Taylorism: alive & well in corporate America


Maybe you remember reading–in one of your Introduction to Organizations texts–about Frederick Taylor and his focus on productivity. And even if you don’t, you may recognize his management theories as alive and well in your workplace today!

Taylor’s life work was productivity studies, his beginnings at Bethlehem Steel. Among his first jobs was designing a more efficient shovel.

Taylor's productivity study

Taylor's productivity study

By measuring pounds per shovelful and total daily pounds shoveled, he determined that a shovel designed to hold 21.5 pounds was exactly right to keep the men working efficiently all day. His redesigned shovel allowed the company to reduce it’s coal shovelers from 500 to 140, an early 20th century version of “doing more with less.”

Taylor went further than just shovel redesign; he also applied the same approach to the people who used the shovels. He called his approach “Scientific Management,” and managers (who found the human side of productivity improvement highly resistant) jumped on Taylor’s approach and roamed factory floors armed with clipboards and stop watches, in the interests of hightened productivity.

So it was Taylor’s work that redefined the role of a manager: it was the manager who became the “brains” in an organization, determining how everything would be done. The results? The more the manager did, the less workers had to do. Workers became like robots; managers made decisions and were in charge. Without having to think, workers’ jobs became brainless and closer supervision was required to make sure that slackers didn’t get away with it! Taylor, intent on machine-like productivity, actually said “I care not a whit for the thinking of the working man.” While his work dates to the early 1900s, Taylor’s Scientific Management is alive and well in organizations today.

Ineffective management tools

Ineffective management tools

Managers love the alpha status and don’t want to give it up.

Even when it doesn’t work, and especially when it does more harm than good…like in the current non-Industrial non-machine economy.

Behavioral and neuroscientists have overwhelmingly shown the ineffectiveness of typical management behaviors. Giving feedback in the same old way is not productive, and providing rewards and punishment is counterintuitive to the way the human mind works. Managers who provide rewards and corrective action are automatically putting workers in a subordinate role. Our minds rebel and see this as control and manipulation. The more responsibility a manager has, the less employees take on. As long as what is considered to be motivation comes from the outside, it will be counter-productive…because we literally have minds of our own.

So managers who do less managing and who increase their expectations and support of workers are the ones who will get the best results. Rather than telling, a manager needs to do more asking. Rather than exerting control, a manager must engage the employee in taking responsibility.

Partnership = Responsibility

Partnership = Responsibility

How? By asking questions and supporting the expectation that the employee is a partner in the business. Not a subordinate to be coddled or pulled along like a rebellious adolescent, but a partner expected to hold up his/her part of the business by achieving objectives that contribute to and align with the organization’s direction.

As a manager, you can diminish the Taylorisms you practice by:

1. providing information consistently and in a number of ways to connect employees with the business of the organization: strategic direction, financial indicators, business lines, what competitors are doing, etc. The more workers understand the business and its direction, the more they can define their own contributions.

2. knowing how they contribute to a greater good enables workers to step up to the intrinsic desire to belong. Querying (rather than telling) workers to set their objectives, their productivity and quality metrics, and their customer service practices enables workers to make an emotional commitment to their work, to their customers, to the business.

3. asking workers to assess themselves and their work: how they are meeting metrics and objectives; how they make mid-course corrections; how they improve their own sub-par performance; how they support team members in achieving goals and customer needs.

4. providing objective sources of feedback, such as business indicators that make it very plain whether employee efforts are moving the business forward or back. If the business is successfully meeting its goals, then employee efforts are recognized through these measures, customer surveys and even peer reviews.

Tapping in to the “brains” in your organization is not difficult, but it is different than “traditional” management practices. Interactive practices that build relationships and responsibilities are the only way to engage the head and heart and hands of workers in an economy that requires all these things for an organization’s success.

Why not shift your management approach and let me know how it goes?

