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As the field of organizational behavior continues to mature in its global research and understanding, we will all benefit from an expanding knowledge base that is enriched by cultural diversity. Organizational behavior is a science of contingencies, and one of them is culture. No one culture possesses all of the “right” answers to today’s complex management and organizational problems. But a sincere commitment to global organizational learning can give us fresh ideas while still permitting locally appropriate solutions to be implemented with cultural sensitivity. This search for global understanding will be reflected in the following chapters as we move further into the vast domain of OB.
? BEST PRACTICES AROUND THE WORLD
Technology and Job Design
? Sociotechnical systems
integrate people and technology into high performance work settings.
The concept of sociotechnical systems is used in organizational behavior to indicate the importance of integrating people and technology to create high performance work systems.55 As computers and information technologies continue to dominate the modern workplace, this concept remains an important point of reference in incorporating new developments into job designs.
? AUTOMATION AND ROBOTICS
As mentioned earlier, highly simplified jobs often cause problems because they offer little intrinsic motivation for the worker. Such tasks have been defined so
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narrowly that they lack challenge and lead to boredom when someone has to repeat them over and over again. Given the high technology now available, one way to tackle this problem is through complete automation where a machine is used to do the work previously accomplished by a human. This approach increasingly involves the use of robots, which are becoming ever more versatile and reliable. Also, robot prices are falling as the cost of human labor rises. Japan presently leads the world in robot use, with a ratio of one robot for every 36 people employed in manufacturing. The United States lags far behind, but its robot use is growing rapidly.56 If you were to travel to Wolfsburg, Germany, you would find that Volkswagen’s car plant is one of the world’s largest and most highly automated. Robots do 80 percent of welding work and can be programmed to perform different tasks. Computers control the assembly line, adjusting production to fit schedules for different models and options.57
? FLEXIBLE MANUFACTURING SYSTEMS
In flexible manufacturing systems, adaptive computer-based technologies and integrated job designs are used to shift work easily and quickly among alternative products. This approach is increasingly common, for example, in companies supporting the automobile industry with machined metal products, such as cylinder heads and gear boxes.58 Here, a cellular manufacturing system contains a number of automated production machines that cut, shape, drill, and fasten together various metal components. The machines can be quickly changed from manufacturing one product to another.59 Workers in flexible manufacturing cells perform few routine assembly-line tasks. Rather, they ensure that the operations are handled correctly, and they deal with the changeover from one product configuration to another. They develop expertise across a wide range of functions and the jobs are rich in potential for enriched core job characteristics.
? ELECTRONIC OFFICES
Electronic office technology was the key when U.S. Healthcare, a large, private practice-based health maintenance organization (HMO), became interested in improving the quality of its health-care services. The company installed large electronic bulletin boards that monitored progress toward a range of performance goals. It also installed an E-mail system, put in robots to deliver the paper mail, and installed a computerized answering machine. Essentially, the company tried to automate as many tasks as possible to free people for more challenging work. Similarly, Mutual Benefit Life completely reorganized the way it serviced insurance application forms—once handled by as many as 19 people across five departments. Mutual created a new case manager position responsible for processing applications from their inception until policies were issued. Accompanying this radical change in job design were powerful PC-based workstations designed to assist decision making and connected to a variety of automated subsystems on a mainframe.60
Continuing developments in electronic offices offer job enrichment possibilities for those workers equipped to handle the technology. But those jobs can be stressful and difficult for those who do not have the necessary education or skills. One survey showed that even in highly developed countries like those in Europe, 54 percent of workers possessed inadequate skills to operate a computer; the pro-
? Automation allows machines to do work previously accomplished by people.
? Flexible manufacturing systems use adaptive technology and integrated job designs to easily shift production among alternative products.