Dec 6, 2007

The line worker's potential recognized in 1923

I have a fondness for old books about manufacturing, and actually read them from time to time. I like tracing the history of ideas and methods. We think we’re coming up with new stuff as we study lean, but we are not. People just stopped paying attention to what past generations were saying.

I was paging through Production Handbook, edited by Alford and Bangs and published by the Ronald Press in 1949 (copyright 1944). Among the more than 80 contributors and advisors was Thomas G. Spates, VP, General Foods Corp. His forte was what was then called “personnel administration,” but he had a human resources attitude, writing:

"Personnel administration is a code of the ways of organizing and treating individuals at work so that they will get the greatest possible realization of their intrinsic abilities, thus attaining maximum efficiency for themselves and their group, and thereby giving to the enterprise of which they are a part its determining competitive advantage and its optimum results."

Alford also quotes (I believe from work by Spates) E.K. Hall of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, the first to be given the title of VP of personnel relations, who spoke to the Illinois Manufacturers Association in 1923. Hall’s address was entitled, “A Plea for the Man in the Ranks.” Let’s just grant that there weren’t too many women in the ranks then. Please note that it is “for” the man in the ranks, as in “on behalf of,” not “to” the line worker:

"Now here is the plea I want to make for the man in the ranks. Make him a member of the team, just a straight honest-to-God member, and treat him like one until he realizes himself that he is a member. That will take time. It will take quite a lot of time. He does not think he is on the team now. He does not think that you think he is on the team now. He thinks that you consider your team consists of the men whose names are listed on your organization chart—the chart showing your line and staff organization. He thinks that he is working for that team and not on it."

Note that he addresses resistance, by saying that you must treat a person as a member of the team until that becomes part of that person’s thinking and feeling. And it can take “quite a bit of time,” to use Hall’s phrase. You’re not going to persuade someone that has been treated like an interchangeable part that he or she is now a team member. People are smarter than that, and they have seen it all before. Let’s face it, many managers instinctively think of people working for them, even almost 85 years after E.K. Hall told an influential group of manufacturing executives that was untrue.

(I tried to find the full text of Hall’s speech online and failed. I did find a book by Spates that I ordered and which is on its way to me right now.)

People like Ohno and Shingo weren’t sitting around dreaming up the principles of the Toyota Production System. They studied and observed everything they could find. What happened here?

1 comment:

wapplers said...

So did you receive the book?

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