Working Smarter vs. Working Harder LO30197

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 05/21/03

Replying to Ellery July in LO30187 --

Earlier, in LO30172, I wrote:

>"Further, finding ways of working smarter almost always entails
>involving and listening to the people who actually do the work and,
>based upon what is learned, changing the way things are done. This, in
>turn, amounts to acknowledging the power of the workers and admitting
>that management is not all-knowing or all-powerful. Many managers
>cannot bring themselves to do this, even implicitly. Instead, they
>husband to themselves all power and authority. Pressed, they push
>harder. Even when ways of working smarter can be realized without the
>awkwardness of worker involvement and participation, many managers will
>still push people to work harder. Why?
>Because getting people to work smarter AND work harder has more
>immediate economic value and that is what management is all about:
>near-term economic value."

Ellery July replies:

>When I hear comments like the above it is usually based on the writers
>personal experiences which have been generalized to the larger sphere.
>Frankly, your experience is not my experience and your comments and are
>not supported by business research it.

My remarks were most definitely based on my experience, mainly in the
private sector, in for-profit companies in financial services and
telecommunications. I also spent about 10 years in a large, non-profit.
My comments do not apply to that non-profit. As for my comments not being
supported by business research, what research did you have in mind?

>To me working smarter should not a struggle between the queen bees and the
>worker bees. One of the main reasons why companies do not learn is because
>consultants, craftspeople, and others boils conflicts down to management
>vs. employees. This old refrain keeps looping with both management and
>workers feeling unappreciated by the other.

There is no doubt a self-reinforcing aspect to the negative aspects of
management vs employees; however, it is not without basis. There is a
long history of less than harmonious relations between management and
employees across most of business and industry. On occasion, it has
exploded into violence. I don't know that the issue is so much that
neither group feels appreciated by the other as it is that both groups are
extremely suspicious of each other -- and with good reason.

>It is not just about "listening to the people who actually do the work" If
>GM and Ford were do that they would have been out of business in the 70's.
>People Express, RCA, and Bell Labs did that and where are they now.

My comment had to do with just the work itself, not the direction or the
strategy or the positioning of the company writ large. On that score, I
stand by my remark. I have never seen a successful work
process/performance improvement effort that succeeded unless the worker
bees were intimately involved. I have also seen numerous such efforts
attempted and they failed miserably. They were known as "reengineering."

>It is not just about making people work faster because there will always
>be people who can do it faster and/or cheaper. Lastly, after so much speed
>the workers rebel (and rightly so).

I never said it was about making people work faster. I said that most
managers, given the choice between (1) working harder or working smarter
and (2) working harder and working smarter, will opt for choice #2 because
it maximizes the benefit.

>Working smarter is doing what the customer, client, community wants which
>intersect with your mission, vision, and values. To many worker and
>management types miss that intersection point and blame each other.

That's your view of "working smarter," it is not mine. Your view seems to
me to say much more about what work gets done instead of how. When I talk
about working smarter I am talking about how the work gets done.

>I wonder what you base the comment of "management is all about: near-term
>economic value" on. I have worked with a variety of non-profit and small
>and medium cap for-profits and have only seen one company of managers
>think that way.

I've worked mainly with large for-profit corporations and they were all
focused intently on the bottom line. That line, by the way, breaks into
quarterly and monthly increments. My experiences with non-profits seems
consistent with yours.

>Lastly, I listened to this group for a number of years off/on and have
>found many the latest set of e-mails to be counter to the tenets of what I
>see as creating learning environments.

Which set of latest emails? All or just those in this thread?

Finally, my earlier comments were indeed laced with cynicism and, as you
point out, they reflect my experience, no one else's. Caveat reader.


Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting


Fred Nickols <>

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