Building on “The God Principle?” By Lester Sutherland

I really enjoyed “The God Principle?” post by Jerry. I see that the scientists at CERN have now announced the capture of a particle of anti-hydrogen. The theory is that anti- matter and matter annihilated each other in most part at the beginning of the universe and since there was a slightly greater abundance of matter (baryon asymmetry); we live in a matter universe.

Could it be that there is also an asymmetry of improvement techniques, where we have some people of the mind that improvements are done by engineers who determine the best method and give it to workers; and others who believe that improvements come from within the workers with help from coaches, facilitators, and leaders?

During the craft production era we saw much input from workers in an apprentice system, where training was paramount and all businesses tended to be entrepreneurial. Then we moved to the industrial revolution and suddenly experts told workers what to do and how. This system of “experts” has been shown to be a major factor in the disempowerment of workers, with a reduction of the quality and improvement suggestions from workers (Adler & Cole, 1993). Now we tend to be moving back towards a more humanistic system where workers again become more central to improvement.

The teachings of Frederick Taylor tended to fall into the first camp; and we see Frederick Taylor telling Schultz:

“Well, if you are a high-priced man, you will do exactly as this man tells you tomorrow, from morning till night. When he tells you to pick up a pig and walk, you pick it up and you walk, and when he tells you to sit down and rest, you sit down”.

(Taylor. 191, P. 24)

Taylor quickly established a consulting business based on Scientific Management and his collaborators in this business included Gilbreth, Gantt, Barth, Hathaway, Thompson and Cooke (Nadworny, 1957, P. 24). Frederick Taylor’s methods have been around for a very long time, but the old style of Management and Taylor’s method of developing workers has been shown to be flawed. Taylor shows his method very well in how he related to Schmidt and what Taylor saw his own “expert” task as.  Taylor writes “The task before us, then, narrowed itself down to getting Schmidt to handle 47 tons of pig iron per day and making him glad to do it. (Taylor, 1911, p. 23). The method Taylor uses to do that is the early industrial engineering tools, and direction on how to do the job from an “Expert”. The industrial engineering tools are very effective for increasing productivity, when there is no resistance, and are still around and used. These tools are now often referred to as the “Lean” tools, but their effective use has moved from Taylor’s style to a more humanistic Lean form, in an effort to avoid the resistance.

Researchers of Industrial Engineering have come to realize that there is a great deal more productivity available from a system of employees who learn and contribute to the improvements, than those who perform as directed by “experts”. We have seen in companies where every employee is trained and encouraged to be an expert there is a robust increase in productivity and quality. As Russ Scaffede said at the Michigan Lean Consortium conference in November, effective enterprises move from having a department of 15 or so industrial engineers to having a whole plant where every worker is an industrial engineer.

When everyone was a craftsman there was a significant amount of empowerment and Continuous Improvement.  The industrial revolution and American system of manufacturing reduced the worker to semi-skilled automaton through interchangeable parts and division of labor.  There were other schools of thought that sprung up to compete with the somewhat dehumanizing system. These were the socio-technical systems in Europe (Emery, Thorsrud, & Trist, 1969) and what was called Japanese management style (Ouchi, 1981; Pascale, Athos, & Parker, 1986). Both of these systems tended to have a more empowered employee. The socio-technical systems being more loosely coupled independent teams, and the Lean system being more standardized with close coupled team leaders and supervision.  Both systems were much more humanistic with significant employee training, problem solving, and empowerment (Niepce, Willem, & Molleman, 1998; Berggren,1992). The more structure Japanese management system (Lean) has apparently won out, in automotive at least, with Volvo closing its Uddevalla plant. The Uddevalla plant had used the socio technical style, but there is debate about how much management understood the socio-technical system, or were committed to it (Hammarström, & Lansbury, 1991; Adler & Cole, 1993). But both the socio-technical and the Lean systems were more effective than the Taylorist expert system however.

The act of having every worker responsible and empowered to improve their own job is much more effective that having industrial engineers draw maps and use stopwatches while deciding how to direct the worker to improve. So I will state it again, both socio-technical systems and Lean systems are more effective than management directed Taylorist type systems.

