In 1921 the YMCA published its last foreman training program training manual. The YMCA began training MitMs in 1894. The handbook reflects considerable experience from helping MitMs to advance their skills and span of competency. By 1930, the Establishment had succeeded in erasing foremen history and foreman prominence. The MitM champions had died off and funding for the YMCA foreman program was stopped. The issue today is far worse that 1921, when the recognition of the foreman’s true contribution to society was widespread.

No one today heralds that the only position in the steep hierarchy that can be authentically and legitimately responsible for organizational prosperity is the MitM/foreman. Everyone else lacks vital ingredients of one sort or another to willfully benefit the collective. When the CEO claims that he is responsible for positive results and then pronounces everyone responsible for positive results, it is total fraud. Everything he orders makes things worse.

Importance of the Foreman

The Evolution of Foremanship

“The maintenance of our modern civilization is dependent absolutely upon the service it gets from the industrial and business system.” It is not now necessary to support this statement, made by a famous engineer, H. L. Gantt, by referring to the effect of the partial paralysis of our transportation facilities, of coal mining, or of the steel industry. We do not realize until we stop to think of it how much we are dependent on the daily service we get from industrial organizations of one kind or another.

Until recently the administration of most American manufacturing plants has been in the hands of one or two men in each plant. These men, who were the owners or their representatives, made all the important decisions, but as they became more and more removed from the actual operation of the business, their administration became less effective. During the Great War, the mistakes and delays in the production of war materials were due largely to the practice of referring matters for decision to a central headquarters where it was not possible to have all the facts available. Even before the armistice the tide had begun to turn toward decentralization of control where decisions are made by men who know the facts because they are close to the job.

This movement toward decentralization is spreading slowly throughout American industry and more and more responsibility is being placed on the foreman—the man who “knows what to do and how to do it.”

Forty or fifty years ago, when shops were small, the owner was usually the best workman and showed the others how to do a job. He told each one what to do, he bought material, and, when the work was finished, saw that it was shipped. He also saw to it that bills were sent out, and frequently collected the money himself.

As shops grew larger it was impossible for the owner to look after all the important parts of his work, so he delegated some duties to others. To a Sales Department he delegated the task of finding out what goods were needed and when; to  an Engineering Department the task of determining what materials should be used, what machines or equipment were needed, and the processes through which the material should go; to a Purchasing Department the task of securing the material; to an Employment Department the task of securing the necessary workmen; to the foremen the task of bringing together the workmen, material, machines, and processes and producing the goods; and finally, to the Sales Department the task of distributing the goods manufactured.

In the expansion of American industry this type of organization was developed as the owner was forced to delegate his duties, one by one. These different parts of the business are not always as clearly defined in small plants as in large ones.

In such an organization the foreman is the practical man. He is like the lens of a camera which focuses the rays of light from a whole landscape upon a small photographic plate. The foreman takes the knowledge of all the other parts of the industrial organization and focuses it on the work.

The Foreman Combines the Production Factors

There are four production factors with which the foreman has to deal. These are

  1. The Workman,
  2. The Material,
  3. The Machine,
  4. The Process.

It is the job of the foreman to combine these factors in proper and efficient relations so as to produce a finished article of commerce. In small plants, the foreman himself selects and hires the workmen; but in large plants, where organization is expanded for the purpose of greater efficiency, the foreman no longer hires the workmen. He does, however, determine what men are needed and makes requisition upon the Employment Department for them. In such plants each job has been standardized so that the qualifications necessary in the workmen are card indexed in the Employment Department, which keeps in touch with the sources of supply for men of the kind wanted and with the market price of labor. It carefully studies the applicants and decides as to their fitness for the work. This saves a great deal of the foreman’s time, but he must still devote sufficient time to the training of these men to enable them to do their work properly. The only sure way to tell whether or not a man can do a job is to try him out on that job.

The Engineering Department, or someone who has adequate knowledge, determines the material from which the goods shall be made. In doing this, in many plants exhaustive experiments must be made and chemists, metallurgists, and other experts must be consulted. When the specifications are worked out, the Purchasing Department goes out into the market and buys the material.

It must keep in close touch with continual changes in market conditions and in suppliers. Its task is made more difficult by the necessity for weighing the relative importance of date of delivery, of cost, and of quality. When the material is received it is kept by the storekeeper until the foreman is ready to use it.

