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RESULTS MATTER. NUMBERS DON'T

Although one might make the Homer Simpson like “d-oh” noise in response to the notion that those who do the work ought to be more integrally involved in more than just the activity of performing the task, it seems as though the workers-work-the-managers-manage mindset is still prevalent in far too many organizations—much to the negative effect on them.

Although one might make the Homer Simpson like “d-oh” noise in response to the notion that those who do the work ought to be more integrally involved in more than just the activity of performing the task, it seems as though the workers-work-the-managers-manage mindset is still prevalent in far too many organizations—much to the negative effect on them. As John Seddon writes in Freedom From Command & Control: Rethinking Management for Lean Service (Productivity Press; $40.00), the command-and-control model that has reigned in mass manufacturing and, yes, service (and let’s realize that design and engineering and even managing are service activities, so while he uses examples of things like call centers in explaining why there are massive amounts of waste inherent in what is purportedly getting done, don’t be misled: This means you) is profoundly counterproductive—at least if your interests are in being profitable. What command and control has led to, in many instances, is nothing more than the workers gaming the system such that they “seem” to be doing what needs to be done: making the numbers is not the same thing as serving the customer, and serving the customer is fundamentally what matters. Except, as Seddon observes, there’s a problem because the numbers often seemingly trump the customer. “Persuaded by the promise of ever greater control, managers have spent enormous sums on computers that can report detailed costs by function, level and activity. Control is, of course, an illusion, because costs are associated with flow, not function or activity. Numbers have achieved ascendancy over purpose. An idea that solved a problem for Alfred Sloan [i.e., “management by the numbers”] has become a disease within our organization.” And that disease is as insidious as it is ultimately fatal. It manifests itself, in the end, as the numbers that show up on balance sheets: with a minus sign in front of them. Perhaps it is because Seddon looks at industries other than durable goods that his application of the Toyota Production System-style thinking is so eye-opening and all the more valuable for those who don’t consider themselves to be service workers (you probably are one).—GSV