by Steve Dines
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I am afraid that our current economic action plans are stuck. Like every other kind of plan in every other kind of organization, they are stuck. Stuck in, “the system”!
“The system” I describe as:
· “People at the top” who tell others what to do but don’t listen.
· “People in the middle” that are divided into two main groups, “system-people” and “people-people”, where the conflict can be so great that good “people-people” leave.
· “People at the bottom” where life for most is mostly “pure drudgery!”
“The system” is hierarchical, top-down and mechanical. It is built and run on rules and regulations, a place where money and power reign. Often, people lower in the organization experience guilt and fear; in worst-case scenarios they are subject to bullying and intimidation.
Without exception, everyone I have talked to about “the system” agreed that it is not the ideal way to organise people and goal-oriented behaviour in the 21st century. I once heard a professor from Cardiff University plead with a group consisting of political leaders, social entrepreneurs and managers within the non-profit sector. He was asking for help in trying to persuade policy makers and funding bodies for a more “organic, bottom-up” approach to health services. He felt that he was batting his head against a brick wall.
I think there are two main factors that contribute to the continued defence of “the system” today, the delusion of scientific management and the myth of meritocracy.
In 1911 FW Taylor published his work, “Principles of Scientific Management”. His primary concern was work efficiency which, he claimed, could be increased by breaking jobs down into the smallest possible tasks, then recruiting, training and rewarding workers to perform those tasks as efficiently as possible. “Bosses”, he proposed, should do all planning, organizing and problem solving; workers should just do as they are told.
In many ways, Taylor got it right. Factories that organised work according his principles saw productivity and profits raise dramatically, workers wages increased significantly. During WWII, American factories produced military equipment at a faster rate than it could be destroyed. Taylor wanted his principles used everywhere, in that he has been highly successful.
Today, scientific management can be seen at work not only in business, but also in health, education and social services, local government, the non-profit sector and even churches. Scientific management makes a powerful case for staying with, “the system”. What else can better it?
People seem to overlook that fact that, “the system” only works well in a highly stable environment, it cannot cope with the kind of rapid change that we are seeing today (and for the last 30 years or so). People also overlook human nature.
It has been estimated that as many as 1 in 6 business leaders in the UK is a “sociopath”. This means that greed, selfish ambition and a total disregard for people exists “at the top”. I believe it is human nature that lies at the heart of he current world financial crisis, and “the system” will ensure that history repeats itself!
The fixed belief that scientific management is the only way to organise people and goal-oriented behaviour I consider to be a delusion because it is a false belief. What is the point of doing things efficiently (doing thing right) if we are not being effective (doing the right things)? What is the point of having a highly efficient health or education system when the people who have the most to gain from that system are often the least likely to actively and positively participate in it? Why are there so many places in shelters for homeless people, going unoccupied each night? Why do huge numbers of people who come through “correction centres” re-offend? And the list goes on and on. Growing numbers of people are becoming casualties of “the system” yet nothing changes; in part “the myth or meritocracy” supports the delusion.
“The Myth of Meritocracy”.
The term has become more widely used over the last few years particularly within the field of Social Sciences. The basic philosophy of meritocracy is that people reach or achieve their place in society or work by merit. Therefore, in a meritocracy, we always have the right people in the right place doing the right things at the right time. Right?
The myth of meritocracy gives great credence for continuing, “the system” as is. But if you ask any Social Scientist what he or she thinks about the merits of meritocracy, they will probably laugh!
People in power have known for decades that wealth and family background are key factors associated with one’s position in life and they can work “the system” very well. In the natural occurrence of things, there will always be a few exceptions to the rule, but statistical evidence shows otherwise. People “at the bottom” are less likely to achieve any kind of financial independence (and they are more likely to become unhealthy!)
Perhaps we have gotten to the point where each new generation believes that, “the system” and its supporting philosophies of scientific management and meritocracy have us arrayed in fine new clothes, when in fact, we are stark naked!
Wherever, “the system” is in operation only those at the top really benefit from it. And of course, when “the system” fails, it’s not the system at fault, or the people at the top. Look at the world economic situation of 2008 and 2009. I rest my case.
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