Have you noticed the change in the working environment? If you’ve been in the workforce for over ten years, I’m sure you have. Conformity is now the norm. Individuality is no longer valued, at least in large organizations. There’s increasing standardization of procedures, processes, attitudes, behaviors, appearance, etc. It’s “Scientific Management” (Frederick Taylor’s approach to work measurement and standardization) revisited. A resurgence of the belief that there is “one best way” for every work process is underway. wire one walmart
Workers, even managers, are treated like robots; robots that perform their duties in an unfeeling, machine-like fashion, for hour upon hour, with standardized efficiency.
IT ALL STARTED WITH McDONALD’s
The evolution of management thought promoted and accommodated changes in the workplace. First it was Scientific Management that, in the early 1900’s that resulted in the assembly line, then it was W.E. Demming’s TQM (Total Quality Management), along with CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement), and further development of Business Process Management theories and practices.
Some would argue that Henry Ford’s automobile assembly line was the beginning of standardization, and it was. However, the concept was advanced much further with McDonald’s Corp. The standardization was extended to include work environment and layout, purchasing of supplies, timeliness and manner of customer service, employee apparel, preparation of consumables (Big Mac’s, etc.), menus, design, architecture, advertising, supply chain management, and so forth.
WalMart, FedEx, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, General Electric and many more have embraced the Process Management concepts, and applied them with vigor, and positive results.
THERE ARE BENEFITS AND DRAWBACKS
Rigid adherence to standards does improve efficiency, but at what cost? Remember that efficiency is only one part of the management and productivity paradigm. Effectiveness is even more important. And quality is yet another major consideration.
Perhaps most importantly, innovation may be stifled in a standardized, routinized, conforming workplace. Great leaps in productivity, significant inventions, new products or services, major transformations have not occurred as a result of incremental improvements made by process oriented employees and managers.
Another problem with rigid adherence to standardization is the compounding error when something goes wrong. By this I mean, should there be an error or misjudgment in the original process, the mistake will be carried throughout the organization.
Not too many years ago, managers were touting the value of decentralization, and the benefits of adapting an individual division, or location, of the company to the peculiar demands or needs of their particular environment. There were considerable advantages to this tactic but there was less overall conformity. The “empowerment” concepts also supported individuality and creativity. Now, the pendulum is swinging back to “top down” management with most, if not all, major decisions being made at headquarters and an expectation that policies and procedures will be carried out in “lock step.” While this may entail certain efficiencies, the feeling among local managers is that they’re being asked to forgo their ingenuity, even their “leave their brains at home.”
Once employees become like machines, doing work in a robotic, mechanistic and repetitive fashion they tend to lose some of their spontaneity, humanness, and individualism. While this may be in synch with the company’s objectives, it may prove dysfunctional for the employee; even dehumanizing. Furthermore, the organization loses out on the creativity, and different perspectives, of many individuals. This “dumbing down” of the workplace will have consequences.
Leadership involves foresight, motivation, and inspiration. The leader must take risks in order to achieve significant results. To be a leader means the identification of opportunity and the acceptance of challenge.
The challenge for many leaders is to:
–design work that is not demeaning, repetitive and unfulfilling, while still achieving company targets and goals for productivity and ultimate profitability
–value individuality, while recognizing that certain procedures must be followed
–fully engage the employee and manager and welcome their critiques and recommendations.
–recognize the importance of diversity, and the multiplicity of backgrounds, experiences, and perspective this entails