Improve the Work . . . Not Blame the Worker

Thursday, February 26, 2009 by Tripp Babbitt

The front-line worker (and by the way it is "front-line" vs. "low-level") is continually sought for blame in organizations.  The command and control thinker has many tools in place to track performance for these poor souls like performance appraisals, coaching, technology, scripts, policies, regulations, performance/productivity measures, work standards, rewards/incentives, quality control, etc.  The problem is that the focus is on the wrong thing.  You see 95% of problems (failure demand) are attributable to the system and only 5% to the individual, so why waste resources that won’t solve the problem?  Because we all have been taught that way from scientific management theory that prevails in almost every US service business.

Our focus has been on how to get someone to do (or more of it) and not how do we make the system better.  Managements view is limited, focused on costs.  In a management paradox the focus costs, actually increases them.  The productivity mindset unwittingly forces the quality down. 

For example, take a call center with the mantra to reduce AHT (Average Hold Time) if I do not answer a customers question, will the customer not call back (failure demand) and take up more time plus be upset with the service?  Doesn’t the additional call (or calls) wind up costing more money?  What about the impact on customer?  None of these show up in the costs, but they are real and buried in the "unknown and/or unknowable" costs to the system. 

The focus needs to be on the system and will require leadership and thinking . . . systems thinking.  The system is made up of customer demand, work design and flow, information technology, training, hiring, etc. all well beyond the ability of the worker to change or influence.  W. Edwards Deming used to say "Did you hire the wrong people or just kill’em?"  I have found command and control organizations just kill them.  Most workers walk in as a new hire with high expectations and a good attitude before the system beats them down.

If you want business cost reduction, business improvement and/or organizational change you need to start to change from command and control to systems thinking.  A free download is available from my site ( to get you started.  Save a worker, get started improving the work today!

Comments for Improve the Work . . . Not Blame the Worker

Leave a comment