Working for the Car Factory: Assessment Tests

As part of my ethnographic study of the Car Factory, I worked on the assembly line (see introduction). To do this, I went through the same assessment and induction procedure as anyone else who wanted to work on the line, which I’ll outline over the next few posts, based on my fieldnotes and beginning with the assessment tests:

I arrive at the car factory about 9:40, having been told to get there at 9:45; there are already plenty of people there, hanging around the reception booth, a small glass structure at the factory gates. None of them greet me. I go into the reception booth, give my name and am given a small piece of paper with my name, the date etc. on it in biro—apparently a special temporary pass for temporary labour candidates, much less flashy than the pass I have worn to visit the factory on previous occasions. When I come out, the lone woman in the group (middle aged, office-lady type) smiles at me and says she guesses we’re the only two women here? The others are male—about one-third each White, Asian and Black. Several have a studenty look. Most are aged about 18-30; there are two older men. One of the younger White men approaches me and shyly asks if I have done assembly-line work before: I admit to not having done so, and he says, “Good, I’m not the only one.” He adds, “I can’t even drive!” There are about 20 of us all told.

Around ten Mike [all names changed to protect the innocent], the temporary labour agency manager, turns up, wearing a factory uniform jacket. Although we have met on several occasions before he does not acknowledge me and I do not acknowledge him. He introduces himself and asks if we have all remembered our proof of entitlement to work (excluding one very tall, bald, Black man, who apparently works for another plant in the group and whose details are there). There is consternation among several of the candidates. Mike is exasperated: “well, I told you to bring some!” He takes their names, then leads us the long way round to the building which houses the temporary labour agency’s office. The other woman protests at the length of the journey. She remarks that since there are so many men here, she and I don’t stand a chance of being hired.

When we reach the building we are on the side with the broken lift and have to walk up four floors; some protest. Upon arriving at the testing area, Mike wearily tells us not to complain about the heat, as they can’t turn the heater off. Much later, Mike tells me that all this is actually part of the assessment, intended to test physical fitness, endurance, and ability to cheerfully deal with difficult conditions.

We are split into two groups, directed by a small Asian woman named Sara. My group does the “practical” test first; this involves fitting together a small engine part following directions and diagrams in a booklet. This is not hard; my biggest problem is learning how to operate the ratchet, since I have never used one before (although, to judge from the noises from elsewhere in the room, neither have several of the others). The second group does a written test. The other woman leaves after the practical, as she has apparently done the written tests elsewhere. I never find out if she passed or not.

Then we all come together to do an attention-to-quality test, which involves looking at pictures of groups of objects and identifying those with defects; the second part involves classifying different defective objects by type of defect. One man with a Jamaican accent has to have the directions explained at length; another man, with an Oxford accent, complains that he can’t make out the pictures without his glasses. He is told to do the best he can. After these tests, my group does the written test.

Mike and Sara then go into an office to grade the tests; people sit around, one or two talk quietly but the rest stare into space. When they reemerge, Sara calls out six or seven names (including mine) and asks us to join her in the side office; Mike stays with the others. Sara informs us that we are the ones who passed, and now we will have our interviews. The others include: two young Asian men, a small Black man about thirtyish, and two young White men, one of whom has multiple facial piercings. She gives us some forms to fill out.

My interviewer is a man my own age named Tim. I explain to him about the project, and refer him to my HR contact, Tessa, at the Car Factory. He seems interested, and when he goes away to photocopy my passport he apparently asks does ask them about it, as when he comes back he tells me that Tessa will be handling my case from now on. The interview is not strenuous; he asks details of my previous employment, why I quit, have I done any comparable work before, what sort of assembly-line work do I feel I’m best suited for, what can I bring to the organization. I emphasise my teamwork skills and attention to quality. He makes sure I am briefed about shifts, salaries, etc. He does not shake my hand when I leave, but says that someone will be in touch about starting dates soon. I am left to find my own way out.

Next episode: induction.

