For centuries we have been devising new tools to coerce and cajole workers to work harder or work the way we want them to. Douglas McGregor’s work in the 1960s categorised these attempts into two contrasting categories: ‘Theory X’ and ‘Theory Y’. Following the work of FW Taylor and scientific management, Theory X takes a more negative view of humans where they require external ‘prods’ to work (extrinsic motivation). A more positive view of human nature is embodied in Theory Y where managers need to harness their people’s intrinsic motivation. Each theory has led to the creation of management frameworks. Theory X has remained associated with a command and control, top-down style of management. Effective organisations are becoming much closer to theory Y. The evidence is that when services are designed to meet the demands of service users, then motivation and engagement form part of a self-reinforcing cycle. And it’s cheap too!
Command and control has become so prevalent in our working lives that we often no longer recognize them for what they are; management approaches designed upon a particular theory of human behaviour. Targets, bonuses, policies and procedures, one-to-ones, payment-by-results, inspection, call times, and even monitoring staff calls are all a product of the command and control logic. Each one of these tools is designed to push workers to work harder or to regulate their behaviour. As time has progressed scientific studies have shown that the impact of command and control is detrimental to both workers and the performance of organisations. They lead to stress, poor performance, de-motivation, staff turnover and customer dissatisfaction.
Many control mechanisms deployed in services organisations were developed for manufacturing and take no account of the dynamic nature of services. Policies and procedures for example have become endemic in many businesses. In service organisations however, value is produced by the involvement of both service users and staff (co-production). This renders the majority of forms of control immediately redundant. Instead of re-assessing theory and method, it has led to new forms of control such as call monitoring. The other side of the control coin is control through incentive. Rewards are given for carrying out certain types action (bonuses, targets). Studies have found that these reduce learning and actually lower overall performance. They mechanize behaviour and end discretion. It goes some way to explaining why bonuses and targets were at the heart of the banking crisis. Incentives lead to unintended consequences. No targets does not mean no measures [post to follow on this].
The 95-5 rule
W. H. Deming understand that the majority of performance is caused by how the system has been designed (95%). Workers only 5%. It is what is called the 95-5 rule. Trying to improve the 5% is to tackle the wrong problem. In fact, tackling the 5% instead of the 95% will increase problems in the system. It is worth watching Deming running his famous red bead experiment to understand the impact that the system has.
Services designed to help people to do a good job
Workers intrinsically want to help people. It is where systems are designed badly, stopping workers from doing the right thing that dysfunction sets in. Designing systems that deliver value, allows workers to engage their innate skills, free from extrinsic control. Intrinsic control is the most efficient and satisfying form of control possible. As workers get better at helping people solve problems (with a sound method to guide them), a self-reinforcing pattern emerges.
As workers discover that their system has been better designed to help them solve service users’ problems, the more they enjoy the feeling of doing their work. As soon as people know that the system is designed to help them and let them experiment and learn, they will become more innovative and more engaged. As problems are solved, complaints go down. Staff turnover goes down. As complaints go down, the cycle becomes stronger in a positively self-reinforcing way.
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