There are days at work when I am just overwhelmed by the long line of people outside my door, all with problems we need to solve. In my frustration I think, “Do I have to solve everybody’s problems for them?! Can’t you guys solve problems yourselves?”
Twenty years ago, when I had fewer responsibilities, I liked solving problems, any one’s problems. I found it challenging. But as a manager supervising nearly a dozen people, I fantasize about employees who come to me and tell me how they successfully took care of a major problem on their own. Since this has been a recurring problem for years and across several workplaces, I used to think that the problem was me – I was a perfectionist control freak, But the sad truth was, that wasn’t the issue. The problem is that most of my employees genuinely do not know how to solve problems. And digging even deeper, I found I had to give them permission to think.
What the heck is going on?
In the past couple of years, I’ve been discovering the answer. It seems in many companies only certain people are allowed to think. Only certain people can make decisions. Only certain people can “think strategically” which I discovered is considered the highest level of thinking. The directive is simple – they think, you act. Thinking and doing are separate and distinct and never done by the same people.
I am also learning that construction has been a little slow in adopting this concept. It seems this philosophy is well entrenched in some industries and it has a name – Taylorism.
I’ve written about Taylor before and how his philosophies shaped the workplace. Basically, Taylor at the beginning of the industrial revolution decided there would be experts who decided the best method for doing work. The experts designed the methods for the working man to carry out. The working man was supposed to park his brain at the door and follow the directive of the expert. Early in my career I thought we were evolving past this – we wanted a thinking workforce. But it seems we made a U turn and Taylorism has met Intellectualism and created Elitism.
So what do we get? A new corporate hierarchy!!
At the lowest rung are all those blue collar guys. You know those guys who work with their hands because they weren’t “smart enough” to get into college.
Then there are the office people who may have tried college but didn’t make it.
Next rung is your basic state college or unknown private university graduate.
Then comes the management levels who have to deal with all those lower people.
Next there is a big gap. Think of a moat. Filled with alligators.
The gap separates and distinguishes the corporate level. I think this is what they are talking about when they say “the C level.” I’ve heard this term thrown around with a resounding air of snobbery and I don’t know what it really means. I just know that we are to be impressed by its exclusivity. But anyway, on this side of the moat, we start a new ladder.
At the bottom are the people who interact with the management of the working and undereducated workforce. As the management of the undereducated working class you are only allowed to talk to these people in the corporate level. It doesn’t matter that you have more degrees, certifications or experience. It doesn’t matter that this low level C person has no concept of the work being done, that’s not his job. His job is to act as a buffer between the regular management and executive management – so executive management doesn’t have to get down in the weeds, get their hands dirty.
The senior executive level is filled with people who have long titles. Everyone is a vice-president and some are Senior VP’s, others Executive VP’s, and still others Senior Executive VP’s. What distinguishes them? I have absolutely no idea!!
Does this sound a little over-the-top and cynical? A year ago, I would have told you it is. But not today.
As I mentioned in my last article, I was on webinars with world-renown consultants trying to teach senior managers how to develop their people. According to the consultants, it is a manager’s responsibility to train people and teach them how to think and problem solve. But there was resistance by men on the call.
And as I mentioned in my last article, one of the things you do in problem solving is ask “why.” So the consultant asked why – why did so many men on the webinar resist the concept of training the workforce to problem solve?
Because the average worker wouldn’t come up with as good of an answer.
Dare I ask “Why?”
Because they didn’t go to college.
Because they aren’t as smart.
Shall I continue with another –Why?
Because they aren’t as genetically gifted as me.
So why don’t we just say it – a lot of the men on the webinar believed they were better than the average working man. Going to college made them better. Going to a prestigious university instead of a state university made them better. The expansive separation between them and actual work made them better.
Remember the male-dominated workplace is where men can establish their status in the world. And education has emerged as a great discriminator of status. So, if the average working man without a college diploma could solve work problems on his own, then how does the C level employee or manager distinguish himself? What criteria does he use to establish his status?
So, why don’t we teach our employees to think and problem solve?
Because it would ruin the new hierarchy we have been working diligently to establish since Taylor came up with his concepts early in the industrial revolution.
But we aren’t in the industrial revolution anymore – it is time to evolve again. As women in the male-dominated workplace we need to lead the workplace past this newfound elitism. We need to lead in teaching our employees to think and be problem solvers. Our focus for work is not to establish our personal status but to improve the performance of our teams. That is how you win at work.
Empowered Women Discourage Elitism By Teaching Everyone to Think