THE JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP APPLICATIONS
Vol. 3, No. 2
(626) 350-1500 Ext 102
From the Editor:
With this issue the name of our publication has been changed to The Journal of Leadership Applications. The primary reason for the change is that the original Stuff of Heroes newsletter was simply a short article which I wrote. With this issue, the newsletter has been expanded into a journal of applications for leaders and will include more contents every month. Although I will continue to write a short article, I would also like to invite participation by readers who would like to submit articles by e-mail for possible inclusion. All articles will be peer-reviewed for selection. I will also include important articles written in the past.
This month, my own article is followed by an extract from a remarkable business book on leadership and management entitled Increasing the Efficiency of Business. Walter Dill Scott wrote this book almost a hundred years ago in 1910. Yet it deals with many of the issues which still challenge us today. Scott looks into techniques that are cutting edge such as the use of modeling techniques and pleasure versus the impact of salary on performance as motivators. Maslow did his work forty years later. Yet Scott easily anticipates the hierarchy of needs. Only relatively recently has the impact of commitment, knowledge, “making success a habit” and continual improvement been identified as elements of leader interest. But Scott covers them all. I think you will enjoy this chapter on “The Rate of Improvement in Efficiency.”
Undiscovered Gold in Your Organization
William A. Cohen, PhD, Major General, USAFR, Ret.
There is an old saying in the military that in a good army, every solder has a marshal’s baton in his backpack. This is a way of saying that even the most junior employee in an organization should be prepared to assume higher responsibilities in an organization. It also says that there may be top management talent lower down in your organization that is immensely valuable, but currently unrecognized and untapped.
Jim Carroll, one of my doctoral classmates at Claremont Graduate University back in 1978 was a stock boy with only a high school education when hired by his company. Over a seven-year period, he rose from his initial hourly position to the presidency of that firm. During the same period, he went back to college and earned a bachelor’s and then a masters degree at night school.
General Tommy Franks, the four-star general and commander of the forces that invaded Iraq, enlisted in the Army as a private in 1957. He rose to full general rank, the highest rank currently attainable in the U.S. military. In the meantime, he also went back to school and got his degree. I know of a number of other generals and admirals who have similar backgrounds.
However, there is more to this concept of potential personnel gold in your organization than the above. Frequently, and for a variety of reasons, talent exists but goes unrecognized. In one military organization I was in, a young lieutenant was considered only mediocre until one day he was transferred to another unit. He almost instantly “caught fire” and within a few months was recognized by everyone as the top young officer in the organization, and the one with the greatest potential. In later years, he became a general. His former commander could not understand it and could only stammer, “I never thought he was like that, I always thought he wasn’t very good.”
I’ve seen the same thing in academia. A professor was a considered only a fair researcher and a passable teacher. No one ever thought of him as any kind of manager or leader. One day the job of associate dean opened up, and because no one else wanted the job, he was selected. He turned out to be one of the best administrators the College of Business ever saw, and left a year later for a much higher administrative job within the university. One sees the same thing in business where a relatively unsuccessful individual leaves one position, one company, or one industry and becomes highly successful somewhere else.
Historically, one of the greatest examples that comes to mind is that of General, later President, Ulysses S. Grant. During the Civil War, Grant eventually was eventually selected as General-in-Chief of all Union forces. He was the only commander who was able to defeat Confederate General Robert E. Lee and end the war. Prior to the war, Grant had been an unsuccessful dry goods clerk in Galena, Illinois, working for his younger brother who hired him only because he could get a job nowhere else. He had been kicked out of the army for drunkenness. Despite having a strong military background including awards for bravery and leadership during the Mexican War and being a West Point graduate, he was turned down for relatively junior commands until, almost by accident, the Governor of Illinois commissioned him a brigadier general of volunteers from his state. He proved to be the outstanding commander of Federal forces during the war.
