How to Exorcise your Corporate Ghosts
Updated: Nov 11, 2018
We've recently had an increasing number of phone calls from concerned chief executives who have spotted a ghost stalking their corporate corridors.
We've met this particular apparition many times of late. He recently emerged from a long slumber which he entered during the last century as the Ghost of Management Past.
Now he's back, and as he wanders between senior meetings he is increasingly impressed to see that the principles he framed a hundred years ago are still central to much of today's organisational thinking. He's even toying with the idea of rebranding himself as the Ghost of Management Present.
We're talking, of course, about FW Taylor and the command and control culture his principles of Scientific Management encouraged. What his ghost witnesses today delights him, especially when he sees that we still leave thinking largely to managers and working to workers. We continue to use linear, reductionist approaches when trying to solve complex problems, and we frequently apply thinly disguised command and control techniques in our attempts to engage our people.
It's true that Taylor achieved productivity gains over and above those achieved by the many craftspeople he put out of work; but reducing skilled jobs to bundles of quickly trainable low-skill tasks, codifying them, standardising them, then micro-managing their implementation is not the best route to success, as many of today's organisations are finding out.
Admittedly, some of today's most profitable businesses rely heavily on command and control (notably in warehousing / distribution and fast food chains), but the human and reputational costs of the approach can be very high.
There are risks too for many large organisations that have grown on Taylorist principles in that they tend to be hierarchical and rulebound with too many managers and layers of decision making. This can make them stodgy and slow to change. In today's VUCA world this leaves them at a serious disadvantage.
We're at a point in time where our ability to predict the future is lower than it's ever been, despite the mountains of data and forecasting models now at our fingertips. There is nothing that reduces the need to predict the future more than the ability to respond rapidly and effectively to whatever it turns out to be.
Agility is, therefore, essential. Command and control is anathema to agile organisations.
Breaking out of the traditional thinking patterns that often lead us to ineffective action is, however, very difficult to do. It requires us to forget much of what we know, learn to live with ambiguity and find ways to deal with increasing complexity.
Breaking News: FWT has just laid claim to being the Ghost of Management Future !!
It makes perfect sense when you think about it.... Scientific Management is ideal for running organisations populated solely by robots.