Frederick Taylor pioneered the concept of Time and Motion studies in the early 1900s. This was right in the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution. He was a qualified Mechanical Engineer and became one of the first professional Management Consultants. Taylor focused on improving industrial efficiency by bringing science into the field of productivity. He introduced the concepts of selecting, training and developing individuals to accomplish simple tasks instead of expecting them to learn passively through observation and supervision. He also encouraged employers to divide work equally between managers and workers, while establishing the concepts of budgeting and performance management.
Taylor inspired James McKinsey, who founded the global consulting firm bearing his name. Their thinking helped with the design of efficient workplaces that allowed production to run smoothly along carefully designed assembly lines. This would eventually lead to lean manufacturing methods that were adopted by Japanese and US vehicle manufacturers to further improve efficiency, productivity and significantly reduce waste and production defects.
From Doing Things Right to Doing the Right Things
Over the years, mechanisation and robotics have automated many of these manual and repetitive tasks, leading to the Third Industrial Revolution. Employers could now ensure greater efficiency and quality, requiring fewer blue-collar workers. This shifted the requirements of productivity from doing things right, to doing the right things. As we enter the Fourth Industrial Revolution, this shift becomes even more profound. Our employees are no longer expected to focus on applying technical skills and displaying their physical abilities and prowess. They now need to be creative, solve complex problems and rely on social and networking skills to accomplish vague targets where success is not clear or defined.
Productivity is not measured by counting widgets the way Taylor and his consultants did 100 years ago. Customers have different demands and expectations now. They want an experience, not just a product. Social media, online shops and the Internet of Things are slowly transforming the way that we buy and sell almost everything. From groceries and insurance to banking, holidays and transportation. The fastest growing corporations are no longer selling products, they are providing services online. Amazon, Facebook, Nvidia, Paycom, and Arista to name but a few.
Artificial Intelligence and Going to Mars
The dawn of Artificial Intelligence brings exciting new opportunities for employers and employees. Flexible working arrangements, cloud technology, education, medical care, nutrition and provision of energy. NASA envisioned us populating Mars by 1988. This did not happen, but thanks to one remarkable South African entrepreneur, the sights are now set on 2030 – perhaps even sooner than that.
What will we do on Mars? To start with, learn to produce our own food and water, find new energy sources and materials on the planet to build and power up the habitation complexes. But then the focus will shift to scientific discovery and technological breakthrough. Mars will start exporting knowledge to Earthlings – not raw materials. Not manufactured goods. But ideas, concepts and technological solutions.
This significantly transforms the way we measure success and productivity. Forget trying to identify leading and lagging indicators. Success will depend completely on thinking, no longer on doing. Productivity will not be based on what you can produce but on intangible measures such as contributing novel ideas, collaboratively solving complicated problems and strategic decision-making based on predictions and analytics. Managing performance must be ongoing and feedback cannot be limited to annual engagement surveys and appraisals.
Where to for South Africa?
What does this mean for South Africa? Data and ISP fees need to drop (significantly) so that we can enter the virtual world without any hindrances. Our education system needs to be overhauled to allow for rapid adoption of new technology and exposure to online content. If we fail, we will fall further and further behind the technological wave and risk becoming stuck in the backwaters and political quagmire with other developing countries like Argentina, Brazil, and Indonesia. Russia, China and India have embraced technological advancement to drive better productivity and this has shown a consistent improvement in their Capital ratios over the last few decades.
George will be speaking on identifying talent by triangulating results of performance reviews, psychometric assessments and Microsoft Office behaviour at this year’s HR + L&D Innovation & Tech Fest. You can grab your ticket for this year’s event here.
About the Author
George Honiball is the Talent Manager at Rand Mutual Assurance. He is an Industrial Psychologist with over 25 years of experience as a Senior Manager and Business Consultant with companies based in South Africa as well as the United Kingdom. He has two children, is a published author and brews his own beer.