Adam Smith is regarded as the founder of industrial capitalism. In his renowned book The Wealth of Nations (1776) he typifies workers as lazy and only motivated by money. That idea has stood the test of time. From the end of the 19th century, when industrialization made its furore, the role of the employee was marginalized. Production became a succession of clear, partial processes. Each worker had a piece of the chain, literally.
In the twentieth century, rationalization was an asset: companies increasingly began to focus on predictability, measurability, controllability and – above all – efficiency. Even today, this process of McDonaldizing is the basis on which most companies worldwide operate. Whether it's a telephone help desk employee, a cleaner or an account manager: they all work in a system designed to control. Funnily enough, that is a completely at odds with human nature.
First and foremost: salary is important. Without an income no one can live, but that still doesn't mean that money is the only thing that counts. People by nature want to feel they are doing something worthwhile, that they contribute. Meaningful work is a powerful incentive. Combine that with bearing responsibility, and voilà: the involved, enthusiastic, positive employee is born.
Let's face it: this insight is not new. In fact: over the years plenty of research has been carried out in this area. That's why we know that companies who pay sufficient attention to human resources, have a significantly better future perspective than companies who have less regard for that. With that knowledge in mind, why do companies insist on rationalization and standardization? A typical case of a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’: by setting up systems traditionally for control, every initiative is nipped on the bud. It is logical therefore that workers are less involved.
But what about efficiency? Ultimately that is what is most important to companies: what do workers actually deliver? Despite all systems, standardization does not lead to more efficiency. The opposite is true: workers who have a say, carry responsibility and are valued, perform better. They work harder and are more involved. Not because everything revolves around them, but because there is room for the personal touch. Not instead of the system, but in harmony with the system. Efficiency is fine, but then, with a human face, please.
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