The machine or equipment best suited to do the work is also determined by the Engineering Department, or someone familiar with the design of modern machinery and with the machines on the market. The Purchasing Department buys the machine and delivers it to the foreman. The Engineering Department, or a man who has technical knowledge and experience, works out the processes of manufacture—the method of applying the machine to the material in order to produce the finished article of commerce. This information is given to the foreman in the form of blue prints, written instructions, by word of mouth, or, frequently, it is common knowledge handed down from one workman to another. Into the development of these processes and the design of these machines have gone centuries of experiment and investigation in all the sciences.

The Foreman Puts Theory into Practice

A good foreman does not hesitate to use the theories or knowledge of other men; in fact, his success depends almost entirely upon his ability to make use of the knowledge of other men. He learns just as much as possible about materials and processes, but no one can know everything. His job is to get information wherever he can and make use of it. He exercises his ingenuity in making that knowledge practical.

In establishing any scientific fact it is necessary to go through a great deal of experimenting. A wise foreman lets scientists do that experimenting and then takes the result of their work and applies it to his particular task. He realizes that modern business is so complicated and its problems so varied that, in order to work out the best processes, build the best machines, or develop the best methods of getting work done, there must be specialists who devote their entire time and attention to that kind of work. It is natural that such men should know more about their specialty than the average man. If one of these specialists cannot tell a foreman just exactly how to accomplish the result he is after, that is no reason why his ideas should be discarded. Frequently it needs only the practical point of view of a foreman to make that idea work. All the scientific knowledge printed in books, shown on drawings, or embodied in machines and processes is useless until the foreman makes use of it in bringing together the workman, the material, the machine, and the process.

The job of the foreman is to put theory into practice.

The Foreman Holds the Key to Productive Capacity

There is a growing appreciation of the fact that the “value of an industrial plant is determined by its productive capacity” and not by the inventory value of the land, buildings, and equipment. The foreman holds the key to this productive capacity. Think of the strategic position occupied by the foremen of our grain elevators, the yardmasters of the railroads, and the foremen of flour mills. We are really dependent upon them for the bread we eat, since they stand between us and the wheat fields. The way in which the foreman handles his job has a profound effect on the public, but an even greater effect on the worker. His life and his future are in the hands of the foreman. The foreman is the point of contact and to workmen he is the management, and the success of the policies of the management depends largely upon their interpretation by the foreman. The management may have a broad and generous attitude toward employees, but it is absolutely nullified by a foreman who is close and selfish in his treatment of the men under his charge. The foreman must also present to his superior officers the attitude of the workmen toward the company. This is not a light responsibility, for the actions of his superior officers are largely influenced by what he tells them.


Responsibilities of the Foreman

The Foreman Must Get the Work Done

It is the foreman’s job to get work done. He may be the best workman and so be able to turn out more work and better work than any of his men. This is a great advantage, but that is not the kind of ability which determines the selection of a foreman. The only reason for putting him in control over other men is because of his greater ability to get work done. This does not mean the ability to drive employees to spectacular stunts, or to push one job through in record time at the expense of other equally important work. It means the ability to judge the comparative importance of the various kinds of work assigned to him and to get the work done in the order of its importance.

To accomplish these results the foreman needs all the qualifications of a good executive. There may be men under him who have greater technical knowledge than he has and greater mechanical skill, but he holds his position because of his greater ability to overcome difficulties and get things done. However, the foreman cannot have an absolutely free hand in getting work done, for he is limited by three elements, namely: Time, Cost, and Quality. He must get the work done at the proper time, at a reasonable cost, and in accordance with a definite standard of quality.

The Element of Time Is Gauged by the Workman and the Machine

The time when the work should be finished is usually determined by the superintendent and the Sales Department, after considering the needs of customers and the other work ahead in the plant. The foreman, who probably does only a part of the work on any article, cannot, of course, know how the work is progressing in other departments of the shop, so he makes no attempt to determine the proper sequence of the orders he has in mind, but depends entirely on instructions received from the superintendent. However, in order to get work done on time, the foreman must plan the handling of his orders carefully so as to make the best possible use of his workmen and his machines.

The Element of Cost Is Regulated by Production Methods

The cost of material is of course dependent upon market conditions and is looked after by the Purchasing Department. 1’he cost of doing the work (applying labor to the material) is, however, almost entirely in the hands of the foreman and it is his aim to do the necessary work in as short a time as possible without wasting material. In order to do this he must know the best method, must keep his machines in such condition that they can turn out accurate work, must give his workmen full instructions as to how the work is to be done, and must see that it is done in accordance with those instructions.

The Element of Quality Should Be Standardized

The Engineering Department, the Sales Department, and the superintendent usually agree on the standard of quality after considering the customer’s wants and the probable cost. The Sales Department investigates market conditions and concludes that it is to the interest of the company to produce goods of a certain grade in order to meet the requirements of buyers. The Engineering Department translates this into definite specifications, which the superintendent places in the hands of the inspectors. The foreman accepts this standard of quality and attempts to turn out work which will pass inspection.

