How many did you kill today Mr Manager?
August 17, 2010
In episode 4 of the TV-show “Undercover Boss” we got to see the owner of White Castle, Dave Rife, try on different jobs within his own company. Doing this incognito gave him the chance to see and hear what his employees were actually doing and saying when the managers were not present. At one point one of the co-workers show him how to make cheeseburgers in a more effective way than the one described in the company handbook. Another employee then tells him to be careful of breaking the rules since doing this could get him fired. She proceeds to tell him that she’s worried every day that she might get fired for not following the standard procedures!?!
I think that there’s a HUGE lesson to be learned here about human nature; people want to do a great job. Even if it might cost them their job, they rather do things in a way that they think is better for the company than following the directions given to them by management. These are people making burgers that want to do their job as effectively as possible. Can you imagine how these people would perform if they were empowered to do their jobs in the way that they found best without being afraid of losing their jobs?
In his book “The Hidden Connections”, Fritjof Capra discusses this inability of humans to do as we are told. He argues that this is the point where living systems differ from machines; machines can be controlled whereas living systems can only be disturbed in order to perform differently. Capra writes:
“When people modify instructions, they respond creatively to a disturbance, because this is the essence of being alive.”
This is one of the most beautiful arguments that I’ve ever seen against Taylorism. Most people spend one third of their day at work, where processes and procedures often hinder them from actually being alive. None of the above argues against standardization or well-defined processes, but the ownership must lie with the people actually carrying out the work.
So Mr Manager, how many did you kill today by trying to control the way they do their work?
Actually most of them probably survived thanks to insubordination, but please don’t risk it tomorrow.