology and operating instructions. These technicians will develop the processes and procedures through a "trial and error" or "iterative method" until the optimum solution is achieved. They will then provide training for all operators and issue work instructions or Standard Operating Procedures, which are documented and stored electronically. Staff training is formalised and records maintained within a training matrix format. 

The company is ISO9001 approved and follows a path of Continuous Improvement through a Lean Manufacturing approach. The wider organisational philosophy is very much people and communication focused, not only with customers but also within the business. They believe in exchange of good ideas and working practices between each of their 21 businesses located throughout Europe and encourage idea generation and training of their workforce. The director was particularly proud to inform me that they work closely with schools encouraging day visits to the factory in order to recruit apprentices. He reported that the factory was recruiting for apprentice training while other local businesses were not. Their belief is to build for the future. The organisational CEO reported that: “A leading position is generated through know how. Know how is generated through training. communication actions within the enterprise are significantly defined by nine properties; creativity; innovative mindset; seriousness; reliability; open-mindedness; customer orientation; partnership orientation; responsibility and environmental awareness.â

This permeates through the group into the individual parts of the organisation and the interviewee reinforced that he is endeavouring to adapt the old organisational culture to the new culture. He explained that the main barrier to knowledge maturation stems from the longer term employees who are reluctant to change because they are suspicious of what this will mean for them and consequently they fear new ideas. This is not just typical of the Northern Ireland workforce, but in the interviewee's experience it is common for people to be wary of change. 

Training and employee development are particularly high on the company agenda along with the need to maintain good communication throughout. Idea generation is encouraged and rewarded well through a remuneration scheme in which annual awards take place throughout the group and are even extended to local schools where related projects are encouraged. The interviewee did comment that ideas generally only come from a small number of employees while most of the remainder tend to: "Just get on with their jobs. They are not particularly interested in anything else and don't see how it benefits them personally."

The business is very reliant on IT having both Internet and Intranet systems in place. There is a group intranet system where communication between the various organisations is carried out. Employees are encouraged to research for new ideas and technological advances using the internet.

There is an internal bespoke designed business management system for controlling all aspects of the business from stock control, production control through to financial accounting and human resources management. This package is also shared throughout the group. Two employees are responsible for maintaining the IT systems, with further support being provided from within the group head quarters in Austria. Other than this the standard office Microsoft packages are employed within the business. A project is currently underway to implement new SAP software and this is almost reaching completion.

The business prides itself on being innovative and successful in knowledge growth. In 2007 a new state of the art high bay warehouse was built at a cost of 3.7M Euros. This was also unique in that it was constructed of wood rather than more traditional steel or brick materials. Wood was chosen for its insulation properties. The warehouse was also innovative because a system was developed to heat the warehouse by tapping into the waste heat generated from the thermoplastic manufacturing processes employed in the production plant. Thus saving cost and being environmentally friendly at the same time. This new warehouse replaced four smaller units and thus reduced transport costs and further contributed to energy reduction.

Problem solving and new idea generation are approached either by individuals or in teams depending upon the size and nature of the specific problem or project. Communication is very important to the business, not only within the factory, but throughout the Group. The internet system and strategically located notice boards ensure this is achieved.

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model 

The interviewee firmly believes that his organisation is very successful with regard to the process of knowledge maturation. He cited business growth of over 80% in 4 years as concrete evidence of this. Examples of innovation and idea generation are visible in:
the new warehouse project; developments to the IT system, and in particular the forthcoming implementation of SAP software; and 
the award system used to promote idea generation from within.

These are all examples of projects which have reached a successful conclusion or are currently ongoing and reported as being "on targetâ". 

The business operates a KPI system to monitor performance at all levels and uses these to monitor and report within a culture of Continuous Improvement, again evidenced by the business growth and contribution to the group profitability.