When we move into the office knowledge worker system the Taylorist approach quickly breaks down anyway. It is difficult or impossible to see what happens inside the workers head and draw a motion study or process map of the flow between their ears. Furthermore, in a knowledge work situation the resistance to an expert of the Taylorist type is of the worst hidden kind. That is why when someone enters the office system with the expert mentality there is disengagement, and their pseudo lean methods (tools) start to loose meaning.  Peter Drucker knew and wrote about this in 1999, and yet we are still stumbling around trying to make an expert Taylorist system work.  The productivity improvements of knowledge workers rely on the workers, “Knowledge Workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.” (Drucker, 1999, p. 84). Drucker went on to build a list of items necessary for knowledge workers to succeed and continuously improve:

Six major factors determine knowledge-worker productivity.

•      Knowledge-worker productivity demands that we ask the question: “What is the task?”

•      It demands that we impose the responsibility for their productivity on the individual knowledge workers themselves. Knowledge Workers have to manage themselves. They have to have autonomy.

•      Continuing innovation has to be part of the work, the task and the responsibility of knowledge workers.

•      Knowledge work requires continuous learning on the part of the knowledge worker, but equally continuous teaching on the part of the knowledge worker.

•      Productivity of the knowledge worker is not-at least not primarily a matter of the quantity of output. Quality is at least as important.

•      Finally, knowledge-worker productivity requires that the knowledge worker is both seen and treated as an “asset” rather than a “cost.” It requires that knowledge workers want to work for the organization in preference to all other opportunities.

(Drucker, 1999, P.84)

Possibly the most important factor for both knowledge worker and production worker to succeed and improve is the level of leadership practiced by the company management.  We often confuse the management of a company with its leadership. But management is objectives driven and results in stability. Leadership in contrast is purpose driven and results in change based on values, ideals and vision (Antonakis, Cianciolo, & Sternberg, (Eds.), 2004) Leadership is an extensive and poorly understood field (Fiedler, 1971; Bryman, 1992), but it has a key impact on how a company responds to changes in its environment. If you want to keep building the same quality car until you go bankrupt you just need management.  If, however, you need to respond to new competition and change how you do business to improve, then you need leadership. Leadership merits a posting all of its own and I do believe that leadership is where “The God Principle” resides.


Adler, P. & Cole, R.  (1993). Designed for learning: a tale of two auto plants. Sloan Management Review, v34(n3), p85(10).

Antonakis, J., Cianciolo, A. & Sternberg, R. (Eds.)  (2004).  The Nature of Leadership. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Berggren, C. (1992). Alternatives to lean production : work organization in the Swedish auto industry. Ithaca, N.Y.: ILR Press.

Drucker, P. (1999) Knowledge-worker productivity: The biggest challenge. California Management Review; Winter 1999; 41, 2. pg. 79

Emery, F. E., Thorsrud, E., & Trist, E. L. (1969). Form and content in industrial democracy: some experiences from Norway and other European countries.  London,: Tavistock Publications.

Hammarström, O., & Lansbury, R. D. (1991). The art of building a car: the Swedish experience re-examined. New Technology, Work and Employment, 6(2), 85-90.

Kotter, J. P. (1997). Matsushita leadership: Lessons from the 20th century’s most remarkable entrepreneur. New York, NY [u.a.: Free Press.

Nadworny, M. (1957) Frederick Taylor and Frank Gilbreth: competition in scientific management. The Business History Review.  Vol. 31, No. 1 (Spring, 1957), pp.      23-34.

Niepce, Willem, and Eric Molleman. (1998) “Work design issues in lean production from  a sociotechnical systems perspective: neo-Taylorism or the next step in sociotechnical design?” Human Relations 51.3: 259+.

Ouchi, W. G. (1981). Theory Z: how American business can meet the Japanese challenge. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.

Pascale, R. T., Athos, A. G., & Parker, P. (1986). The art of Japanese management. London [etc.]: Penguin Books.

Taylor, F. W. (1911). The principles of scientific management. New York, London,: Harper & Brothers.

Womack, J. P., Jones, D. T., & Roos, D. (1991). The machine that changed the world:  How Japan’s secret weapon in the global auto wars will revolutionize western industry. New York, NY: Harper Perennial.


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