Industrial Age thinking? Think again.

Related imageIs your organization living in the past with an Industrial Age management mindset? If so, you may want to consider some changes.

Frederick Winslow Taylor’s early 1900’s thinking on hierarchy where the decision-making thinkers are separated from the laboring doers has been the default system for over one hundred years. It’s a very productive system because it enables the maximum amount of work to get done. Since the doers are not distracted by the complications of time-consuming decision making, they can spend all of their time getting the job done leaving a hierarchy of thinkers (management) to ensure, through command and control, that numbers, quotas, and production levels stay high.

This system works fine when things are straightforward, simple, and don’t require a lot of change or adaptation. But in our world of complexity and rapid, continual change it is too slow and too reliant on the fallibilities of a few thinkers at the top.

This Industrial Age system is also ill equipped for the modern customer who, with increasing impatience and expectations, will not wait, will think nothing of destroying your business with a tweet, and will quickly defect to a competitor on a whim. They want front-line employees who can think on their feet and provide answers and solutions immediately, something the Taylor system was not built for.

So, given today’s focus on speed and innovative solutions, workplace leaders need to be less about providing all of the answers and to instead be more about helping those in their charge to be able to provide the answers. They must create an environment where team members can contribute their best without supervision.

But how, how do we go about it? Leaders must model expected behaviors and demonstrate the necessary decision-making skills. They must engage with employees at the edge to learn more about problems and customer needs. They must ask how they can help them be better. What do they need? What do they need to know? What obstacles do they need help removing? They must empower their team members to do the jobs they know how to do and encourage them when they are having difficulties. They must celebrate their team member’s successes and show appreciation for the great work they do. Put simply, leaders must serve their teams instead of expecting the teams to serve them.

Before us and all around us, we are seeing big changes in customer needs and how the employees required are not Taylor’s drones but self-directed thinkers in their own right. The days of Taylor’s command-and-control system are quickly waning in favor of new systems where the delineation between thinkers and doers is so homogenized as to be indistinguishable. Given this inevitability, what must you do to move your organization to begin engaging, empowering, and encouraging more and commanding, controlling, and criticizing less?

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