Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Global Standardization-Why is it so hard?

In Robert Kanigel's brilliant biography of Frederick Winslow Taylor there is a really interesting comment about worker's resistance to standardization of their job tasks.  On p.209 of the hardback edition it says "The work itself might be no more physically demanding, but somehow, by day's end, it felt as if it were.  Going strictly by somebody else's say-so, rigidly following directions, doing it by the clock, made Taylor's brand of work distasteful  You had to do it in the one best way prescribed for you and not in your old, idiosyncratic, if perhaps less efficient way.  And many workmen didn't like that."

I'm tempted to stop right there and say that tells you everything you need to know about why global standardization is so hard.  Over the last 100 years Taylor's  approach to efficiency, initially applied to standardize the ways workers performed the same task in a manufacturing environment, has become deeply embedded in management practices in every business sector in almost every part of the globe. 

I don't intend for this entry to turn into a business management MBA-like history session and won't touch on the Hawthorne studies or  to McGregor's theory X and Y.  You can go there and explore if you are interested.  The point is that standardization of work is ubiquitous in every business sector, workers don't like it, resist it and have for over a hundred years.  It really doesn't matter if you are standardizing an individual worker's tasks, or like processes in multiple locations in a country, or across multiple countries...the resistance will be there.  That still leaves open the question of WHY don't people like it, and WHAT can leaders do..  We'll start on those questions tomorrow.

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