His only comment with regard to barriers to this is the difficulty in achieving cultural change with more established workforce and he finished with the remark: "That's my job to manage the change of culture with the people"

Manufacturer of gears 

The interviewee has received no formal post-school qualifications, but has worked in a family business since he was 18 years old where he acquired his business acumen and experience over approximately 25 years. In 2005, he decided to branch out by himself and bought the business from the previous owner who had reached retirement. Since then he has developed the business to introduce new products, and through capital investment to add new plant and equipment. He has recently sold the majority of his shares in the business to a Canadian company and he now owns only 20% of the business, but has retained his role as Managing Director. 

The company manufactures gears, gearbox systems and offers a refurbishment service. When the interviewee took over the business the main customer base was for marine applications. Since then they have capitalised on the recent developments in renewable energy and in particular wind power offering a refurbishment service for gear systems used in wind turbines. A new product has been under development over the last 12-18 months, which is about to be launched onto the market. This product was developed as a result of the MD watching a BBC television programme called "Dragon's Den" in which budding entrepreneurs present their inventions to well known businessmen and women in the hope of attracting investment. In this case the proposer received no investment from the television programme, but attracted the interest of the interviewee who decided to speculate in the idea. 

The business, which comprises 50 employees including casual workers, is very much traditionally structured with reports into the MD as follows: Finance Director; Technical Director; Production Director. The company has a small Research and Development Department which reports through the Technical Director. Turnover is currently £1.7M with 10% of this being in mainland Europe, 15% in Republic of Ireland and the remainder within the UK. 

The company is very much dependent upon IT and utilises proprietary software such as Microsoft Office, the latest 3-D AutoCAD packages for design and computer aided manufacture in terms of generation of CNC programs and Sage for accounts and business management.

Apart from the new product development and launch detailed above, 7 months ago the company invested over £330k in new capital plant in the shape of anew CNC Lathe. It was the policy of the MD at that time to ensure that all personnel who were directly affected by this investment had some involvement in the decision making process. Therefore, after initial fact finding and investigation a short list of machines was drawn up. Everyone from shop floor operatives and supervision to maintenance personnel and senior managers was consulted regarding the purchase.

Training is high on the agenda as full operator training was eventually delivered on the installation of the new machine. It is the policy that at least 2 operatives receive full training in the use of all equipment and performance of all key tasks within the business. The company has recently launched an NVQ programme for all of its shop floor employees for which an employee was selected and given full training to take on the role as the “in house” NVQ facilitator.

The company have documented standard operating procedures, which operators are encouraged to assist in the generation of. The interviewee believes in capturing the shop floor skill as appropriate to the tasks.

Staff are always encouraged to read up-to-date journals and technical papers relevant to their jobs and use of the internet for this is encouraged. The company allows personnel to attend the regular technical exhibitions such as the annual Machine Tool exhibitions held at the NEC in Birmingham

In terms of regular communication production meetings are conducted daily and as appropriate there are regular project meetings to which all relevant personnel are invited and whose input at whatever level is valued. The company prides itself in being ISO9001 approved and operates policy of Continuous Improvement, where errors and mistakes are not merely corrected but preventative measures are also introduced.

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model

Knowledge maturation is very much at the forefront of this business in terms of new idea generation and development. Processes are taken through the various “maturation” stages through to formalisation adopting both electronic and manually generated documentation. The company appears to have launched new products and introduced new equipment in a manner which encompasses input from all. The MD did point out that it is relatively easy to operate in this manner due to the size of the business and the relatively small number of employees. Notice boards and some formal means of communication exist, but he finds that, because they are an SME, due the lower number of personnel communication by word of mouth and informal ad hoc discussion works best. It is recognised that as the business grows this may be more difficult to sustain.

With the recent take over by a Canadian business and the company's acquisition of new and larger premises there may well be changes and future growth in terms of personnel, which will require management to monitor the effectiveness the existing communication methods. 

Barriers to knowledge maturation were discussed and the interviewee indicated that, although there are other ideas for further business development, these are restricted due to resources in terms of available personnel and cash flow to invest. Having made the investment in new plant and new premises the company is now limited to moving any new ideas forward in the near future.

