Whether you’ve heard of them or not, two gurus from the early 20th century still dominate management thinking and leadership practice — to our detriment. It has been more than 100 years since Frederick Taylor, an American engineer working in the steel business, published his seminal work on the principles of scientific management. And it has been more than 80 years ago since Elton Mayo, an Australian-born Harvard academic, produced his pioneering studies on human relations in the workplace. Yet managers continue to follow Taylor’s “hard” approach — creating new structures, processes, and systems — when they need to address a management challenge. Hence, the introduction of, say, a risk management team or a compliance unit or an innovation czar. And when managers need to boost morale and get people to work better together, they still follow Mayo’s “soft” approach — launching people initiatives such as off-site retreats, affiliation events or even lunchtime yoga classes. If these approaches made sense in the first half of the twentieth century (and that’s open to question), they make no sense today. Indeed, if anything, their continued use is making things worse.
Leadership: Smart Simplicity puts the cooperating individual at the heart of the modern organization.
Where Taylor school implicitly distrusts the individual worker and design structural fixes for controlling their actions in a top-down, rigid, micro-managing way — albeit ameliorated by the softening effects of the people initiatives propounded by the May school — we promote a radically different approach.
Simply put, companies are most productive when they harness — not hobble — the intelligence of their employees. Six simple rules help managers improve leadership and get beyond the shackles of the “hard” and “soft” management approaches we’ve inherited from our forefathers:
- Understand what your people do: Start with a true understanding of what your people do and why they do it.
- Reinforce integrators: Foster cooperation by giving people the power and interest to do so.
- Increase the total quantity of power: Create new power, don’t just shift existing power.
- Increase reciprocity: Ensure people use their autonomy.
- Extend the shadow of the future: Create direct feedback loops.
- Reward those who cooperate: Make transparency, innovation, and aspiration the best choices for individuals and teams.
No amount of structures, processes, and systems are ever enough to anticipate the kinds of problems employees face every day on the front line of the business. So, instead, companies need to give their employees more autonomy and, at the same time, encourage them — impel them, even — to cooperate with each other. Only then, when they are liberated in this way, will employees be able to make critical judgments, balance complex trade-offs, and come up with creative solutions to new problems.
SIMPLE OBSERVATIONS[list type=”star”]
- When people cooperate, they need fewer resources.
- The more we like each other, the less we are inclined to cooperate.
- Bigger the organization, the more rules. The more rules, the more complexity and disengagement.
- Failure is: not to help or not to ask for help.
- The real battle is not against the competition, but against our self and our complexity.
- Look for non-value added activities and requirements. Wipe them out!
SIX SIMPLE RULES, (HBR Press 2014) by Yves Morieux and Peter Tollman, of the Boston Consulting Group.