In 1909, Frederick Winslow Taylor wrote a book entitled The Principles of Scientific Management. The management approach now known as “Command and Control” was born. This has dominated vast numbers of businesses for decades.

Taylor’s approach was the first to bring scientific methods of observation and measurement to bear on how people actually did their work. He aimed at optimising their work practices rather than trying to make them work harder and harder.

For much of the last century, manufacturing firms were the dominant employers, acting as role models for how to run a business. Taylor’s approach led to standardised, repeatable work – a formula that became the goal of most senior managers. However, times have changed.

Getting today’s employees to repeat tasks ceaselessly, bypassing the cerebral cortex in the humdrum act of mechanical repetition, is a quick way to lose valuable, intelligent talent. As a Gestalt practitioner with a holistic approach to human organisations, I see big problems with a management perspective that sees failure to achieve imposed and un-negotiated targets in terms of employees failing to do what they’re supposed to do. I prefer systems thinking to the assumption that you can observe and measure all you need to by studying a part of the whole.

When managers begin thinking of the parts of their business as interactive and integrated components of a system, when they walk through their company end to end from employees’ and customers’ perspectives, they become far more aware of new and valuable sources of informational input for decision-making, improving the experience of staff and customers, and the efficiency and reputation of their companies.

Responding more sensitively to what employees have to say about how their work could be enhanced, and what customers have to say about how their satisfaction can be improved, can be transformative. However, it involves thinking systemically, not like a boot camp drill sergeant.

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