I have been working with management theory since the 60s. Back in those early days, the focus was on results or production. Management was concerned with resources and employees were considered as one of those resources. Many schools and professors were trying to determine a scientific approach to measuring the effectiveness of management with a focus on things that could be measured or counted. Up until the 80s, the study was focused on data analysis and quantitative tools. That was about to change. During the 80s, the studies suggested that there was something else affecting the results. Gradually, we started hearing more about leadership and how it impacted production.
At the same time that leadership was being explored; there was mounting evidence that it was the process being followed that was impacting quality and production just as much as resources and skills. By the 90s, as I witnessed this move, we started to see a primary focus on process, self-mastery, emotional intelligence, and environment. These elements were not as easy to measure or quantify. The study of leadership recognized the unpredictability of people was a key element of the results seen. This study became much more complex than counting the number of widgets.
While we all know that leadership and human response is the critical factor, most of us are not trained. For this reason, when there is a production problem we revert to counting widgets. I can remember back in the 90s, when I was at IBM, they tried to address this concern. I doubt they there originated this saying, but the “mantra” of the day was; When there is a defect, it is almost never the person and always the process. Back in those early days if a project or a task failed, the person was identified, and many were let go. Under the new concept, they started looking at process, training, and documentation as the first cause of the failure.
There were also changes in how I saw overall performance measured. I saw the introduction of the balanced scorecard, leadership training, and strategic planning. It is difficult to condense many years of the process into a few paragraphs, but this is how I remember it. I bring up these memories now because I still see a focus on managing production instead of improving the process, training, or documentation. I see very expensive employee turnover that could be avoided.
What have you experienced? Have you seen the focus change?