I have been doing much of consulting, training and reading recently. Yes, my reading mojo is back and you know the feeling where old things feel new again. My old books now feel new again. Come to think of it, “Can books be old?” Let me know what you think. Let me go to the main issue for today.
In studying the structures in some organizations I have either worked with or read of, I realize there are only a few category of organizations with origins in the twentieth century. Let me explain what I mean, there was a great man called Frederick Taylor and he was the first to introduce “science” into the practice of management, generally speaking he did the world a huge favour until few years back. In the first three decades after scientific management was introduced, it dramatically improved productivity almost wherever it was applied and thereby raised the standard of living around the globe. Unfortunately, Taylor saddled his new management method with a serious limitation, one that organizations still struggle with today.
This limitation was not something he overlooked but rather it was the core of the concept he actively advocated as an essential component of his new approach to management. He said:
“All of the planning which under the old system was done by the workman as a result of his personal experience, must of necessity under the new system be done by the management in accordance with the laws of the science… it is also clear that in most cases one type of man is needed to plan ahead and an entirely different type to execute the work”.
Allow me simplify his concept, in other words “there are those whose job is to think and those whose job is do the work. This is the reason why seemingly well-managed companies take control away from the front line employees, even the right to question procedures.
You may like to ask me “How is it my business?” I just wonder how he would react if he were able to visit companies today that do not separate thinking from doing. Imagine him, for example talking to employees at Toyota, a company in an industry that knows well and got sixty-five ideas per person in 2013. But what would he be thinking as these employees showed him all the ideas they had implemented to save money and to improve productivity, quality, and safety? Toyota has reached levels of efficiency that Taylor never even dreamed about, by doing exactly the opposite of what he advised.
Unfortunately, Taylor will still feel comfortable around some organizations that have not recognized the division between thinking and doing. They still believe it is hard-wired into the policies, structures, and operating practices. We still have many of such organizations around the world and especially in Africa where a cleaner or an office assistant cannot suggest any idea. In fact, there is an adage in my tribe which says “Olowo n’soro talaka ni ohun ni idea” it means “When a rich man is talking, a poor man cannot say he has an idea”. This is a system norm and exactly why many organizations will keep experiencing difficulty in growing and reaching a level of profit maximization, the reason they cannot play globally, same reason they keep losing best of their employees to competitors and entrepreneurship. It has been a case of “If they don’t need my idea, why can’t I work with it myself”.
Instead of taking thinking out of the job expectations for employees, why not put it explicitly in? And why not manage your organizations for ideas, instead of simply for conformance and control? That is, make getting ideas part of every manager’s job – for supervisors, middle managers, and senior leaders; and design policies, structures, and operating practices to smoothen the way for ideas, rather than to obstruct them.
All I am saying is this “stop paying your employees to just do their work, pay them to think too; to add from their wealth of experience to the growth of your organization”. Fortunately, most of these ideas might be very cost effective with little financial impact on your budget for research and development or innovation.