This points out the fallacy of the so-called “Peter Principle” put forward by Lawrence J. Peters in a series of best selling books some years ago. Peters theorized that all managers rose to their level of incompetence, at which point they stopped and were promoted no further. If you believe this, than you must believe that all managers are incompetent, or on the way to becoming so. The fact is there are individuals who may be very talented yet may be under performing or even incompetent in a present assignment. Strangely, they may be tops somewhere else.
Nor does this need to be someone who hasn’t yet “made it.” A few years ago there was a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy who was treated with just about how you would expect a janitor to be treated by cadets: with courtesy, but no one thought he was anyone important. The janitor’s name was Bob Crawford. One day an article appeared in a local paper about a Congressional Medal of Honor winner who had dropped out of sight. His name was Bob Crawford. After twenty years service in the Army, he had retired as a master sergeant and then disappeared. The cadets asked the janitor who admitted that he was the same man. On retirement, everyone wanted to hire him because of his medal. Instead, he sought an inconspicuous government job. He found it as a janitor at the Air Force Academy. He promised to teach the cadets about combat leadership if they would keep his secret, and I guess as long as he lived, they did.
Why does this gold in organizations go unnoticed? The most common reason is that these individuals are currently in assignments where others do not perceive their potential. General Grant certainly supplies us with an excellent example of this. He may have been a so-so clerk, but he was an outstanding general and was capable of functioning as a U.S. President. Only four years separated the clerk from the president! I can’t say whether Bob Crawford was a good janitor or not, but he certainly had far more to offer.
This is close to the danger about which schoolteachers have been cautioned: you get what you expect. One study done was one in which certain students in a new class were identified as “academically challenged” while other students were identified as “gifted.” When the first term’s grading was completed the “gifted” students tended to have the highest grades in the class while the “academically challenged” students had the lowest, confirming the student evaluations given the teachers. The only problem was that the categories assigned both groups of students were assigned at random and had no basis in fact. Some students who previously had the poorest academic records now held the top grades in the class, and some others who had previously achieved top grades were now ranked in the bottom category.
What all this means is that there may well be valuable employees in some very mundane and less important jobs in your organization. What can you do about identifying these individuals and then putting them where they can do the most good?
One way is to rotate responsible, but temporary job assignments so that employees can be given authority and responsibilities at significantly higher levels from those at which they normally operate. This tends to work better for mid-to-upper level employees.
Another technique is to offer voluntary training for equal level or maybe positions at the next level up. You can arrange things so that an employee and the organization each give up equal time for this training. So, if the training is from 4-6 pm every day, the company allows the employee to take off from his or her normal job from 4-5pm, and the employee, who normally leaves at 5pm, stays an extra hour.
A third suggestion is to find ways to get junior people into leadership opportunities. For example, if they have a special skill, from wind surfing to combat leadership, you can help set up classes to teach other members of the organization.
Who knows where this can lead? Gold mining can make the miner rich. It can do the same you’re your organization!
THE RATE OF IMPROVEMENT IN EFFICIENCY
by Walter Scott Dill
No novice develops suddenly into an expert. Nevertheless the progress made by beginners is often astounding. The executive with experience is not deceived by the showing made by new men. He has learned to accept rapid initial progress, but he does not assume that this initial rate of increase will be sustained.
The rate at which skill is acquired has been the subject of many careful studies. The results have been charted and reduced to curves, variously spoken of as “efficiency curves,” “practice curves,” “learning curves,” according to the nature of the task or test. Some of these dealt with the routine work of office and factory. In others typical muscular and mental activities were observed in a simpler form than could be found in actual practice.
Five of my advanced students joined me in strenuous practice in adding columns of figures for a few minutes daily for a month. Our task was to add 765 one-place figures daily in the shortest possible time. No emphasis was placed on accuracy, but each one tried to make the highest daily record for speed. The results of our practice are graphically shown in Curve A of Fig. 1. As shown in that curve for the first day our average speed was only forty-two combinations per minute, but for the thirtieth day our average was seventy-four combinations per minute, We did not quite
double our speed by the practice, and we made but little improvement in accuracy. The most rapid gain was, as anticipated, during the first few days. We made but little progress from the sixteenth to the twenty-third day, and also from the twenty-fourth to the thirtieth day.
