Practice of any wisdom demands organization and discipline. Personnel today lack the time, energy and volition to self-organize practice of management-wisdom. It’s pre-organization and drive by technology will foster transformation.
The world has made great investment in IT during the last two decades to converge technology with the exchange of Knowledge for forming collectives and pursuing success. The huge growth in manufacturing productivity following convergence of skills with the Mechanical Assembly Line in 1910 post massive investment in technology has yet to be achieved for the productivity of Knowledge work. Major conceptual breakthroughs, though perhaps not on par with Ford’s Assembly Line, have taken place for the pursuit of excellence but are lying neglected:
- The First loop of learning in Knowledge work: The foundation of any modern economy is the Mechanical Assembly Line – a single process for manufacture of products. It offers a system to commence an enquiry for defining the product, what is essential and where flab can be pared. Drucker defined the corresponding enquiry, known as the First Loop of Learning, for Knowledge work:
- “The first question in raising productivity in knowledge and service work has to be: What is the task? What do we try to accomplish? Why do it at all? The easiest – but perhaps also the greatest – increases in productivity in such work comes from redefining the task, and also from eliminating what needs not to be done.”
- The effort to drive the First Loop of Learning in management operations is stymied today by poor organization of business processes to draw conclusions and take action.
- The Second loop of learning in Knowledge work: The concept was developed by Chris Argyris and Donald Alan SchÖn in 1978. The doer is a critical part of the Knowledge system as opposed to the manufacturing system where the process is independent of the worker. While the first loop of learning covers cause and effect in the real world, the second covers the thinking process of the doer and its impact on results.
- To function effectively in the real world the Second Loop of Learning requires means for a group to think collectively though separated by time and space, complemented by reliable and sustained means for feedback. A reliable mechanism for any of them has yet to be established.
- The Quality movement: It made the celebrated transformations of Japan, Ford Motor and Marshall Industries possible. Globally, manufacturing gained from the movement to the extent it adopted the Assembly Line and associated practice of Quality Circles for disciplined thinking and action on problems. They enable easily trained labor to mass produce items per high quality standards that only skilled labor could produce in limited quantities earlier.
- Deming, Senge and practitioners like David Packard, Ken Iverson have developed and demonstrated team thinking skills to raise Knowledge work quality, i.e., deliver success. The jury is out on why their thinking has not flourished for Knowledge work though it has demonstrated its efficacy repeatedly.
- Empowerment. Pioneers like Packard, Iverson, Welch, Walton and others have shown the extraordinary gain in productivity that can follow from a constructive collective of inspired individuals given the wherewithal to deliver. While this may be looked upon as leader sensitive the fact does remain that empowerment is a powerful force lying neglected. Deming has observed that sustained transformation must come from within. My Barrier ‘Change from within is a citadel that must be stormed – from within’ explains empowerment is languishing because it requires considerable self-organization and discipline.
Indications are that people/personnel have reached the limit of their ability using their own energy. Consequently, while the path to success is now well charted few organizations or communities are able to follow it.
'In Search of Excellence' written by Tom Peters and Robert H. Waterman, Jr., first published in 1982, 'The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization' written by Peter Senge in 1990, 'Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap... and Others Don't' written in 2001 by James C. Collins are all based on acknowledged research of successful companies and are international best sellers. They reveal the anatomy of success and the simple procedures or steps companies and managers can follow to pursue success. Yet, companies and personnel have benefited from them selectively. They have not initiated a movement for change in management practice to replace the good old command and control thinking widely practiced today in default.
- John Seely Brown (ex-head of Xerox Parc) and E.S.Gray's comment on the work of Peter Senge (Creating A Learning Culture: Strategy, Practice, And Technology, 2003) illustrates the sense of disappointment and loss at the neglect of powerful wisdom:
- “Senge’s five disciplines provided instant utility for learning to organizations in 1990, yet learning organizations remain rare to this day.” Note: Dr. Peter Senge is the founding chair of the Society for Organizational Learning that is represented across the world and has trained over 36000 people. From Wikipedia: In 1997, Harvard Business Review identified The Fifth Discipline as one of the seminal management books of the previous 75 years. For this work, he was named by Journal of Business Strategy as the 'Strategist of the Century'. They further said that he was one of a very few people who 'had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today'.
