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As Workers Turn Into Risk Takers...One Plant Really Turns On The Steam (Int'l Edition)


International -- Spotlight on Poland

AS WORKERS TURN INTO RISK-TAKERS...ONE PLANT REALLY TURNS ON THE STEAM (int'l edition)

Andrzej Blikle had a problem. He wanted to introduce Western quality-control concepts to his baked-goods plant in a Warsaw suburb. But the best of the "motivational" slogans sounded too much like discredited socialist mantras. Last year, he got the opening he needed when his hot-selling poppy-seed cakes kept crumbling when cut. He gathered together 20 bakers and sales clerks for weekly troubleshooting meetings. It took two months, but the mystery was solved: The first shift was grinding its poppy seeds finer than the second shift. Grinding was standardized, and voila--firm cakes.

In the process, Blikle's workers learned what a "quality circle" was all about. Fifteen workers signed up to learn more--on their own time. Two teams of production workers now meet twice a month. By next spring, as Blikle launches oven-ready frozen rolls, all 70 production workers will be in a quality circle. Says Krzysztof Walewski, a 32-year-old cheesecake chef: "Before, we weren't interested in anything but our own job."

HOARDING. Quality circles are just one of the Western techniques fast taking hold in Poland. Business books are big, including Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. More than 50 U.S. companies with subsidiaries in Poland send human resource directors to regular workshops sponsored by the American Chamber of Commerce to learn ways to motivate and reward junior managers. In late November, New York's Conference Board sent in 11 executives to study the HR challenges facing high-potential companies here. Some companies, such as ABB, are even setting up their own MBA programs.

But there's a long way to go in what Vera Koknova Hartford, the manager in Poland of executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles, calls "the mental reengineering of the country." Socialism taught managers to avoid taking the initiative, to hoard information rather than share it, and to see little linkage between their self-interest and that of the company.

The challenge today is to persuade yesterday's rebels to try their hand at joining forces within a company to beat the competition. Multinationals have invested the most in human capital, and for some it's already paying off. The Warsaw Marriott Hotel, for example, pioneered ways to give feedback to every employee after each shift, which was crucial in the early days when "customer service" was a new concept. Today, guest evaluations rank the Warsaw Marriott in the top five in the international chain. Employee turnover is low, at 4%. Recently, Marriott began a first-in-Europe peer review, or "colleagues' court," for employee disputes.

Another result of Poland's newly capitalist mind-set is the increasing pressure on headhunters to recruit Poles who can motivate people. There is a small but growing pool of hotly sought-after Polish turnaround artists, such as Dariusz Karwacki, 35, who shaped up generator maker ABB Domel after he took over in 1993. In early December, industrial boilermaker Rafako grabbed him, hoping he could work wonders there, too.

International Paper Co.'s Polish chief, David Bailey, says you can't teach motivation in a classroom. So he has found his own ways to transfer skills to managers of the Kwidzyn paper plant, which the corporation bought in 1992 for $150 million, investing $350 million since then. Usually, that involves pushing the Poles to take risks. They might be skeptical but, once convinced, they move swiftly.

Bailey's pulp and power manager, Alfred Trepow, was proud of the output he had gotten. Bailey praised him but said the yield could be twice as high. No way, the manager replied. Bailey brought in U.S. specialists. But the payoff came only after Trepow saw an identical plant that did have double the output--in the U.S. He came back, cleared out bottlenecks, "and now has become the best change agent I have," says Bailey. "He is doing more than I had thought was possible." Doubling the white-paper output to 140,000 tons a year has made this the most efficient operation in Poland--and in International Paper worldwide. Overall production at the Kwidzyn plant has jumped from 220,000 tons in 1991 to nearly 600,000 tons this year, with half exported to Western Europe. Crows Bailey: "Now we have the U.S. asking us, `How did you guys do that?"'EDITED BY HARRY MAURER By Peggy Simpson in WarsawReturn to top


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