05 May 2008

Taylor's Soldiering, Retrieved

The only saving grace of transcribing interviews is being able to think slowly about what is actually being conveyed by my participants. Case in point: One of my participant organizations is a Fortune 50 company that can be broadly described as being in the technology sector. It is, as one might expect relatively more hierarchical and BAH in nature. Like many large tech companies, it has parallel status and pay hierarchies between a management stream and a technical stream - an ├╝ber-geek need not be forced to manage people in order to achieve high status and an equivalent salary.

One of my participants from this organization described how the technical ladder is climbed. You have to have the credentials (i.e., one or more advanced degrees in science or engineering), the experience, and cumulative contributions to justify being granted a higher position. But in addition to the individual's own qualifications, the business has to acknowledge that there is a business need for an individual to be named to the higher position, because, as my participant says, "we expect that our higher technical community to have a significant contribution."

What this actually means is that the organization won't pay an individual what s/he might otherwise be worth in terms of their actual contribution, if it has not previously "justified" needing that contribution.

I'm sure that many people - particularly those doing manual or assembly-line type labour - can enact what Frederick Winslow Taylor called soldiering - essentially marking time so as not to contribute more to the enterprise than what they were being paid for. But for knowledge workers, and especially those in a technical track in a high-tech environment, it is pretty much impossible to "soldier." How does a thinker restrict the number or creativity of their thoughts, ideas and insights? "Gee, I would have invented a new algorithm today, but I'm only at a level 12, and I've used up my quota of ideas for the month. Now, if I was a 15, then we'd be cooking!"

Doesn't work like that.

What is happening is pure BAH: the company treating its knowledge workers as if they were factory labour. The organization is clearly gaining the advantage here in applying an Industrial Age model to solve what it perceives is an Industrial Age problem - the indeterminacy of labour. But as I write about in Creating a Culture of Innovation, the contemporary issue is not indeterminacy of labour, but indeterminacy of knowledge:
Rather than trying to measure and control the amount of
production labour that is going to benefit the organization, managers are now trying to measure and control the amount of knowledge work – thinking, creating, and innovating – that is occurring to benefit the organization. In the general industrial case, one could argue that the productivity of the entire organization is effectively limited by the slowest worker. In the case of indeterminacy of knowledge, the problem is reversed. For the knowledge worker, the lower limit of corporate knowledge “production” is that of the best worker, since that person’s knowledge can be electronically disseminated to all and become the norm, enabling new innovations and insights that can build upon, and exceed, that base level.
An executive from this organization might argue that there is a practical limitation to how much the business can justify to pay in aggregate salaries, irrespective of the beneficial contributions of stellar performers. I don't disagree. But this situation strikes me as a tell-tale indicator of BAH-ness, tightly coupling status, a priori-justified contribution, and pay. Organizations that strike me as being relatively more UCaPP also tend to decouple this previously paradigmatic trinity.

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Anonymous said...

Job evaluation still drives almost all compensation strategy and practice.

Job evaluation methodologies are directly derived from Taylor's principles of scientific management, and the most influential factor in all JE methodologies is knowledge .... BUT knowledge arranged vertically, acquired through mastery of a body of knowledge as certified through educational levels or experience in a realm.

These methodologies did not foresee networks or the putting together of knowledge horizontally, as is happening more and more often in networked structures.

I'm betting that you know all this ...

Cheers, Jon Husband

Mark Federman said...

What's more, Jon, is that some organizations are beginning to figure this out - and it seems to be one of the tell-tale indicators of an organization that is relatively more UCaPP in nature.

One of my participant organizations specifically ties individual job evaluation to the individual's collaborative contributions to teams other than their own - the "putting together of knowledge horizontally," as you describe it. The company in question looks more or less conventional from the outside, and it is in a more or less conventional industry sector, but its culture is anything but conventional, thanks to the visionary - make that tactilary - and insightful leadership of its CEO.

Anonymous said...

it seems to be one of the tell-tale indicators of an organization that is relatively more UCaPP in nature.

I'm not surprised.

Mark, what do you think this means for the HR consulting industry (I have an opinion already ;-) ?

Methodologies that were relatively standard, like JE, being customized for given, but more temporary structures ? What about (for example) pay equity legislation, which envisioned relatively stable and static work design .. how will organizations and governments judge equivalencies with much more highly fragmented or atomized (or granular) work ?

hat about the concept of "employment" and the 9eventual) need for a significant re-vamping of employment legislation ?

Etc. ?


Anonymous said...

How does a thinker restrict the number or creativity of their thoughts, ideas and insights? "Gee, I would have invented a new algorithm today, but I'm only at a level 12, and I've used up my quota of ideas for the month. Now, if I was a 15, then we'd be cooking!"

Hehehe .. this rang a bell.

In the Hay Guide-Chart Profile Method of Job Evaluation, the second of three major factors is Problem-Solving, which has two sub-factors, Thinking Challenge and Thinking Complexity. The semantic definitions for the different levels (A - G) use the degree to which problems encountered in the course of the work are prescribed by practices, policies or precedents, and are directly related to the level in the organization and to which position on the org chart the position in question reports .... all this is based on the assumption of a vertical arrangement or pertinent applicable knowledge, experience and delegated "freedom to think".

This kind of (and similar) assumption, built into JE methodologies, inform the organizational structure of 90+% of the Fortune 5000.

Lots of organizational change work over the next 20 years, or ongoing denial and resistance to work re-design ?


Mark Federman said...

What this means for the HR consulting industry? To coin a phrase, "this changes everything!"

To be less tongue-in-cheek about it (or perhaps not) such questions are probably worth a thesis, and even enumerating some of the questions and approaches to the answers will be part of the last chapter of mine.

The general approach to your question, and those like it, is this: given that an organization, defined in valence theory terms, is potentially most effective when the valences are balanced and reciprocal (consider this as a working hypothesis), job evaluation criteria would have to be consistent with an individual, (1) contributing to creating a balanced-valence environment; and (2) anticipating and responding to the effects enacted and created by her/his actions in a way that is consistent with the intended effects of the organization as a whole relative to its valence connections (i.e., enacting effect-ive theory of action.)

The concept of employment changes (naturally), since I maintain that in a valence theory conception, there is no difference among employees, customers, and suppliers relative to the valence organization.

And many, many thanks, Jon, for the questions, as they have enabled me to think through these aspects of my emerging research.

Anonymous said...

i am khalid from pakistan...currently doing my MBA thesis in HR...i have coined a term Intelectual soldiering and that is topic of my thesis...
i strongly beleive that u r the one who can help me alot...i am trying to catch u...if u kindly post ur email