Senge has stated his disappointment with CEO's for not taking his work seriously. Their lack of interest, cannot be the true cause particularly since CEOs may be expected to be desperate to perform in these times of change, uncertainty, competition and expansion. The cause lies elsewhere.
Globalization or the opening up of vast new markets and consequent spread of the organization, terrorism or the threat of unforeseen disruptions and displacements, rapid pace of changes in technology, specialization and the information overload impose heavy demands on personnel simply to maintain their professional commitments. For Knowledge workers the priority is delivery of results and not the method of working. Consequently, few spare the time and energy and have the volition to better their method of working..
We all desire to be very honest and straightforward but often end up dissimulating and cutting corners because of inadequate time or discipline for managing our finances. We seek to be fit, lean and agile but often end up fighting a loosing war against flab because we are unable to exercise discipline in our diet and exercise. We wish to start our day early for health but prefer the bliss of late sleeping and live the stress of a shortened day. In brief, we experience a wide gap between the possible and the realized in our personal lives because we are not organized for the higher level of energy and discipline required to do or be better. It is very likely the same shortfall applies to our professional lives. It is possible the CEOs simply do not have the time and energy to do better though they may know how to.
The Assembly Line demonstrates an effective method to implement wisdom. Using it Taylor converged advances in technology with skills and used incentives to realize the possible on a sustained basis. Personnel do not have to remember steps or procedures. I have developed the Knowledge Assembly Line in a similar vein to serve Management Wisdom:
- Civil servants and corporate professionals are end-products of the evolution of teamwork; their interactions are therefore governed by norms. I have identified the finite repeatable Actions with which they interact and the norms for deciding the Actions that follow a given Action. This enables a single rule for administrators to select their next Action on an event. Repeated application of the rule on an event during its circulation creates a single process to coordinate administrators for conducting all their Knowledge interactions. In effect it sets up a Knowledge Assembly Line. The administrators are coordinated even if distributed in space and time. The Knowledge they exchange flows through the pipeline established by the coordination in a manner quite similar to Discussion boards popular on news stories.
The Hack: ‘Creating a common language to unite stakeholders’ explains how the Line is introduced into common usage through the medium of language, a daily necessity. Adoption of the language is achieved without incentives by building in satisfaction of key needs of the Knowledge workers into the Assembly Line.
The identification of the key needs and their satisfaction by the Line (referred to as both System and Infrastructure here) is founded on an understanding of human behavior, appreciation of the professional needs of Knowledge workers and harnessing of technology:
- Knowledge workers often have to sacrifice personal time leading to decline in quality of their family lives. They will embrace means to increase their family time. The system’s ability to update data securely over the internet and sustain productivity offline transparently, with full access to the accumulated thinking on an issue till the time of going offline, converts fallow time to contemplation and work time, and raises family time.
- The way of working implements proven means to satisfy the drive to learn. The learning covers not only prompt availability of executive information but also revelation of misdirected thinking and effort through feedback and surfacing of patterns of behavior. Learning for results has a strong appeal per anthropologist Edward Hall as reported (13) by Senge: “The drive to learn is as strong as the sexual drive - it begins earlier and lasts longer”.
- Professionals suffer anxieties arising from conduct of interactions in addition to those springing from uncertainties in the work environment. Philosophy and maturity provide a response to uncertainties, and may even seek to take advantage of them, but today personnel are helpless against the stress of untamed interactions, i.e., interactions that add to the backlog of work or present themselves without context or birth anxieties or simply demand priority. The infrastructure tames these anxieties by responding to the need:
- Each Event: Who is accountable for action to progress the event?
- Each Event: Is there protection from procedural oversights?
