Published on 2012/07/03

The New “Post-Industrial” Organization: Good Bye Fredrick Taylor

Teamwork and critical decision-making are important elements of being able to perform in the knowledge-based, post-industrial organization. Image by Scott Maxwell

Beware high-control mavens; a very different enterprise is out there which cannot hire graduates trained to ask “how high” whenever faculty shout “jump”. This organization is an information-based company where work is done by task forces comprised of specialists. Middle management, whose ranks have been pared by 30-50 percent and replaced by faster computer systems, manage according to Peter Drucker’s 1959 concept of the “Knowledge Worker”. Mr. Drucker describes knowledge work as work where the task is not given, it has to be determined. In order to be productive, workers must ask “What are the expected outcomes from this work”. And this question demands risky decisions because there is usually no one right answer, yet these are the conditions knowledge workers thrive in.

Thus management requires prowess in motivating and rewarding specialists, devising management structures which bring the best out of teams of experts, and in coordinating expertise with demand in an unobtrusive manner. They must be a coach not a sergeant. Behind the scenes, organizational leaders provide an uninterrupted supply of top-performing specialists and managers, effect continual alignment with purpose, while creating and communicating a vision that unifies an organization of specialists.

Teams, the core performance unit, cut across traditional departments and perform to a score of clear, simple objectives. Coordination and control primarily depends on the workers and their willingness to discipline themselves. “Post Industrial” organizations achieve enterprise objectives through inspiring and developing vision in others, and by appealing to the values and interests of knowledge workers. These organizational characteristics embody the antithesis of Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management, where the cognition of work is controlled by management and execution of the work is carried out by unskilled labour. In the post industrial enterprise both functions are resident in the same person.

Education systems need to train students to think critically, to make competent decisions under pressure in nebulous circumstances through their own cognition, and to work effectively with expert team members while governing themselves, for their graduates to be useful in the new “post industrial” organization.

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Readers Comments

Quincy Bauer 2012/07/08 at 4:25 pm

This is some really interesting insight into the modern-day workplace and the needs placed on our graduates. I think a lot of this stems back to the institution as well; we need to recognize that we want our graduates to be knowledge workers and change our internal institutions and processes to line up with that goal.

I know it’s been said before, but there needs to be more interconnection between different departments and sections of institutions; less silos. It should be easy for students to take courses in the School of Engineering, the School of Management and the Extension, if they choose to do so. We can’t box our students in to single set tracks, they need to have exposure to everything we, as an institution, have to offer.

    Dale Dearing 2012/07/10 at 8:09 pm

    Thanks for you comments regarding integration! I quite agree; if we are truly producing competent knowledge workers, silos would not be possible in order to accomplish this.

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