Roots of Management by Activity

The 9-to-5 work schedule reminds me of the story of the woman who routinely cut off both ends of a cut of meat before roasting it. When asked what function that served, she replied that it was the way her mother had always done it. As it turns out, her mother cut off the ends of the meat because her roasting pan was too small to accommodate the whole thing.

Similarly today, we are blindly following management practices that have their roots in the Industrial Revolution. One of the biggest management innovations from that period was the assembly line, which reduced work for each individual down to a very specific task, which had to be done repeatedly and reliably. True, this method of organizing individual tasks transformed the work environment, and resulted in incredible gains in efficiency, productivity, and profitability. Of course, assembly lines function well only when everyone shows up on time, at the same time. There’s your 9-to-5 work schedule, folks.

Frederick Taylor was one of the management innovators during the Industrial Revolution. His principles of Scientific Management served as a major force in transforming and improving the workplaces of that time.1 He saw an opportunity to create efficiencies in the workplace by separating the thinking part of the job from the producing parts. In his framework, planners (i.e., managers) would scope out, in advance, all of the work that needed to be done in a day, then write down incredibly detailed ...

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