Call it a corollary of fast growth: as sales multiply, so do disagreements between employees and managers. Formal grievance procedures, however, are often costly and time-consuming.
"We can't afford to let problems fester," states Michael Yag, CEO of Access TCA, a $4-million manufacturer of trade-show exhibits in Whitinsville, Mass. So at Access, they take their beefs to the one truly private place at their offices in a converted mill: the tower.
Behind the large oak doors of the tower room, anyone can debate customer issues, hirings and firings, and employee reviews. The duelers don't come out until they agree on a course of action. "It's a nice way to air our differences and get on with what we have to do," says Yag.
Of course, there are other less medieval approaches to problem solving. American Steel & Wire, in Cuyahoga Heights, Ohio, hears complaints in a people's court. Other companies are training workers to be part-time mediators or ombudsmen. AT&T believes so firmly in ombudsmen that it employs a whole fleet of them.
If you want to know more about how the big guys work out problems, check out Justice on the Job, by David W. Ewing (Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 1989), a lively chronicle of the creative complaint systems in place at corporations such as Federal Express, IBM, and Northrop.
Getting Disputes Resolved, by William L. Ury, Jeanne M. Brett, and Stephen S. Goldberg (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 1988), has a more academic tone but provides a good introduction to alternative dispute resolution, says Mary Rowe, an ombudsman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.