Of the six persons practicing addition, five of us also practiced the making of a maximum grip with a thumb and forefinger. Just before beginning the adding each day this maximum grip (or pinch) was exerted once a second for sixty seconds, first with the right hand and then with the left. Likewise at the completion of the addition sixty grips were taken by the right hand and sixty by the left. The total pressure exerted by each individual in the 240 trials (four minutes) was then recorded and expressed in kilograms. The result of the experiment is shown in curve B of Fig. 1. The average total pressure for each of the five persons was for the first day 620 kilograms; for the twenty-fourth day 1400 kilograms. Our increase was very rapid for the first few days, and no general slump was encountered till the last week of practice. In one particular our results in the test on physical strength were not anticipated — we did not suppose that by practicing four minutes daily for thirty days we could double our physical strength in any such a series of maximum grips with the thumb and forefinger.
It is a simple matter to measure day by day the accomplishment of one learning to use the typewriter. All beginners who take the work seriously and work industriously pass through similar stages in this learning process. Figure 2 represents the record for the first eighty-six days of a learner who was devoting, in all, sixty minutes daily to actual writing. The numbers to the left of the figure in the vertical column indicate the number of strokes (including punctuations and shifts) made in ten minutes. The numbers on the base line indicate the days of practice. Thus on the ninth day the learner wrote 700 strokes in the ten minutes; on the fifty-fourth day 1300 strokes; on the eighty-sixth day over 1400 strokes.
Figure 3 represents the results of a writer of some little experience who spent one hour a day writing a special form of copy. In this curve it will be observed that the
increase in efficiency was very great during the first few weeks, but that during the succeeding weeks little improvement was made. — BOOK, W. R, “The Psychology of Skill,” p. 20.
The progress of a telegraph operator is determined by the number of words which he
can send or receive with accuracy per minute. In learning telegraphy, progress is rapid for a few weeks and then follow many weeks of less rapid improvement. Figure 4 presents the history of a student of telegraphy who was devoting all his time to sending and receiving messages. His speed was measured once a week from his first week to the time when he could be classed as a fully accomplished operator. By the twentieth week this operator could receive less than 70 letters a minute, although he could send over 120 letters a minute. At the end of the fortieth week he had reached a speed of sending which he would probably never greatly excel even though his speed was far below that attained by many operators. The receiving rate might possibly rise either slowly or rapidly until it equaled or exceeded the sending rate. — BRYAN & HARTER, “Studies in the Physiology and Psychology of the Telegraphic Language,” Psychological Review, Vol. IV, p. 49.
There are certain forms of learning and practice which do not readily admit of quantitative determinations. Nevertheless very successful attempts have been made even in the most difficult realms of learning. A beginner with the Russian language spent 30 minutes daily in industrious study and then was tested for 15 minutes as to the number of Russian words he could translate. Figure 5 shows diagrammatically the results of the experiment. Thus on the thirteenth day 22 words were translated; on the fiftieth day 45 words. Improvement was rather rapid until the nineteenth day, and then followed a slump till the forty-sixth day. Improvement was very irregular. — SWIFT, E. J., “Mind in the Making,” p. 198.
These five figures are typical of nearly all practice, or learning, curves. They depict the rate at which the beginner increases his efficiency. In every case we discover very great fluctuations. On one day or at one moment there is a sudden phenomenal improvement. The next day or even the next moment the increase may be lost and a return made to a lower stage of efficiency.