Forthcoming appearance: Field Methods in Management Research

On 26 February I’ll be a speaker at Field Methods in Management Research, a free showcase & training day hosted by Imperial College Business School. It’s aimed at helping businesses understand how they can work with researchers for the benefit of their organisations.

Friends/colleagues in industry, this would be a good thing to flag up to your HR/R&D managers.

Information & Registration via EventBrite.

The Cats of Foca (2013)

For the season of love, some beautiful Turkish cats, from the equally beautiful seaside town of Foca. The local shop-owners, restauranteurs and fishermen all collectively look out for the cats (at least the ones who aren’t in a long-term living relationship with a  household), and the vets do pro bono work if one of them is sick or injured.

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Transactional leadership: Tyrion Lannister

'Game of Thrones' director on why Tyrion is worried about ...We conclude our introductory tour around the leadership trifecta of “Game of Thrones” with a look at Tyrion Lannister, the transactional leader (for those just joining us: charismatic and transformational leadership are covered in earlier articles).

Much as Tyrion himself doesn’t tend to get much love from his siblings and father, transactional leadership generally doesn’t tend to get much good press in the popular management textbook world. It’s another of Max Weber’s coinages and, as contrasted to the charismatic leader who leads through charisma and force of will, the transactional leader is one who gets things done through, well, transactions with his or her followers: if I do this, then you will do that. Subordinates are kept in line with a system of rewards and punishments, and transactional leaders can’t necessarily count on their love, or their support during the tough times. Transactional leaders can often, however, count on trust; these are generally leaders who make promises and, if you hold up your end of the bargain, they’ll hold up theirs. Transactional leaders are organised, and performance-focused, which means that they’re often the ones who get the results that the sexier leaders don’t, because they’ve worked their subordinates to burnout or have spent too much time wrangling their team to address ongoing concerns of day-to-day management. Transactional leaders tend to be self-motivated, and prefer subordinates who are likewise inclined to go away, do their part, and come back with the results.

Tyrion’s not unappealing (he’s got the best lines in the series, for a start), but as leaders go he’s not particularly charismatic. Although he’s been on the battlefield, and successfully, several times, people tend to forget about that. What he’s famous for is, in his own words, that “I drink, and I know things.” But that last phrase gives us his strength as a leader: he’s competent. He has no illusions about his charisma, but he knows what will motivate people to do what he wants. When Joffrey, the charismatic leader (yes, he is; we’ll be talking about him later) is paralysed with fear, he’s the one who takes over and competently runs the Battle of Black Water into a Lannister victory. Tyrion does all right when he doesn’t have followers, or support; he’s as much at home pursuing a solo quest to find Daenarys as he is at the head of an organisation.

If Tyrion winds up on the Iron Throne– and that’s a distinct possibility– he won’t have got there through charisma, and looks, and social capital. He’ll have got there through careful deal-making and knowing things. Because if that’s his goal, he’ll look at what he needs to do to achieve it… and do it.

Next up: before we go on to consider paths to leadership in Westeros, I’ll take you through a brief overview of two schools of thought about leadership: behavioural and contingent.

Skulls #4: “Rabbit Season”, 2013

“Rabbit in the Moon,” my forthcoming novel from ChiZine Press, is one that had its genesis in a jokey conversation at the Fitzroy Tavern with a group of Faction Paradox authors (Faction Paradox explainer here), in which I threatened to write a Faction Paradox version of Apocalypse Now. Well, I didn’t; I tried, but by the time I got it into any sort of shape it wasn’t very Faction Paradox-like, so I put the idea aside.

However, when I saw the pitch for Blood and Water, environmental catastrophe stories by Canadian authors and with Canadian connections, I thought about reviving the idea of, at least, a surrealist Apocalypse Now journey through a climate-changed future North America. I wrote “Rabbit Season”, sent it in, and it got accepted– starting a long relationship with Bundoran Press which led to them publishing my first novel, and to “Rabbit in the Moon” getting written.

