The future of management is talent development

What is the major difference between the scientific management framework that informed so many of our work practices, and the new management requirements for the connected enterprise in the network age?

Frederick Winslow Taylor started with a basic assumption about the difference between labour and management. Labour was stupid and management was intelligent.

Now one of the very first requirements for a man who is fit to handle pig iron as a regular occupation is that he shall be so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles in his mental make-up the ox than any other type. The man who is mentally alert and intelligent is for this very reason entirely unsuited to what would, for him, be the grinding monotony of work of this character. Therefore the workman who is best suited to handling pig iron is unable to understand the real science of doing this class of work.-  F.W. Taylor in Principles of Scientific Management (1911)

This attitude still permeates our organizations, whether we realize it or not.

Taylorism-derived job analysis, evaluation and measurement are the tools (along with their underlying assumptions) that are used to create the skeletal architecture of hierarchical organizations, the pyramid we all know. – Jon Husband in Knowledge, power, and an historic shift in work and organizational design

The assumption of an organizational hierarchy is that the further up the organization chart you go, then the more educated and intelligent you are. But what happens when the work at the bottom of the pyramid gets automated or outsourced? Taylor assumed that only management could see the whole system. In the connected enterprise, everyone has to see the whole system, all the time. This makes many of our assumptions about how work should be organized completely irrelevant, and perhaps even dangerous for any organization where its outputs are important to society, investors, management, or workers.

Network management assumes human creative potential can be realized in supportive and challenging environments by engaging everyone.

We need creativity at the company level to respond effectively to increasing competition and uncertainty. We also need creativity at the worker level to define jobs that will be augmented, rather than replaced, by machines … The reason for the firm to exist now? Talent development. Firms will exist so that workers can learn and grow much faster than they could on their own. – John Hagel in Wired: Here’s How to Keep the Robots From Stealing Our Jobs

A focus on Talent development means growing and supporting customized work and letting the robots do the Labour. It requires some fundamental organizational redesign, from compensation, to competencies, and even redefining management. Network management focuses on Talent development. Everything else is superfluous.

future  management


7 Responses to “The future of management is talent development”

  1. Tarik Taman

    Short, but compelling. I believe you are right Harold but I also believe that for some organizations adapting to the 21st Century will be too painful or difficult. Those that succeed will have the processes, technology and – crucially – the culture to see talent as the core asset of their organization

  2. Anna Pehar

    I agree entirely with your comment, with one remark: as long as ‘talent’ isn’t seen as limited to a certain age group, which it currently is in most organisations. It’s a huge mistake and loss of valuable knowledge and resources if as a manager you are of the opinion that people stop developing at 35.

  3. April Mills

    How do you see the shift toward job customization contradicting the Lean push toward standard work? Is Lean being used as a way to drive work back toward Taylor?

    • Harold

      Lean is all about efficiency. It cannot address effectiveness. Yes, it is a move backwards, in my opinion, especially if it is the only driver in the company.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)