Solicitors

The interviewee is Head of Human Resources (HR) and Office Manager for the Solicitors. She has held this position for the past 7 years and has been in similar roles for over 19 years. She is a member of the Chartered Institute or Personnel Development (CIPD). She is mainly responsible for the provision of HR support including employment law to the senior partners and manages the 50 support staff. It was agreed to focus the interview on the administrative operations of the business. 

The organisation, which has a turnover of approximately £5m per annum, has over 80 employees comprising 13 Legal partners, 8 Legal Associates, 8 Legal Assistants or Paralegals and approximately 50 support and administrative staff. The main aspect of the organisation is the provision of legal support advice and services to industry and businesses on commercial and contract law issues. It is a high profile company being one of the top legal companies in Northern Ireland and providing a service to some of the top 100 FTSE businesses. 

The business structure comprises senior legal partners of which there is a Senior Managing Partner and nominated partners covering roles such as quality and library. This latter role is very important since the business is required to maintain accurate records and also keep abreast of all new developments and changes in a dynamic environment. Controlling day-to-day operational issues is the Office Manager, an Accounts and Financial Controller and a Marketing Manager.

The business is heavily reliant upon ICT both for accounts management, but more importantly for document management and control for which it employs a software package known as "MILES33", which is the main business operating system and key driver. The business has also acquired LAWNET ISO9001 accreditation which is an approved business management system and is audited both internally and by an external approving body. 

The MILES33 software has been designed to meet the business needs and is constantly under review either to be improved to meet the needs of users or to be updated due to the latest changes in law. IT consultants are employed to reprogram the system and to provide training and support to the staff who use the software. All office systems and procedures are maintained and controlled electronically.

The internet is used by the senior partners and paralegal team to monitor all changes to the law. The company also receives support from outside agencies with regard to law updates and as such subscribe to on line support services from specialised legal sources in the various fields of legal knowledge e.g. Employment Law, Commercial and Contract Law. The legal teams and where appropriate their support staff regularly attend training seminars in order to maintain their level of legal knowledge in their particular field. All staff receive training at all levels and the business has enrolled 16 of its admin staff on NVQ Level 2 in Business Administration with a further 12 on NVQ Level 3 courses. This represents over 50% receiving formalised Business training.

The business prides itself on maintaining its status as a provider of a quality service to its clients from whom it acquires regular feedback via a questionnaire system, which is analysed and through a series of review meetings a continuous improvement activity is in operation. There is no formal suggestion scheme in operation the business does encourage and develop idea generation through a regular “brainstorming” activity and also through the regular annual appraisal system, which the interviewee personally manages and ensures that outcomes and actions are followed through. She proudly cited one example of a junior employee who put forward a proposal 2 years ago to implement a recycling policy. The junior employee believed that not only was this an environmentally friendly issue, but it would also present the business in a positive manner from a PR perspective. She was encouraged to follow through on this idea and received support and encouragement from senior partners. The recycling system is now in place and in operation as part of the standard office procedures.

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model

In terms of the knowledge maturation process, when asked to rate out of 10, the interviewee believes that the organisation is fully successful in this activity. The systems and procedures which are in place, the brainstorming and appraisal activities encourage idea generation and the company, because of the nature of the business, is very strong at communication and formal training is actively supported.

Staff morale has been affected recently, particularly in certain sections, due to the current economic recession and this is currently acting as a barrier to the maturation process. She also believes that if given the time and opportunity she would prefer to increase the annual staff appraisals to once every 6 months.

The company is highly reliant on the MILES33 software which is constantly updated and training given after each major change. This controls the generation of legal documents and a strict process is followed to ensure that documents are produced in an error free manner. 

Design, distribution and retail of clothing

This company was founded approximately 80 years ago as a Clothing Manufacturer and Wholesaler. The original owners sold the business several years ago and it is now a family run concern being owned by two executive directors who managed and control business operations. The company no longer manufactures since the production of fabrics and cloths in Northern Ireland has declined in favour of third world and lower cost countries. 