There are certain forms of skill which cannot be acquired rapidly in the beginning. In such instances a period of time is necessary in which to “warm up” or in which to acquire the knack of the operation or the necessary degree of familiarity and self-confidence before improvement becomes possible. This is true particularly in the “breaking in” of new operators on large machines like steam hammers, cranes, and the like, where the mass and power of the machine awes the new man, even though he has had experience with smaller units of some kind. It applies also to new inspectors of mechanical parts and completed products in factories — especially where the factor of judgment enters into the operation. Such instances are exceptions, however, and differ from those cited only in having a period of slow advance preliminary to the rapid progress.
Apparently, improvement should be continuous until the learner has entered into the class of experts or has reached his possible maximum. As a matter of fact the curve which expresses his advance towards efficiency never rises steadily from a low degree to a high one. Periods of improvement are universally followed by stages of stagnation or retrogression. These periods of little or no improvement following periods of rapid improvement are called “plateaus” and are found in the experience of all who are acquiring skill in any line.
These plateaus are not all due to the same cause. They differ somewhat with individuals and even more with the nature of the task in which skill is being acquired. With all, however, the following four factors are the most important influence: —
1. The enthusiasm dependent upon novelty becomes exhausted.
2. All easy improvements have been made.
3. A period of “incubation” is needed in which the new habits under formation may have time to develop.
4. Voluntary attention cannot be sustained for a long period of time.
These four factors are not only the causes of the first plateau, but, as soon as any particular plateau is overcome and advance again begun, they are likely to arrest the advance and to cause another period of recession or of no advance. These four factors are therefore most significant to every man who is trying to increase his own efficiency or promote the progress of others.
When the interest in work is dependent on novelty, the plateau comes early in the development, and further progress is possible only by the injection of new motives to action.
Many young persons begin things with enthusiasm, but drop them when the novelty has worn off. They develop no stable interests and in all their tasks are superficial. They often have great potential ability, but lack training in habits of industry and of continued application. They change positions often, acquire much diversified experience, and frequently, in a new position, give promise of developing unusual skill or ability. This is due to the fact that during the first weeks or months of their new employment the novelty of the work stimulates them to activity, and the methods or habits learned in other trades are available for application to the new tasks. When the novelty wears off, however, they become wearied and cast about for a fresh and therefore more alluring field. Such nomads prove unprofitable employees even when they are the means of introducing new methods or short cuts into a business. They strike a plateau and lose interest and initiative just at the point where more industrious and less superficial men would begin to be of the greatest value.
Plateaus are not confined to clerks and other subordinates. Executives frequently “go stale” on their jobs and lose their accustomed energy and initiative. Sometimes they are able to diagnose their own condition and provide the corrective stimulus. Again the man higher up, if he has the wisdom and discernment which some gain from experience, observes the situation and prescribes for his troubled lieutenant. In the majority of cases, however, the occupant of a plateau, if he continues thereon for any length of time, either resigns despondent or is dismissed.
Such a case, coming under my notice recently, illustrates the man-losses suffered by organizations whose heads do not realize that salaries alone will not buy efficiency.
A young advertising man had almost grown up with his house, coming to it when not yet twenty in a minor position in the sales department. Enthusiastic about his possibilities, with the friendship and cooperation of his immediate superior, he carried out well the successive duties put to him. Promotion was rapid. No position was retained more than six months. In five years he had occupied nearly every subordinate position in the sales department, and was promoted to the head of the mail-order section.
His fertility in originating plans, his schemes, his booklets, and advertising copy brought results with regularity. He became known as a man who could “put the thing over” in a pinch, with a vigor and enthusiasm that seemed irresistible. He fairly earned his standing as the live wire among executives of the second rank.
So, when the general sales manager resigned, there was no question but that this young man should succeed him. He had been a personal friend of his predecessor, had cooperated with him in many phases of his work, and knew his new duties well; in fact, he took them up with little necessity for “breaking in.”
This apparently favorable condition was the very reason for his lack of success in the new work. There was not the novelty in this position that there had been in his former successive positions. In such an executive position, it was not a question of taking care of an emergency demand, but of organization, of establishing routine, of organizing bigger campaigns. Before the end of the first season it became evident that the new sales manager was not making good. Everything — organization, discipline, routine system, ginger — had deserted him. Neither he himself nor his employers, however, found the real cause. “I have lost my grip,” he told the general manager. “I am worn out and of no further use to this business.”
