During the 90’s, due to the expansion and access to information through computerization and the advent of the internet, a new way of conducting business began to emerge. Many industries adapted to this new reality and many remain still searching for a path forward. Here, I'm referring to the movement away from the industrial economy towards what we now call the knowledge economy.
The industrial economy spawned organizations which enshrined power, order, predictability and control as their foundational framework. These organizations are efficient and organized to meet the demands of a mass production economy. They are structured to ensure that job security is tied to obedience, jobs are organized into segmented hierarchies or silos, tasks are made simple and are reproduced with maximum repetition, remuneration is made according to the type of job one has and workers are an extension of machines. The difficulty is that they are also rigid, slow to change and not flexible enough to meet the demands of today's fast paced business environment. Governments, military, large corporations, religions, schools, and unions were and are designed this way.
The emerging information economy is birthing organizations based on shared power, flexibility, creativity and flow. They are designed to empower employees, encourage creativity and seek constant improvement. Organizational control comes through an adherence to a common vision, a set of values and corporate goals. The model looks messy from the outside looking in, but it does have structure and form, albeit flexible and fluid. Long term job security and company loyalty are not as prevalent as they used to be in the industrial economy.
In the industrial economy structures, the individual finds him/herself inside the management structure. Individuals are told what to do, how to do it and when to do it. Teams are driven by management. In the Information economy, the management structure is inside the individual. In this model individuals become self-managers, self-leaders and teams grow in independence and are interdependently linked to one another. Power, order and control, are found in an alignment with a common vision, a set of common values and shared goals. People are engaged, creative and flexible.
During the transition period, as organizations transform from one organizational structure to the other, individuals move from the dependence upon the organization found in a highly visible pyramid, to more independence within a constantly changing and fluid organization; and, end at a place where the pyramid is in the shadow.
Work has been with us for untold centuries, but it was only in the turn of the 20th Century that the study of work and how it is organized began in earnest. Frederick W. Taylor (1856-1915) was the first person to approach work scientifically, and many of the gains made in productivity over the years are traced back to his theories of ‘scientific management’.
The basis for Taylor’s theories was embedded in the way work was done during his day. During his time the economy was driven by the industrial complex typified by the assembly line. However most people today find work in what Dan Stamp, the former Chairman and founder of Priority Management International and Dr. Peter Honey, a world renowned Industrial Psychologist, have called “The Invisible Assembly Line.” The Invisible assembly line is comprised of knowledge workers, deals with ideas and information, and centred around people rather than solely around the production of material goods. It is estimated that over eighty per cent of present day workers are now classified as knowledge workers and primarily found in the service sector.
Dan Stamp and Peter Honey recognized the significant contribution that Taylor made to the understanding of work but wondered how it applied to today’s knowledge workers. After extensive research into the behaviours of knowledge workers they began to piece together a “productivity platform’ for knowledge workers based on a decide, do and deliver model, underpinned by learning and determined by eight distinct processes which make up The Invisible Assembly Line.
The first stage of The Invisible Assembly Line which sets a strategic direction identifies those processes which: 1) define purpose and 2) establish goals ; the second stage relates to executing the plan identifies those processes which: 3) focus resources with flexibility, 4) manage priorities, and 5) measure effects; and, the third and final stage which is about exceeding expectations identifies the processes which enable people to: 6) take ownership, responsibility and accountability, 7) influence others while maintaining interpersonal relationship, and 8) continue improving people, processes and productivity.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie, MSW, FCMC
Your work assembly line may be invisible but the results can be seen. Dan Stamp