111: History of Work Design

Podcast Show Notes: #111 History of Work Design- How we got to where we are with the Way We Work


Carol’s Lesson: Explore designs of an practices in business, understand from where they are sourced, as well as their effects.


Frederick Winslow Taylor- Scientific Management

  1. Taylor brought the idea of managers into the workspace at a time when there was no such thing as skilled work, only work.
  2. He recommended four guidelines
    1. Replace rule-of-thumb work methods with methods based on a scientific study of the tasks
    2. Scientifically select and train each employee rather than passively leaving them to train themselves.
    3. Provide “Detailed instruction and supervision of each worker in the performance of that worker’s discrete task” (Montgomery 1997:250).
    4. Divide work nearly equally between managers and workers, so that the managers apply scientific management principles to planning the work and the workers actually perform the tasks.


Quetelet- Average

  1. Quetelet introduced the idea of human averages. The average was the ideal to be pursued, and is a prototype representative of a group.
  2. After his introduction of the Average Man we have imaged all members of a group according to a shared set of characteristics.
    • Source of stereotyping and judging, including types of workers.
  3. Quetelet’s study Florence Nightingale applied to nursing and pronounced that the Average Man is God’s Will and people must figure out how to match that.
  4. Averagism was modified during the industrial revolution to great standards and procedures to better manage productivity
  5. A mathematician named Galton took Quetelet’s concept and extended it to above and below average and the idea of Gifted and useless
    • Beginning of ranking people relative to one another
  6. Todd Rose from the Institute at Harvard Education noted that the idea of average is a false premise and has been proven so for decades. Instead, each individual is unique and cannot be compared or ranked.
    • It is all based on a Class One Error, meaning that after the error, all else is false and cannot be extended to get accurate work.

John Watson- Behaviorism

  1. Addressed the issue of being unable to control workers to the same degree they could machines
    • Workers were difficult to standardize and Watson said it was because they were not machines, “but mammals” with a set of motivations to consider.
  2. Established a rat laboratory to tell them how to manage the motivations of others, which introduced the concepts of incentives and rewards.
    • Kept Galton’s and Quetelet’s class one errors of averages, rating, and ranking
  3. We anchored in the idea that motivation is external since that was all that could be studied
    • We kept Taylor’s managers and managing system but give managers the tools to manipulate people
    • We now know there are Class One Errors in what Watson added, like that humans are not identical to rats and have so many more abilities. For example, the study of rats leaves out how the executive center of the prefrontal cortex in humans, and abilities to engage in alternative interpretations and concepts increase innovations and problem-solving in complex situation.



Example of Behaviorism

Companies began attempting to improve worker engagement through making employees happy, and incorporating incentivized programs or benefits. The thought was offering them enough incentives and they’ll be happy. This didn’t work for a number of reasons:

    1. Studies show that extrinsic motivation, or giving rewards to drive behavior, is a terrible motivator.
      • Creates increased dissatisfaction and disengagement because people get caught up in getting the reward and often game the system
    2. The more a company tries to bribe their employees into being happy, the less engaged they become.
    3. Becoming addicted to praise has been shown to hurting employee’s ability to be happy.



The Human Potential Movement

  1. People can grow and change, exercise awareness of and change their opportunities. Focus on the individual became critical and their personal ability to manage themselves.
  2. There are three major approaches to work design being used in this model:
    1. Draws on the scientific management methods of Frederick Taylor and behavioral methods of John Watson (and student BF Skinner of Stanford University).
    2. The modernist movement, centered on humans, for which Tavistock is an example; currently created  version is the Holacracy approach.


Developmental Approach

  1. A group that broke off very early from Eric Trist at Tavistock and created a different stream of which have been testaments to its worth and workability for almost 60 years with multiple generations of practitioners.
    1. Incubated and spread from Procter and Gamble and particularly the Soap Division in the 1960s.
      • Called the Developmental Approach since it had a different set of beliefs about humans which is what led to the alternate paths from Eric Trist’s and Fred Emery’s work at Tavistock.
    2. Charles Krone saw that there were gaps in the Socio-Tech and sensitivity models of Tavistock, that they were missing the idea of Development of the person in the content of building a great business.
      • Created the foundation of what came to be called Developmental Organization which engaged each worker directly in the marketplace decisions and in innovating rapidly for customer and marketplace change.
  2. The Developmental Approach is a work design is not based on traditional management practice or human potential ideals. It is based on living systems view that is designed for ensuring disruptive innovation, even required it, and benefits all stakeholders, not just investors (traditional system), or workers (human potential).
    1. Achieve a more direct and distinct benefit for each customer, co-creators (including workers but also suppliers and contractors), Earth as an invested party and communities.
    2. The benefit achieves the meaning and participative goals of the Holacracy, but at a higher level.
    3. They help run the business as a whole, not just a team.
      • Bureaucracy, in both the traditional and human potential designs, is radically reduced and creates a focus.


Business Second Opinion Podcast_ This set of Show Notes is an overview of  Business Second Opinion Podcast #111. Available where you listen to podcasts including iTunes, Audio Boom, Stitcher. Or the website.


And read more blogs and Show Notes on www.BusinessSecondOpinion.com. Join the newsletter and get a background paper. Follow us on Twitter @businesssecondopinion. Suggest topics and HBR articles on which you want Carol’s Second Opinion.   And finally, pick up a copy of The Regenerative Business, by Carol Sanford, with much more about how to build a regenerative work design. at www.carolsanford.com.


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