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The Birth of Bad Managing

TaoM July 15, 2020

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Just over 100 years ago, our culture’s ideas of what “managing” meant changed dramatically.  

In the late 1800’s, after millennia of craftsman-type commerce – a global network of artisans who did things with simple tools – gave way to increasingly complex automated and powered machines that could reliably replicate actions performed by people.

For many types of products, the automation eliminated much of the need for “craftsmen.”  But didn’t get rid of need for people. Early machines required a massive amount of human assistance.  

In a major shift, people were no longer the source of productivity, but rather, the limit to it.  A factory only ran as fast as the people could feed the never-tired machines.

And this is where our modern management was born: how do we make sure that people are not slowing down our machines?

A mechanical engineer named Frederick Taylor developed a concept for managing people these repetitive, automated processes called Scientific Management. And with it, many of our current notions of managing were born.  

Scientific management is with us today – everything from timecards to many forms of measurement, and the idea that numbers are the best way to manage a business.  Hence, scientific.  But it was not the science of people, but rather the science of how to manage people within a factory.

Many quickly realized that the whole approach was somewhat “dehumanizing” and that there were probably better ways to manage. But we seem to have never shaken his words and ideas  out of our heads.

Key Insights and Your Homework:

  1. Can you see in yourself or other managers a tendency to expect people to perform to a time standard, to do things the way that they have been told to do it?
  • Can you see the difference between the manager who blames people for not living up to the standard, versus the manager who feels like it is their job to elevate people, to set their own standards?
  • How do you think these differences affect productivity, quality and how happy they are?