The interviewee has been the Human Resources manager for over 5 years and has held his current position at the company for 3 years. He graduated in Business Management Studies at Queen's University Belfast and went on to gain membership of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. 

The business has 116 employees, produces a turnover of approximately £26m per annum in the design, distribution and retail of clothing for men and boys. The company enjoys a high street brand in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Glasgow in Scotland. It boasts a particular brand of menswear as one of its main selling range of products. 

Due to the recent recession, sales in Ireland have been adversely affected in line with problems with the Irish economy. This has resulted in a decision being made to market the business brand more on the mainland UK and some retail franchises are being established in England along with a new showroom which has been opened in London. Marketing and selling through the internet has also been adopted to further grow sales within the UK. The outcome of this has returned an increase of sales of 10% in the UK over the past 12 months.

The 116 staff is divided as follows: 30 in Purchasing and Design; 20 in Information Technology Support and the remainder in warehouse and distribution operations. Garments are designed and developed by the Purchasing and Design staff and are manufactured overseas, these are then delivered to the warehouse facility and from there distributed to the various retail outlets.

The warehouse is a new "state of the art" facility built at a cost of £7mand was opened for operation in February 2009. This replaced 3 separately run warehouses, comprises 3 levels in which operates large manually operated rotating garment hanging rack systems which are reported to be the largest storage systems of this type in Europe. In conjunction with this warehouse the business re-organised its modus operandum to reduce inventory levels and now turns round stock in less than 5 days. This is a new “lean” approach to managing the warehouse and to stock control and inventory management. 

The business is heavily reliant on IT and requires systems to manage and control stock and finances. The IT department are employed to maintain and upgrade the bespoke designed software and standard accounting package. Communication is through e-mail software, for which Microsoft office is employed. Those employees who do not have access to a PC receive communication via the company notice boards or from their line manager by means of a verbal presentation. There is no real formal system for this and all communication is generally on an ad hoc basis.

In terms of staff development, it was stated that approximately 50% of staff receives some form of informal training which is carried out on an ad hoc basis being left to the individual middle managers to organise as they deem appropriate. There is no real focus on training within the organisation.

"The Company Directors are mainly focussed on cost cutting and performance rather than on training issues" 

The company is not ISO9001 approved and as such there are few documented or electronically stored work instructions or procedures. The Design team are encouraged to research for new ideas using both the internet and also attending fashion shows and taking trips abroad to stay abreast of developments and new trends. The interviewee stated that male fashion is not as dynamic as female fashions, but new ranges are launched approximately every 6 months.

Expertise is generally gained through a recruitment programme rather than growing and training within. Designers are generally recruited from the local colleges and universities. The company sponsors some of the students at The University of Ulster and takes some in on work experience, using this to identify bright students who can then be enticed to work for the business.

There is currently a major focus on cost cutting for which "forums" have been established in response to an initiative from the directors and cascaded down through senior and middle management. There is no real culture to encourage idea generation and development at lower staff levels within the business. The cost cutting forums have been recently established in response to the recession. Ideas generated within these forums are taken forward and developed by teams comprising individuals with relevant experience as appropriate. The interviewee cited a recent recycling scheme as an example of an idea which was carried forward from one of these groups. 

Summary of key lessons learned set against the specified MATURE model

In terms of Knowledge Maturation this company is not a particularly good example of a business which attempts to encourage idea generation or develop systems whereby knowledge is retained. This only occurs on an ad hoc basis depending upon the individual department managers. The perception given from the interviewee is that the business directors do hold training and staff development in high regard and thus the barriers to Knowledge Maturation are centred at board level. If there is not encouragement or culture from the top down it then follows that individual employees will lack motivation to generate and develop ideas for the benefit of the organisation.

Those members of staff who are motivated tend to be within the design and purchasing functions where foreign travel opportunities are an incentive to perform. Expertise is bought in by means of recruitment of the necessary design skills required to develop new products.
 

 

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