- Each Event: How can I make a meaningful contribution?
- Each event: Is a consensus evolving? Is the responsibility shared?
- Events: How to identify and resolve processing delays?
- Events: What is the progress on my requests for action, i.e., my expectations from members of my support group?
- Events: Have follow-ups been initiated where needed?
- Knowledge workers must interact. This is due partly to sweeping change – one person cannot be expert in all aspects – and partly to the need for overcoming the pitfalls of subjectivity. The compulsion creates professional needs that personnel today must self-organize to satisfy, thereby using up their limited energy and time. The alternative is inefficient working. My work executes a smart way of categorizing and working per Knowledge maps and teamwork norms respectively. It satisfies the following professional needs without taxing the workers:
- An easy, competent and comprehensive means for interaction. As compared to email my infrastructure delivers far superior and appealing conduct of the daily business communication across the enterprise, e.g., anytime, anywhere, offline, anticipation of the next step, smart execution, organization structure awareness with x-boundary movement, focus per need, and IT tools pertinent to the context. Extra computer literacy is not required. This primary delivery overcomes opposition to change that disfavors even offers of exciting new and valuable benefits.
- Rapid overview of work-in-process with its expectations, coordination with fellow personnel, and total access to the Knowledge that has accumulated on an event with details regardless of:
- The chaos created by spontaneous interactions, cross boundary movements, the number of personnel in the loop, ad-hoc processes, the density of interactions, and impracticality of controls.
- The rush of events.
- Continuity on an issue irrespective of the number of events that have transpired on it and the time for which it has remained in active consideration.
- Freedom from pressure created by limited work time, the volume of pending work, and the anxiety to execute work efficiently. It requires facility to:
- Work at convenience, even offline for temporary periods, without any extra effort.
- Rapidly drill down to important issues.
- Follow administrative procedures effortlessly.
- The need to supervise known process related anxieties.
- Manage time and performance parameters to the extent possible.
- Pursue effective follow-up and exercise control over action.
- A means for consensus/decision on each event with emphasis on perspective of team leaders.
- Smart exploitation of emerging technology, without mastery of its incidence, for effortless conduct of work and related interaction.
- The confidence of engaging in secure means for interacting and record keeping.
- Effortless means to accumulate and study the history of structural changes, issues and flow of opinions thereon.
- A process to penetrate the façade on events and refrain from the obvious response as it very often misleads decision-making:
- Each Event: Clear statement of Facts and alternate Opinions to stretch the comfort zone for preventing the lazy, ignorant or presumptuous response.
- Each Event: Focus on the inherent Assumptions in the Opinion stated and Feedback on expressed Opinion for emerging consensus.
- Each Event: A means to question apparent generalizations.
- Events: Readily explore support for an idea with means to survey the archives for identifying where it may exist.
The Knowledge Assembly Line makes the worker central to the conduct of Management. This makes it the key enabler of the empowerment emphasized in my Barrier 'Change from within is a citadel that must be stormed – from within'. The Assembly Line thus organizes to enrich the human mind by empowering instead of denuding its substance like the Mechanical Line. Empowerment is deeply related to the one Management Wisdom that perhaps incorporates all others: Knowledge Workers need to be given their Freedom for raising their achievement.
My hack 'Compelling Energy for a quantum jump in organization performance with the same resources' explains how I have harnessed IT to organize and effortlessly drive the Knowledge Assembly Line.
The following works were of immense help in articulating this Barrier:
(1) Senge, P. M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline. NY: Currency Doubleday (First Published: 1990)
(2) Brown, J. S., and Gray, E. S. (2003). Creating A Learning Culture: Strategy, Practice, And Technology. Cambridge University Press
http://www.johnseelybrown.com/intro_learningculture.html. (Accessed Sep. 01, 2010).
(3) Drucker Peter, F. (1992). ‘The new productivity challenge’, in Drucker, P. F. , Managing For The Future: The 1990s And Beyond: 79-95. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd.