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Tripp Babbitt

Quality Insider

The Droids We Build

Don’t nurture robots; encourage your employees to become innovative juggernauts.

Published: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 - 05:30

I challenge myself each day to hear something different. Sometimes this is about education, liberals, conservatives, tree-huggers, or many other opinions and topics that counter my perspective. For me, this develops new perspectives on problems and issues that service organizations face, even if the topic is distasteful and challenges my core values.

Scientific management theory has long driven our education, management thinking, and design of work. The plight of Call Center Cindy in a government agency still haunts me. Too many service organizations have killed innovation and destroyed hope for change (that is, improvement) because of the systems we have built.

Students are trained to do well on tests, and workers are trained to comply with scripts, audits, monitoring, entrapping technology, and procedures. Then the question is asked, “Why can’t we get workers to change?” Because the system has built droids that learn to comply and not think.

The sad news is that this approach is making us less competitive. A few people at the top make decisions based on information from financials and reports. This gives executives little context to make sound decisions. To make better decisions, they need the help of those who understand the work that pleases customers.

The gap that organizations have built between the top floor and the front line may only be the distance of an elevator ride, but the two arenas might as well be on different continents and speaking different languages. Many service companies organize corporate events such as coffee-with-the-boss days, summer picnics, and other activities to bridge the gap between top management and the work force. But for the everyday grind, let’s face it: Managers manage, and workers work.

Executives need a new perspective when making decisions. This perspective should come from fully understanding the job and how customers view the organization’s performance against their purpose (or what matters to them). Only this change in viewpoint can turn front-line workers from droids to important sources of information, which in turn will drive revenue and reduce costs.

Together, a combination of executives, managers, and workers can look at their systems and perform the shrewdest assessment. This will help all to understand customer purpose, core end-to-end processes, capability, and the system’s existing conditions. We’ll understand why the system functions—or doesn’t. The key is switching from a compartmentalized structure to one in which the entire organization focuses on a common purpose, i.e., customer purpose.

Droids armed with customer purpose (and customer measures derived from that purpose) become innovative juggernauts. Executives can clear paths for innovation as workers experiment with methods to achieve customer purpose. Roles may change, but executives and managers must replace conformance and rules with innovation.


About The Author

Tripp Babbitt’s picture

Tripp Babbitt

Tripp Babbitt the managing partner for The 95 Method - Executive Education and Advisors. The 95 Method is about giving organizations a method to use new theories to grow business.  Babbitt can be reached at tripp@the95method.com. Reach him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TriBabbitt or LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/trippbabbitt

Tripp also does two podcasts: The Deming Institute Podcast and The Effective Executive podcast. 


OK - here's something different

Not sure I buy the whole argument. I agree that we have highly entrenched systems and people who are co-dependent with these systems and the intellectual and emotional inertia that results is stifling innovation. So I buy some of the argument.

But we need workers to comply. And we need them to think. And we need to get everyone to accept that it is OK to do both. If people could comply without letting themselves get sucked into believing that compliance means they are not supposed to think then they would be OK. Think about what empowerment really is. And why don’t we all understand that? How come somebody isn’t out there teaching workers that empowerment means thinking about how you can best comply?

And what is it that makes you think that executives need a new perspective? Like they don’t know how things function. And what makes one believe that organizations don’t understand the job and how the customers view the performance? I think most people and most organizations know these things.

Maybe the executives are the droids who are forced to comply. They are under the scrutiny of the wall street analysts who represent their shareholders, who in a very real sense are a mirror image of their employees. The executives are forced to act in line with the external pressures applied on them from the financial world, customers, the public and employees. So it seems like it might just be a big circle, everybody complying with everyone else. Maybe we can’t do without conformance and rules. The real innovators might be those that conform the best.

A universal truth

To me this article is as important as Tom Paine's pamphlet The Rights of Man, such is the tyranny that it would overthrow and the freedom that it would enable.

At a time when the Western world's dominance is under threat by cost-cutting Eastern economies (with lower wages) this is the one change in thinking supported by a methodology that would protect and save the West.

Unfortunately the major economies appear to be in thrall to the financial consultancy mindset that would destroy the West by outsourcing it to the East (whilst making themselves a tidy profit as they destroy us from within). The thinking that would have Paine's bones (wherever they may be) turning in his grave.

Hurray for Tripp!!