Maximizing people productivity Maslow style
Efficiency by Consent
It was Frederick W. Taylor’s purpose to make the laborer worthy of his hire; to make the hire worthy of the laborer; to make the standard of living and the conditions of working worthy to be called American. The American standard of living implies a wage adequate for proper housing and food and clothing, for proper education and recreation, and for insurance against those contingencies of sickness, accident, unemployment, premature death or superannuation, which fall so heavily upon the working classes. That standard implies hours of labor sufficiently short to permit those who work to perform also their duties as citizens and to share in the enjoyment of life. That standard implies postponement of the working period to an age which enables the child to develop into a rounded man or woman. That standard implies working conditions which are not only consistent with the demands of health and safety, but are also such as may make work for others what it was for Taylor—the greatest of life’s joys.
Louis D Brandeis
Business has always been part art & part science. The challenge became when maximizing profitability became an imperative because that is when science was prioritized over the art.
This has been true for quite some time but the dynamics of it have changed over time. As effectiveness or maximizing value (even of employees) has been subjugated to efficiency this business thinking has increasingly had to face increased transparency & business savviness. What the transparency has done has put an increased pressure on being able to articulate effectiveness, or the art, of doing business. that said. Efficiency is always easier to articulate, therefore, the majority erred on the side of efficiency (driving closer & closer to commodity-like) despite talking about ‘brand value’ and the importance of effectiveness & intangible value. Effectiveness, or value, became the sacred haven of the few who could articulate the art & the intangible of business.
Art is making a comeback mostly because people, employees, feel there has to be something more than what exists. Recent studies show something like 87% of employees are disengaged. I would argue that is a reflection of emphasis on efficiency & lack of emphasis on effectiveness (and the vision which tends to encourage intangible investment in a business life>. This art aspect is not just a battle between ROI versus meaning but also between those who have created their success from the ‘science’ and those who believe there must be something better.
The problem is Science has a head start. This science aspect was elevated in late 1910, when Louis Brandeis, a fifty-three-year-old lawyer from Boston, held a meeting at an apartment in New York with a bunch of experts who, at Brandeis’s urging, decided to call what they were experts at “scientific management” (one of the attendees suggested calling it “efficiency”). Management typically revolves around 2 names, Gilbreth who favored worker input & Taylor who thought men were “mules”. Yet, it was Brandeis who advocated industrial democracy, i.e., workers must have a voice in how a business is run. Brandeis insisted that, if workers were to enjoy sufficient leisure to participate in a democratic society, productivity had to be increased but within limits of individual capacity.
This is where we bring in psychologist Abraham Maslow who explored the idea of human motivation. Through his research in 1943, he identified primary needs people must satisfy before moving forward. This became known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a five-level pyramid (not developed by him but a good illustration of the pattern of motivation). To get from one level to the next, one has to master the basics first. Productivity can work in much the same way, according to Tamara Myles, a Certified Professional Organizer (CPO) and author of The Secret to Peak Productivity (AMACOM, February 2014). Inspired by Maslow’s work, Myles created the Peak Productivity Pyramid—an approach to a more productive life.
“[The system makes it] so easy to see the entire roadmap, to identify where you are and where you are headed,” Myles says. “It is, after all, much easier to get where you are going if you have directions, if you have a map.”
All that said. I began with a Brandeis quote to make a point. The point is once business gets on a slippery slope gravity has a nasty habit of taking over. In this case Brandeis had a solid idea from which people inevitably gravitated toward the simplistic, easiest & most tangible aspect of it and then pounded that aspect into its most meaningless definition.
That’s what we do.
Maslow was right in that people desire more than simply being productive. They desire what I call substantive productivity and others call joy of task, meaning & Purpose. But that’s difficult to quantify in the short term, only the long term.
It’s kind of like quantifying brand value. Brand value is a complex idea in which many moving parts, difficult to quantify in isolation, coalesce into a greater value at some indeterminate place & time in the future. It “just is” which is not one of the most comforting things to say in business. Imagine that conversation when it comes to productivity. A bunch of business people would faint.
Regardless. Two things are happening today.
- Proof of substantive productivity (or an engaged organization focused on effective work not efficient work) is increasing. Businesses will balk (the infamous: good for them but it will not work in my business) but proof is growing and businesses will have to choose between status quo and transformation at their own peril.
- People are desiring ‘more’ than status quo. And the more, this time, is not money. Efficiency drove employees to say “if I do this, pay me more $” and inevitably they got more money, but not more fulfillment. Having pursued that $ path they are now open to a ‘what could fulfill me’ path.
This means what was old is new again. The business world is revisiting Brandies concept with fresh eyes. It’s quite possible we had to walk the efficiency road in order to know it would not reach the destination we desired but, regardless, effectiveness is having its day. It will not just happen and those of us who are good, or relatively good, at articulating the benefits of the intangible need to bring our A game.