There is a great divide between managers and the average worker which is once again gaining attention. Have you ever wondered how this came about, why there is so much animosity between the two?
The following is an explanation that I read nearly 25 years ago. What I find so interesting is that at the time this was written, there was a belief that companies were moving past these attitudes – that we were “developing a new theory of management suitable for a new era.” But as we look at the issues in Wisconsin, the 99ers versus Wall Street and accusations of class warfare, you might wonder what happened to the new theory of management.
Have we moved beyond this theory or is the split even more entrenched than ever?
This is an excerpt from the paper Managing to Survive in a Competitive World by Dr. Myron Tribus P.E., former Director, Center for Advanced Engineering Study at MIT. In this paper, Taylor is Frederick Winslow Taylor who developed his theories about manufacturing in the 1870’s.
It is difficult to visualize the situation that Taylor faced when he began his work. The factory floor was a chaotic place by today’s standards. When an engineer finished his drawings, a master mechanic took over and decided how to make the parts. The master mechanic ordered the materials, told his apprentices what to do, and eventually the part was made. There was no inventory control, no scheduling of activities. Everything depended on the skills of the master mechanics. What Taylor and his associates did was to remove the authority of the master mechanic and place it in the hands of the manufacturing engineer. The result was to increase productivity dramatically. It became possible to pay American workers the highest wages in the world. American productivity soared and along with it the standard of living.
But Taylor’s approach had a darker side. It announced to the workers, “Park your brains at the door.” It created antagonism between worker and manager. It suited the self-images of managers that they were superior, the brains for others who could only supply brawn. The workers, glad for the higher wages, found it convenient to go along with the situation. Ultimately they began to accept this image as well. This created a kind of schizophrenia for workers. The acceptance of the inferior status was a requirement for employment. Some even began to believe in it themselves, equating lack of education to lack of intelligence. At the same time they resented the implications of inferiority. The consequences are well known. The important idea to keep in mind is that Taylor’s contributions produced not only enormous gains in standards of living, they also set norms for thinking about being a manager and being a worker.
Taylor’s management theory took the task of planning work, out of the hands of workers and made it the responsibility of managers. According to Taylor, the man who chooses the manual factory work is too “stupid” to comprehend how to do the work without direction.
Being in construction I can relate to this theory. I have been counseled for not just giving orders, I have been told I need to yell at the guys and tell them what to do. My reaction – how silly of me – I was under the mistaken impression that the workers might actually be able to think and learn! I thought they might want to understand why doing a task is their responsibility, so the next time the issue came up they would take care of it without waiting for me to tell them to do it.
I guess I missed how yelling and giving orders proved my intellectual superiority.
And I missed the other main point too – thinkers (managers) and doers must remain completely separate.
The complete separation of thinkers and doers goes beyond the factory floor or the construction site – it is more than a white collar versus blue collar separation. Most companies are organized this way – there is a separation of the Planning function and Operations; separation of the main office and site/store operations.
Think about it, look at your company – how separate are these two functions?
Are the Planners the intellectual side of the company and Operations the brawn?
Do they interact and communicate?
Do they meet – do the Planners ask Operations for their ideas?
How does what the Planners decide get passed to Operations?
How well does Operations follow the Planners plan?
Is there resentment on the side of Operations towards the Planners telling them what to do and how to do it?
When there is disagreement between Planners and Operations how is it resolved?
Does Operations generate lessons learned that the Planners use?
Does the separation of Planners and Operations remind you of high school – the geeks versus the jocks?
In my article on the Great American Alligator Slayer I talk about the relationship between Operations (filled with Great American Alligator Slayers) and the office (home of the Swamp Drainers).
When Dr. Tribus wrote this article he believed we were at a point where there would be greater interaction between the two functions – that Planners would understand that Operations can think and provided valuable insight on how to accomplish the work and Planners would seek out that input. And Operations would understand that if they work with Planners and follow the plan there would be fewer crises.
Has this happened where you work?
Or has our culture widened and deepened the divide?
As a woman, what do you think of this? I would love to hear some comments on how these departments function in your company.
The empowered woman knows her environment. She listens and observes the men, she learns how they interact and operate.
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