Furthermore he thought he was of no use to any business. But he made a connection with a big house which had a large advertising campaign on its hands. He threw himself into the task of recasting the firm’s selling literature, the planning of new campaigns, and the reorganization of the correspondence department. Within the year, he had duplicated on a magnified scale his early triumphs with his first employers. Moreover, he continued this record of efficiency the second year, thus entirely refuting the fear of himself and his friends that he would “last less than a year” and that he lacked staying power.
His first employer described the case for me the other day, requesting that I discover the reason for the young man’s initial failure among friends and his subsequent triumph in a new environment. He had kept in close touch with the other’s progress and supplied a hundred details which helped to make the situation clear. Finally, after consideration, he agreed with my diagnosis that his young friend’s falling off in efficiency — his plateau — had been due to the exhaustion of novelty interest in his work.
His first success was built on a long series of separate plans or “stunts,” each of which was begun and executed in a burst of creative enthusiasm. His first few months’ achievement as sales manager was due to the same stimulus, but as the months went by the spur of novelty became dulled. Lacking the discipline which would have enabled him to force voluntary attention and the resulting interest in his tasks, he failed also to trace the cause of his flagging invention and energy and assumed that this was due to exhaustion of his resources.
This is further borne out by his experience in his present position. Addressing a succession of new tasks, the interest of novelty has stimulated him to an uncommon degree and produced an unbroken record of high efficiency. That this has continued over a considerable period is partly due, beyond doubt, to the sustained interest in his work excited by the broadness of the field before him, the bigness of the company, the size of the appropriation at his disposal, the unusual experience of scoring hit after hit by comparison with the house’s low standards, the frank and prompt appreciation of his superiors, and substantial advances in salary.
It is only human to be more or less dependent upon novelty. If I am to stir myself to continuous and effective exertion, I must frequently stimulate my interest by proposing new problems and new aspects of my work. If I am to help others to increase their efficiency, I must devise new appeals to their interest and new stimulations to action. If I have been dependent upon competition as a stimulus I must change the form of the contest — a fact which receives daily recognition and application by the most efficient sales organization in the country. If I have been depending upon the stimulating effect of wages, there is profit occasionally in varying the method of payment or in furnishing some new concrete measure of the value of the wage. To the average worker, for example, a check means much less than the same amount in gold. In deference to this common appreciation of “cold cash,” various firms have lately abandoned checks and pay in gold and banknotes, even though this change means many hours of extra work for the cashier.
At every stage of our learning, progress is aided by the utilization of old habits and old fragments of knowledge.
In learning to add, the schoolboy employs his previous knowledge of numbers. In learning to multiply he builds upon his acquaintance with addition and subtraction. In solving problems in percentage his success is measured by the freedom with which he can use the four fundamental processes of addition, subtraction, Multiplication, and division. In computing bank discount, his skill is based on ability to employ his previous experience with percentage and the fundamental processes of arithmetic.
The advance here is typical of all learning processes. In mastering the typewriter no absolutely new movement is required. The old familiar movements of arm and hand are united in new combinations. The student has previously learned the letters found in the copy and can identify them upon the keys of the typewriter. Scrutiny enables him to find any particular key, and in the course of a few hours be develops a certain awkward familiarity with the keyboard and acquires some speed by utilizing these familiar muscular movements and available bits of knowledge. All these prelearned movements and associations are brought into service in the early stages of improvement, and a degree of proficiency is quickly attained which cannot be exceeded so long as these prelearned habits and associations alone are employed. Further advance in speed and accuracy is dependent upon combinations more difficult to make because they involve organization of the old and acquisition of new methods of thought or movement. When such a difficulty is faced, a plateau in the learning curve is almost inevitable.