The Relative Importance of Time, Cost, and Quality

The time when the work is to be completed is frequently more important than the cost, and sometimes even more important than the quality. The judgment of the foreman must be used in determining the relative importance of these three limiting factors of time, cost, and quality. No rule can be set down which will apply in all cases, so the foreman will decide each case on its merits after learning the facts; but he will be careful to get the superintendent’s approval of his action if it is out of the ordinary.

Complex Problems Confronting the Foreman

Industry is today very much more complicated than it was even a few years ago. It is not very many years since the output of nearly all plants was sold within a radius of one hundred miles of those plants. Today, however, the distribution of the product of some plants is limited only by the extent of railways and steamship lines. In this expansion and the attempt to satisfy the greater variety of needs, the complications both in manufacturing and distribution have increased.

However, the mere complexity of business does not stagger the modern business man. The foreman’s job, being such an important part of the business system, has also become more complex. Processes have become more complicated and at the same time the productive capacity has increased enormously. The foreman’s job today is as different from what it was twenty-five years ago as an automobile is from a buggy. The mechanism of an automobile is very complex when compared with that of the buggy and it gets out of order much more frequently, but who would think of going back to the old “one hoss shay”?

Nor would the foreman of the modern shop think of going back to the methods of the old-fashioned shop. The foreman is not bewildered by the size of his job nor its complexity; and in attempting to increase his knowledge of modern methods he will not expect to have the matter presented to him in as simple a way as it was usually done twenty-five years ago. Such a difficult problem cannot be made to read as easily as a magazine story. It demands concentration, an honest effort to grasp the matter as it is presented, and a desire to apply the principles set forth to one’s daily work with intelligence and persistence.


Types of Foremen Who Fail

The Self-Important Foreman

It would be very interesting to go over in your mind the foremen you know and see what is each one’s conception of his job, and how he measures up to the idea that the foreman’s job is to get work done along lines of modern production methods. Here are some types of inefficient foremen that you will recognize:

There is the foreman who judges his importance by the number of people that work for him. The more men there are standing around waiting on him, the more important he feels. His whole idea seems to be to have people do things for him.

There is the foreman who delegates work to his subordinates and then makes all the decisions for them. The result is that the foreman carries on his shoulders the responsibility for everything in his shop. He is always complaining that his men will not take any responsibility. He does not realize that the best way to get them to shoulder responsibility is to place the full burden on them as soon as they are able to carry it.

There is the foreman who is happiest when everyone in his department depends upon him for information or instructions. He would like to have the whole plant depend on him. He is usually very capable, knows his job, and is always willing to tell men how they should do their work; but as soon as he is away for a few hours or a day there is a decided slump, for his men are so used to asking him how that they forget to think for themselves. They put all the responsibility on his shoulders because they know he likes to carry it, and since he insists on worrying there is no reason why they should. This type of foreman seldom realizes that it would be to his advantage to have instructions written down and looked after by one of his subordinates so that he would be free to use his knowledge and judgment only on particularly difficult problems. He does not know how much more he could accomplish in this way. He usually resents any help which is offered to him from outside his department, and when the management insists on giving him any help or instructions he takes it as a personal insult. These are all types of the self-important foreman.

The Slave-Driver Foreman

There is the foreman who thinks that the only way to accomplish results is to drive his men hard. His voice can be heard above the noise of the machines and he would be perfectly happy if he had a long whip in his hands. This foreman does not realize that men cannot be driven to do what they do not know how to do; that when men are driven they either plunge ahead and do things wrong or turn against their driver.

It is hard for this foreman to learn that his men must be thoroughly trained in the proper methods of doing their work and then given an incentive—something to make them eager to use those methods.

There is the foreman who “raises Cain” whenever the least little thing goes wrong. When other jobs are hard to get, his workmen swallow his abuse; but when business is good they leave.

