Why do so many organizations seem so dysfunctional? Why are so many of us unhappy at work? Well at least some of it has to do with the way we think of the organizations we work in. The way we think our organizations should be structured, and the way we think the people in these organizations should be managed.

Give me your cheap goods, your commoditized products yearning to be made available to the undifferentiated mass of consumers, and spacious, stagnant markets

If we want to get to the root of this thinking we have to go way back to the turn of the last century. Things looked very differently back then. People were for the most part both poor and un-educated. Material wealth was scarce, and so was the competition.

Commoditized and Cost Efficient

The challenge of this era long past was to get a limited number of goods to as much of the population as possible. And we needed to get those goods out for the lowest possible price.

Core goods that would significantly raise the standards of living for us all. Cars, radios, ovens, refrigeration, vacuum cleaners, you name it.

And we wanted to employ the population so they could afford to buy all of these items in the first place. Not to mention everyone gets a job.

The challenge of the industrial age was to generate wealth for the masses.

The Rise Of The Industrial Machine

Thanks in part to a paper published by Frederick W. Taylor, titled the Principles of Scientific Management, an Industrial Management Model gained wide prominence, and eventually became the model for the design and management of almost all of the organizations we know of, till this day.

The industrial management model is geared towards attaining high efficiency. We want to lower costs and increase the markets access to our products.

People are cogs in a machines

This lower cost was achieved through standardization. Repetitive tasks were documented into detailed instructions that were carried out to the letter by workers.

The Missing Ingredient in Management - Vincent Ryan Ruggiero Official  website - Author
In instructions we trust

Managers were responsible defining these instructions, as ensuring there orderly execution. In other words the educated few controlled the uneducated many.

Through division shall we deliver

Organizations scaled by dividing workers according to highly specialized tasks. People with separate skillsets were placed in separate parts of the organization. Managers were considered a separate group, and outside of giving instructions and measuring performance, were largely divided form workers.

The principles of standardization, division, and control were all fit for purpose for organizations that wanted to create wealth on a wide spread scale. More wealth was generated in a 100 years than the previous 1000.

And By wealth we mean wide spread wealth, we aren't talking about just a few fat cats here, (Yes they did well, fantastically well too) we are talking about the larger population.

Judged by these outcomes the industrial era organization was a fantastic success

But who really believes we are still in the Industrial Age?

It would not be a stretch to say that industrial era management and the industrial era organization has turned toxic in our current age era.

In many ways industrial era thinking is eroding our people's ability to effectively deliver value. Organizations exist to help people collectively create more value than they could by themselves. Yet the industrial principles of division and control and standardization are having the opposite effect. How many of us feel that our organizations make us collectively dumber, slower, and even eviler. How many of us bemoan the loss of humanity from working in such organizations?

In Summary

  • Industrial Organizations grew in response to the need to generate wealth for a largely poor, and uneducated population
  • Markets were spacious, sluggish, had little competition, and had huge potential for growth.
  • The strategy was cost containment
  • Industrial management relied on the principles of division, standardization, and control to achieve these outcomes, with unprecedented success
  • Today's Organizations are still largely based on this Industrial era thinking
  • Industrial era Organizations are turning toxic in our current era

Up next my take on how organizations can shift, to meet the needs of the age of uncertainty