The skull is one of my favourites; it’s howlite, a stone I love, and beautifully detailed.

Transformational leadership: Jon Snow

Picking up the Leadership in Game of Thrones thread again and moving on from last episode’s discussion of Daenarys Targaryen as an example of charismatic leadership, this time we’ll be looking at the concept of the transformational leader, as exemplified in Game of Thrones by Jon Snow.

Onjon snow - Free Large Images the surface of it, Jon Snow looks like another charismatic leader. As with Daenarys, he’s good-looking, knows his way around an epic speech, and people follow him even though he’s young, illegitimate, and has handed away any chance that he might inherit via a sidewise route to power (we’ll be talking about Ramsay Snow/Bolton and his alternative career path later in this series) by joining what is effectively a militant monastic order.

The key difference between him and Dany, though, is that he helps the people under his leadership to develop. Consider his relationship with Sam; while he teaches him swordsmanship, he also allows Sam to figure out what skills and abilities he can best contribute to the Nights’ Watch, and steers him towards becoming a scholar rather than just another man with a big stick on top of a wall. When Jon leaves the Nights’ Watch under the command of Dolorous Edd, you really do believe that, through Jon, Edd has developed to the point where this wouldn’t be a completely disastrous idea. Where people develop through Daenarys’s actions, it’s largely by accident or through the results of something she’s done rather than through her active sponsorship; she frees Grey Worm, but, if anyone helps him to develop his skills as a leader, it’s Missandei, not Daenarys. Which is the key point of a transformational, rather than a charismatic leader; that they help the people around them to “transform”.

They also come into their own as change managers, and this can certainly be seen to be true of Jon Snow. Almost every organisation he comes into contact with, he changes, and for the better; he’s got two groups of historic enemies working together, he’s developed an alliance with Daenarys. He’s been instrumental in getting the Northerners to accept his sister Sansa as their ruler. It’s no wonder Jeor Mormont marks him early on as a possible successor as the commander of the Nights’ Watch, above people with greater experience and seniority.

Given all this, a transformational leader might seem more than a little heroic. But that’s not necessarily the case. Transformational leaders, Jon to the contrary notwithstanding, aren’t inherently charismatic. Transformational leadership involves working with people to figure out what change is needed, and to deliver it, meaning that it involves giving way and compromising a lot more than traditional charismatic leadership does. Notice how Jon leads through building alliances and developing trust, not through railroading his way across two continents with a trio of magic beasts and an army of super-tough eunuchs. It also doesn’t make you stronger, or a better human, or smarter, than anyone else. Or to put it another way: Jon Snow’s transformational… but so, in her way, is Cersei Lannister.

Transformational leadership has become a very popular idea in management studies recently, and managers are being urged to be, or to become, transformational leaders (through reading a certain book or taking a certain course, naturally). In some ways, this is a good thing; the business world is currently in a period of upheaval, change is in the air, and the sort of leaders that are needed right now are often change managers. Problem is, this isn’t always true. In periods, and places, where change isn’t needed, your transformational leader becomes a micro-manager, constantly trying to fix what isn’t broken.

Transformational leaders are much nicer than charismatic ones from the perspective of the led– but, in an organisational setting, there’s nothing that makes transformational leadership inherently any better than any other sort of leadership. Context matters a lot to successful leadership, and transformational leaders are at their best when weathering change, not leading a charge or keeping an organisation going. In the end, given the amount of change going on in Westeros right now, Jon Snow is the man of the hour. And now, you know something.

Next time: Tyrion Lannister and transactional leadership.

 

Free short story!

Now, on the Mad Scientist Journal website, you can read my short story “Every Little Star” for free. It’s part of a series which is one part Gerry and Sylvia Anderson to one part Quatermass to one part 1950s lesbian pulp novels– featuring the adventures of a moonbase commander battling terrorism, glass ceilings and post-traumatic stress disorder, through the medium of virtual reality….