The young man who enters upon the work of a salesman can make immediate use of a multitude of previous habits and previously acquired bits of knowledge. He performs by habit all the ordinary movements of the body; by habit he speaks, reads, and writes. During his previous experience he has acquired some skill in judging people, in addressing them, and in influencing them. His general information and his practice in debate and conversation — however crude — enable him to analyze his selling proposition and unite these selling points into an argument. He learns, too, to avoid certain errors and to make use of certain factors of his previous experience. Thus his progress is rapid for a short time but soon the stage is reached where his previous experience offers no more factors which can be easily brought to his service. In such an emergency the novice may cease to advance — if indeed there is not a positive retrogression.
Nor is this tendency to strike a plateau confined to clerks in the office and to semi-skilled men in the factory. Often the limitations of a new executive are brought out sharply by his failure to handle a situation much less difficult than scores which he has already mastered and thereby built up a reputation for unusual efficiency. His collapse, when analyzed, can usually be traced to the fact that his previous experience contained nothing on which he could directly base a decision. His prior efficiency was based on empirical knowledge rather than on judgment or ability to analyze problems.
The office manager of an important mercantile house is a case in point. Though young, he had served several companies in the same capacity, making a distinct advance at each change. He was a trained accountant, a clever employment man, and a successful handler of men and women. His association with the various organizations from which he had graduated gave him an unusual fund of practical knowledge and tried-out methods to draw upon.
His first six months were starred with brilliant detail reorganizations. The shipping department, first; the correspondence division next; the accounting department third, and he literally swept through the office like the proverbial new broom, caught up all the loose ends, and established a routine like clockwork. So successful was his work that the directors hastened to add supervision of sales and collections.
Forthwith the new manager struck his plateau. His previous experience offered little he could readily use in shaping a sales policy or laying out a collection program. He plunged into the details of both, effected some important minor economies, but failed altogether — as subsequent events showed — to grasp the constructive needs and opportunities of management. He puzzled and irritated his district managers by overemphasizing details when they wanted decisions or policies or help in handling sales emergencies. In the same way, he neglected collections, — chiefly because he could not distinguish between detail and questions of policy, — but escaped blame for more than six months because the season was conceded to be a poor one.
Not till he resigned and the general manager investigated the sales and collection departments did the real cause of the failure become evident. Important and numerous as had been the economics instituted, they all fell under the head of the “easy improvements ” based on previous experience and observation. When problems outside this experience presented themselves, the manager encountered his plateau.
In the acquisition of skill, days of progress are followed by stationary periods. “Time must be taken out” to allow the formation of a habit or the organization of this new knowledge or skill.
All trees and plants have periods of growth followed by periods of little or no growth. In May and June the leaves and branches shoot forth very rapidly, but the new growth is pulpy and tender. During succeeding days or months, these tender shots are filled in and developed. In learning and in habit formation a similar sequence is lived through. We have days of swift advancement followed by days in which the new stage or method of thinking and acting takes time to become organized and solidified. The nervous system has to adjust itself to the new demands, and such adjusting requires time.
Although periods of incubation are essential for every specific habit, practically every act of skill is dependent upon a number of simpler habits. At any one time progress may be made in utilizing some of these habits, even though others could not be advantageously hastened. Thus the period of incubation should not necessarily cause any profound slump in the advance. Almost invariably, however, it produces a plateau which persists until the worker has mastered the expert way. The golf player, for example, usually finds he is able to drive longer and straighter balls at the beginning of the season than a little later. The reason is that in golf the perfect stroke is the product of almost automatic muscular action. In the first round the swing of the driver or iron is not consciously governed, and the muscular habit of the previous year controls. Later, as the player concentrates on his task of correcting little faults or learning more effective methods, his stroke loses its automatic quality, his game falls off, and it is not until he masters his new form that he attains high efficiency.
