Employee Motivation, the Organizational Environment and Productivity

Historical perspective on productivity and employee motivation

Historical perspective on productivity improvement

The present role of management services and the wider perspective

The economic situation today is one of increasing uncertainty and ambiguity. The rapid growth in national prosperity, that took place during the 1990s is now firmly behind us. The ground rules, that may have applied then, no longer apply.

Foreign competition has grown and technological change has changed our social fabric in ways that will require a quite different response from that which has gone before.

The working environment is changing and will continue to do so; there are many different prognoses for how these effects of post-industrialization will affect our working lives and society generally.

Organizations often seek quick results and this has led in the past to an overreliance on work measurement, especially as a means of raising labor performance through incentive schemes, rather than by a concentration of effort on method improvements. Not only has this practice antagonized workers, leading them to believe that work measurement is meant to control earnings, but it shows a misdirection of resources and a fundamental error of emphasis.

Management findings, highlighting the degree to which worker participation can improve performance, have been glossed over and much evidence points to the fact that incentive schemes do not always lead to higher productivity in quantifiable terms (Bowey et al. (1982)).

Work measurement is essentially about keeping things going in a steady state in contrast to method study, which is applicable, when circumstances are more fluid.

Methods and Process Improvement

Method study is about innovation and change, where the quantifiable payback is uncertain, but the attraction of work measurement is that it provides relatively quick, measurable results often preferred by managers to the less tangible results of method study.

Further, it has been argued by Parris (1979) that the credibility of practitioners to undertake methods investigations suffers when all they do is work measurement, for the purpose of setting targets. Method study requires an innovative problem–solving approach which contrasts the mechanical procedures associated with work measurement and the attainment of targets.

Past failure to respond to the challenge has been the focus of much criticism of the profession. Criticism of professional institutions is not confined to the management services profession.

Irrelevant or inappropriate "best practice".

For instance Karen Legge (1978) writing about personnel management may have come close to problems experienced in other branches of management services. She explains how in personnel management;

"not only does much of the reputed "best practice" rest on "special case" models and, hence, may be inappropriate to those organizational circumstances that do not directly correspond to them, but "best practice" tends to ignore the constraints arising from the political realities of organizational behavior that circumscribe any manager's freedom and ability to pursue a given course of action."

She goes further by concluding that not only may personnel managers' traditional lack of power and influence in this area hinder the establishment of even such recognized "best practice" as would suit organizational circumstances and requirements, but that this lack of authority may be further exacerbated by attempts to implement irrelevant or inappropriate "best practice".

The way we train management

One argument advanced for the decline of manufacturing industry is that we are currently training managers and practitioners to tackle immediate problems without insisting that at the same time they should take a longer view. In so doing, opportunities are neglected.

Peters and Waterman (1982) conclude that there is now a widely held view that the MBA degree and the way we train managers in the West, might be part of the current problem. Minzberg (1982) is critical of the emphasis on efficiency in business education. He states that "because it is the costs that are more easily measured than the benefits, efficiency all too often reduces the economy".

Tom Glyn-Jones, a former training manager of BP, indicated he would like to see the training of managers as part of the responsibility of the companies to which they belong. Peters and Waterman (1982) note that "business students lack arts literacy ... need broader vision, a sense of history, perspectives from literature and art". Robert Pirsig (1974) laments that "so much of excellence in performance has to do with people being motivated by compelling, simple - even beautiful values".

What would all this give a manager? One answer might be that it is from this knowledge that creativity stems. Austin (1978) in Chase, Chance and Creativity identified four factors that assist creativity. Factor 1 is a chance occurrence and cannot be prepared for, but factors 2, 3 and 4 show how a broad education and wide outlook help to develop a creative mind and stimulate innovations.

  1. It just happens (blindness).
  2. Favors those in motion (curiosity).
  3. Favors the prepared mind (personality).
  4. Favors the individualized action (the unique intellectual history of the individual).

What is required is an increased willingness for management practitioners to question assumptions and take initiatives that will lead to change and improvement based on as broad a knowledge base as possible.

Next | Section 2: Productivity