He goes out to the gate and hires a man to take the place of the workman who has left, and usually gets one who is less familiar with the work and, because of his more frequent mistakes, gives the foreman more reason to lose his temper. There is the foreman who depends entirely on his muscle and his lung power. Every once in a while he threatens to knock a man down, and for several hours thereafter he is very proud of himself. Fortunately this type is getting scarce—he is a relic of the dark ages. (did not happen)

Types of Foremen Who Succeed

The All-Round Foreman.—No two foremen will do their work in exactly the same way, but the old-fashioned hit-or-miss way of doing things is being cast aside. It is not good enough for the modern foreman, who is reaching out for better methods of getting work done—methods which are just as effective and as up to date as the latest machine tool on the market. This man is making production his sole aim and he is driving toward that aim with a singleness of purpose which assures success. In organizations pervaded with the attitude of “every fellow for himself,” where there is a diffusion of resources and energies, he is making steady progress toward his goal; and because that is not a selfish aim but in line with the needs of the public as well as the company, his reward is bound to come and to be lasting. This up-to-date foreman assigns clear-cut jobs to all those under his control; he sees that the responsibility of each individual is clearly understood, that is, that each one knows to whom he is responsible and the work for which he will be held accountable. He sees that there are no vague or divided responsibilities and that each one is given the authority necessary to match his responsibility.

He has found lack of action and its attendant idleness greater hindrances to production than mistaken decisions, and that the elimination of idleness is more effective in increasing production than the speeding up of either men or machines. He therefore concentrates his efforts on fixing responsibility and on getting those working with him to understand that “the authority to issue an order involves the responsibility of seeing that it is executed.”

There is the foreman who does not want his men to run to him with every little thing; so, when they come to him, he asks them what they would do if they were in his place. If their answers do not agree with his ideas, he tells them why. This, of course, encourages men to act on their own initiative and develops their judgment.

There is the foreman who believes that all of his men have brains, and whenever he tells them how to do a job he tells them why it should be done that way. He knows that he cannot be right there every minute, and that a number of little things will come up which the man can decide himself if he knows just what the foreman is aiming at. This develops judgment in all of his subordinates.

The “Square Deal” Foreman

There is another type of good foreman who is very careful in the way he handles mistakes of any kind. When something has gone wrong, he thinks over the situation carefully in an attempt to find out the reason for the mistake and to get some good out of it.

He realizes that he can make a great improvement in his work by the way he handles mistakes. He finds out whether the man who made the mistake has been given clear and complete instructions which he could be expected to understand. If not, he knows that it is not fair to blame that man.

When he has determined the reason for the mistake he decides whether it was due to carelessness, to wrong method, to mistaken judgment, or to some other cause. If due to carelessness or mistaken judgment, he devotes more time to training that particular workman. He does not take the easy way out and designate someone else to check the workman up, but trains him to do it right.

Whenever a mistake is made, this foreman calls it to the attention of the one who made it, but does not “rub it in.” He is more interested in avoiding it in future than in scolding the man.

There is the foreman who lays all the cards on the table in dealing with his men, with other foremen, or with his superintendent. He does not indulge in personalities, but takes it for granted that everyone else wants to decide the matter on a basis of fact instead of opinion. He does not complain to the superintendent about the shortcomings of another foreman until he has talked the matter over frankly with that foreman, and then, if they do not agree, he gets the other foreman to go with him to the superintendent for a decision. This man usually gets the decision in any argument because he does not start anything until he is sure of his facts. His frankness then usually disarms anyone who is less frank.

The Dependable Foreman

There is the foreman who gets things done when he says he will. It is not easy to get him to make a promise except when he has the material right in his shop; but when he does make a promise, the superintendent has learned that he can depend on it.

There is a rare type of man who realizes that, when he is given authority over a department, he has to shoulder responsibility for the actions of all his subordinates. He is careful not to issue any orders that he does not expect carried out to the letter, but when he does issue an order he states it with the full expectation that it will be carried out and he usually mentions the time when it is to be done. When that time comes and the work is not done, he finds out the reason why. It is not very long before everyone around him finds out that he means what he says, even if he does not make very much noise about it.

The Open-Minded Foreman

There is the foreman who gives careful consideration to all suggestions made by his workmen. If the suggestion is good, he adopts it; if not, he tells the person who made it why he is not adopting it. He does this promptly and frankly, even if sometimes it is hard work, because he wishes his workmen to make suggestions since he knows that it will improve the work of the department and increase the interest of his men.

The Foreman Who Truly Serves

There is another foreman who believes that he is there to render service. He gives the superintendent the best service that his department can render, and gives his men all the help possible. His whole idea seems to be to give instead of to get; and, of course, the more help he gives other people the more he is able to give them and the more they give him.

The responsibilities being placed upon the foreman’s shoulders are heavier than ever before, but there is a new type of foreman arising who is stronger and better able to shoulder the burden.  More encouraging even than that is the fact that so many thousands who have been foremen for years are showing that they are able to carry this added load. These men are reaching out for knowledge, visiting plants where up-to-date methods are in use, going to night schools, and even taking courses in colleges to get more knowledge on technical subjects and business methods.

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