Recently, I started a keynote with a hatchet in my hand.
You might think i was being theatrical. The actual purpose of starting a talk with a tool in my hand was to point to a time when responsibility for a shared goal was built into the community.
4 Economies & How They Shaped Management:
Back in the “old days”, when we lived in smaller communities, people bartered for goods and services. If I wanted to extend my plantings and I need to fell some trees to create a clearing, I would go to the local blacksmith to get a sharp hatchet. And in return for getting a product that works, I would return the results of product performance in the form of wheat or corn to feed the blacksmith’s family. The blacksmith, the farmer and the larger community all knew what “success” looked like, because each party would know what responsibilities they needed to deliver and meet them. Because of the size and nature of the ecosystem, work embodied personal responsibility.
When we moved on into an industrialized era, accountability shifted as we made things like cars. At the height of car production, humans were considered a cog in the wheel of the system. Specs were defined and written, and humans were simply executors of those specifications. We managed the era of production with what has been labeled scientific management. During that time, our focus in management was how to increase efficiency. We asked questions like: would a longer shovel yield higher productivity? This division of labor from the scientific method continues today with a strong focus on roles being neatly described, and the predominant focus of rewards still focused on whether each person does what they are assigned to do. We got efficiency and scale, but accountability was shifted from the individual person to the organizational specs.
We moved beyond the manufacturing era to create really interesting things like chips and phones. An example of something we create today is an HTC phone co-branded by Google using Android. The chip is made by Marvel, designed mostly in the US but then created in China, HTC is an Indian-based company, the product is assembled in Portugal from parts made around the world. Marketing is done in social context in forums like Twitter; much of customer service is done peer to peer in online forums like Get Satisfaction. The apps created for the Android platform are the creative notions of many 80,000 application developers worldwide. The complexity of this example shows that we no longer make things per se, as much as we make information that ultimately shows up in the form of things. As managers, we know humans are central to creating this kind of information. So we try and figure out how to keep employees “happy”. Besides intuition, we know that workers are happier when we pay attention to them, otherwise known as the Hawthorne effect. The notion of accountability has best been captured in MBO tools where we try and capture what each party is going to do and how we might reward that particular area of responsibility. In other words, we have moved back to personal accountability in one way: we measure the performance of the person, but are limited by what we can measure rather than a measure of value of creativity itself.