The new ways are an advance not an alternative

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I’ve had enough of those treating scientific management  (Taylorism)  and humanistic management as alternatives.

They’re not equivalent morally or practically.

Taylorism/Theory-X [1] is a way to manage people who do defined repeatable work (agricultural, industrial, clerical), what I call “transactional”, where we regard those people as fungible replaceable resources, and where the goal of management is to maximise the value to shareholders from the employee.

Such management has come up short when managing knowledge workers, those who do non-transactional work (inventing, designing, building, solving, healing…). You can’t see what they do, you can’t unravel the work of the individual from the team, and you can’t measure quality without enormous costs. So you can’t make knowledge workers do anything.

Humanism/Theory-Y is how you manage knowledge workers – by managers inviting, motivating, empowering, steering, serving.

It comes as a surprise to many to discover that humane management also gets superior results from transactional workers. People are more productive and innovative when you treat them with respect and kindness.

It’s not as if a manager or organisation has a choice which of the two styles they like to adopt. Not only does Theory-X only work in some situations and not in others; not only does Theory-Y get superior results; but Theory-Y is how decent human beings behave to their colleagues – it’s morally and ethically superior.  It’s a social advance.

[1] Theory-X/Theory-Y came from Douglas McGregor at MIT Sloan 70 years ago (!). Dana Aldi framed it differently in the 1990s as Alpha and Beta management. Gary Hamel recently framed it as Bureaucracy and Humanocracy.