The same cycle is repeated in office and factory operations, where efficiency is possible only when the hands carry out automatically the desired action. In typewriting and telegraphy, in the handling of adding machines, in the feeding of drill presses, punch presses, and hundreds of special machines, the learner passes through three distinct phases: first, swift improvement in which prelearned movements and skill are brought to bear on the task under the stimulus of both novelty interest and voluntary interest; second, arrested progress — the period of incubation or habit formation; and the final stage of automatic skill and efficiency.
Since increase of efficiency is dependent upon continued efforts of will, slumps are inevitable. Voluntary attention cannot be sustained for a long period.
Work requiring effort is always subject to fluctuations. The man with a strong will may make the lapses in attention relatively short. He may be on his guard and “try to try” most faithfully, but no exertion of the will can keep up a steady expenditure of effort in any single activity. All significant increases in efficiency, however, are dependent upon voluntary attention — upon extreme exertions of the will.
No man can develop into an expert without great exertion of the will. Such exertions of the will are recognized by authorities as being very exhaustive and unstable. One of the greatest of the authorities and one who in particular has emphasized the necessity of a “do-or-die” attitude of work concludes his discussion with the following significant admission: “All this suggests that if one wants to improve at the most rapid rate, he must work when he can feel good and succeed, then lounge and wait until it is again profitable to work. It is when all the conditions are favorable that the forward steps or new adaptations are made.”
Voluntary attention must be employed in making the advance step, in improving our method of work, and in making any sort of helpful changes. But voluntary attention must not be depended upon to secure steady and continuous utilization of the improved method or rate of work. To secure this end, an attempt should be made to reduce the work to habit so far as possible and also to secure spontaneous interest either from interest and pleasure in the work itself or because of the reward to be received.
The case of the young sales manager, described in the first part of this article, suggests some of the methods by which this interest can be secured. The chief factor in his progress was the interest in the work itself due to the novelty of his successive tasks — an element impossible to introduce into the average man’s job. Yet there were other and powerful motives stimulating his interest: the responsibility of organizing a big department and of directing the expenditure of large sums of money; the prompt credit given him and the growing confidence extended to him; and the expression of their appreciation in the concrete shape of salary increases.
It is quite true that these various stimulating factors cannot be produced indefinitely; tasks must “stale,” praise grow monotonous, salaries touch their top level. But “making good” and finding interests in work crystallize into habits which endure as long as conditions remain fair. The rise of the efficiency curve thus depends upon recurrent periods of successful struggle followed by periods of habit formation and by the development of powerful spontaneous interests.
Voluntary interest is a valuable thing to possess, but a difficult thing to secure either within ourselves or in those under our charge.
In its psychological aspect, scientific management enters here. By working out and establishing a standard method and standard time for various “repeat” operations a workman is engaged in, it encourages — and even enforces — the formation of new efficiency habits. The bonus paid for the accomplishment of the task in the specified time supplies an immediate and powerful motive to the effort necessary to master the “right way” of doing things.
In the main, employees do their best to acquire efficiency; but their humanness must not be forgotten, and the burden of increasing efficiency must be carried largely by the executive. His part it is to supply interest, if the nature of the work forbids the finding of it there, he must introduce it from outside either by competition, by emphasizing the connection between the task and the reward, as in piecework, or by provision of a bonus for the achievement of a certain standard of efficiency.
He must eliminate the factors in environment or organization which distract employees and make voluntary interest more difficult. He must provide the means of training and must understand the possibilities and the limitations of training. If a man “slumps” in efficiency, he must look for the cause and make sure this is not beyond the man’s control before he punishes him. In a word, he must allow for periods of incubation or unconscious organization before expecting maximum results from a new employee or an old man assigned to a new job.
The man who by persistent effort has developed himself into an expert has greatly enhanced his value to society. The boss who demands expert service from untrained men is either a tyrant or a fool. But the executive who develops novices into experts and the company which transforms mere “handy men” into mechanics are public benefactors because of the service rendered to the country and their men.
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THIS MONTH’S THOUGHT
“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come to the conclusion that the gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge.”