Guest post by Craig Knight, Identity Reaization
“I might have known,” said Eeyore. “After all, one can’t complain. I have my friends. Somebody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said ‘Bother!’. The Social Round. Always something going on.”(A.A.Milne)
There are rather a lot of people doing somewhat better than Eeyore. They are having quite a good Coronavirus, feeling secretly pleased with themselves and just a little guilty about things. After all, we are meant to be in a state of hardship; furloughed at best, probably angst ridden and missing our business colleagues.
All the same, it’s quite pleasant starting work in your dressing gown; slurping tea and crunching toast, dropping crumbs on your laptop. You can break for Pop Master at 10.30 with an early lunch if you feel peckish. The kids are glad to see you and your partner; well, what did GBS say about the maximum of temptation combined with the maximum of opportunity? And you still finish all your work in time to sit in front of The Crown of an evening.
It isn’t that way for many people of course, but science is completely on the side of Douglas MacGregor’s Theory Y, in-so-much-as people respond to being allowed to do things their way. Tom Postmes explains that if you give people the resources to do the job, trust them to do it right and the autonomy to do it their way, the results will be terrific. Since 2003, my own work has shown that staff in their own space, when allowed to develop their own solutions, always come up with the most productive result, leaving trained managers and consultants floundering in their wake.
So will there be a sea-change when the world emerges from its odd hibernation; now that Zoom is more than a song by Fat Larry’s Band and flexible working includes an afternoon nap followed by the determined purge of the inbox? Are we going to see a post-industrial working world of proper grown-ups, for the first time? Where the office is used as it should be; as a hub for information, socialising and resource gathering; as a welcoming base, a home from home? An office where staff arrive at times that allow them to do the job to their best abilities, taking holidays when they wish, changing their working environment to fit with their requirements? This is no soft option by the way; nobody is saying “reduce targets”.
Or, will we instead revert to the bleeding edge of flexible and agile managerial practice, developed as recently as the mid-18th century by Josiah Wedgwood. Will we rebuild the glittering principles of lean, introduced by the same man and honed to its precise modern standards by Frederick Taylor in the Victorian era? Or shall we just infantilize the workforce instead and give them pool tables, ping-pong bats and slides to play with. Biophilia, Six Sigma, and using populist psychometrics to inform office design, are all symptoms of the same nasty/nice continuum, where managers just look to buttress their control and untested heuristics through the manipulation of ‘experts’. And here is the entire list of peer-reviewed scientific articles that says this is a good idea. Ready?
That’s the lot.
Return or redemption
Only business schools and business practice – supported by case-studies from within the, seemingly impermeable, business bubble – argue that the blunt and inexpert edge of current, and ever recycled, best practice cuts it. Science, in short, thinks it’s rubbish. So maybe, just maybe, we can start to treat workers like the grown-ups they really are. Science likes that and there is overwhelming evidence that it works.
If I am honest, I don’t think we will. We will probably slide back into gobble-de-gook, feelgood accreditations and back slapping awards, all of which butter corporate egos but are otherwise, essentially useless. It is a safe bet that managers will once more belt themselves into the pilot’s chair and paper over the windscreen with spreadsheets that misguide them and their colleagues towards the usual wrong variables (first two stops ‘error’ and ‘waste’ anybody?).
However, there are now tantalizing chinks of light that shine, almost illicitly, from behind some of the curtains of the coronavirus lockdown. Their tempting beams illuminating the path to workplace emancipation, well-being and profit.
Please, follow them; we may never have this chance again.