The Perils Of Scientific Management

Big data offers credit unions a trove of useful information, but how might specific information negatively affect processes?

Technology is advancing to the point where it’s possible for employers to closely observe employee movements to help them better understand how the workplace operates, how work flows, and why someone isn’t producing as expected.

It’s not uncommon for institutions that are already tracking employee movements to find that those who have more social interaction are more productive. Ben Waber, chief executive of Sociometric Solutions, a Boston-based management services organization, believes the capabilities provided by technology that tracks social relationships are profound.

As reported in a June New York Times article, when Waber’s company studied Bank of America call center workers it found that those in tight-knit communications groups were more productive and less likely to quit. B of A responded by introducing a 15-minute coffee break into the daily routine of these employees. According to Waber, call-handling productivity increased more than 10% and turnover declined nearly 70%.

Although sociometric analysis can lead to gains in productivity, distilling the workplace down to one-off interactions does have it side effects. According to the Timesarticle, this detailed level of oversight recalls the early 20th century idea of scientific management. Also known as Taylorism, this management theory analyzes workflows with the end goal of improving efficiency through productivity. For example, a manufacturing company would adopt an idealized, uniform, and rigid set of process that valued productivity above all else. In this environment workers are drones, surrogates for production.

It’s easy to understand why scientific management fell out of favor. Emphasis on productivity necessitates micromanagement. Every second or movement counts and innovation and creativity are stifled.

The ability to tap into an expansive amount of member and employer data is changing the way institutions operate, from marketing to product development. In all this excitement, though, remember this information isn’t quantitative, it’s qualitative. It relates to people and not a bottom line. When you are striving to reach your productivity goals, don’t forget about the wants and needs of your employees, too.

September 3, 2014

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