Paying the Piper


The May 11 print issue of Business Week has a must-read article for anyone who is in the job market, worried about job security, or generally recognizes that our employment market isn’t quite as effective as we think. The author notes that in the midst of the high-unemployment across the country, there are about 3 million job openings that aren’t being filled.

Why? The short answer is that job-seekers don’t match the jobs. The jobs require skills sets different than those held by people looking for work. We’ve known for years that a number of industries are shrinking (e.g. manufacturing) and other industries are growing (e.g. health care). Even with this information, employers in shrinking industries did little retraining of their workforces and employees in these same shrinking industries thought little about becoming trained for another line of work. That gets us to today: jobs going begging for people to fill them, while workers by the millions are collecting unemployment. It’s time to pay the piper.

Here’s the Big Question: Who is responsible for retraining and retooling? The organization or the worker? Rather than facing reality and stepping into the responsibility, each points the finger at the other while saying loudly, “we have no money to retrain.” This leads to more of the same, while the market imbalance only increases. We are so quick to place blame and so slow to roll up our sleeves and get to work!

work_retraining

Let’s look at both perspectives.

Employers
Fact: some industries cannot hire enough qualified people, e.g. health care, education, professional services and government.
Their options: continue understaffed, shut down parts of the business, inflate hiring packages, or hire under-qualified people and train them.

The last option of the four makes a lot of sense…and maybe that’s why it’s not often selected. For whatever reason, employers expect that their employees will come with 110% of position requirements… fully trained with short or non-existent learning curves. Given the current pool of unemployed workers, this expectation is beyond a mismatch…it’s a fantasy. Most employers will take one (maybe all) of the first three options before they even consider training people. Why? Because ‘we’ve always hired this way.’ Or, it’s too expensive. Yet, these same employers don’t calculate the true costs of the first three options. So, employers’ expectations aren’t aligned with their business needs.

Workers
Fact: many people searching for work have outdated, irrelevant skills yet they continue to search for jobs that use those skills. Of course, the jobs aren’t there.
Their options: blame the economy and continue to feel worthless, expect additional unemployment benefits from the stimulus money, wish that things were the same as they were twenty years ago, or retrain for another industry or work function.

Again, the last option of the four makes the most sense…yet it’s often not pursued for lack of money (and a guaranteed return) or for lack of confidence. Probably because of Industrial economy paternalism, employees see training as what employers do, and so their expectations get in the way of a common sense solution to the employment market blues.

So, who must take accountability to create a match between employer needs and worker skills? Both.

It does the economy little good to have employers unable to compete globally; it does society little good to have great numbers of unemployed; it does families little good to live in depression and exist on welfare; it does workers little good to lose pride of contribution and self-efficacy.

If you’re an employer who doesn’t believe you can afford to train or retrain–think again, because you can’t afford not to. Can you afford to lose customers while you continue to search for the ideal employee? Can you afford to cut back on services while you search?

If you’re a worker who doesn’t believe you can afford to update your skills or retrain for another industry, think again…you can’t afford not to either. You must do one or more of these things:

1. Visit your local community college, and talk to a counselor; investigate their retraining programs for growth industries. Ask about loans and grant monies to pay for the training because it’s out there. It’s time to stop making excuses for why you can’t find work.

2. Get on the internet and find out what industries are growing and figure out your best path to invest in yourself and your (and your family’s) future. Visit The Occupational Outlook Handbook to determine what interests you, the education and training requirements for positions in that industry and how you can get that training. Another sound source of occupational information is O*Net; visit the site and investigate opportunities for a new direction.

3. Talk to a career coach or counselor to help you define a path. There are plenty of low-cost and no-cost services within any community if you look around. Check out faith-based and social service organizations; these are good sources of and good referrals for community career services.

Whether you’re an employer looking for skilled workers or a worker looking for stable employment, take another look at how you’re doing things. If you’re coming up short, making little headway in the employment marketplace and you want to dance, you have to pay the piper. Now’s the time.