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Mary Parker Follett: Management Visionary

‘Ahead of her time’ seems to be the most appropriate epiphet to apply to Mary Parker Follett. And many have done so: Peter Drucker described her as a ‘prophet of management’, while Warren Bennis has said:

‘Just about everything written today about
leadership and organizations comes from
Mary Parker Follett’s lectures and writings.’

Mary Parker Follett

 

Brief Biography

Mary Parker Follett was born in 1868, into a wealthy Quaker family in Boston. She was an exceptional scholar and a polymath, attending university at Harvard (the Society for Collegiate Instruction of Women – later Radcliffe College), during which time she also spent a year at Newnham College, at Cambridge University (in England). Although denied a PhD by Harvard, she studied widely in law, economics, politics, philosophy, and history. While at Cambridge University she prepared and delivered a paper that was to become, in 1918, her first book: ‘The New State’. It was about social evolution and group-based democratic government. It was reviewed by former US president, Theodore Roosevelt and remains in print today.

After studying, Follett spent the next thirty or so years (from 1890 to 1924) focusing on voluntary social work in Boston. She innovated, being the first person in the US to use a school as an out-of-hours community centre; a model that was widely reproduced across the country.

However, what interests us most at the Management Pocketblog is her work from 1924, when she turned her focus to industry. She wrote that it is ‘the most important field of human activity’ and that:

‘management is the most fundamental element in industry’

She became an early management consultant and was much in demand by industry leaders and academic institutions. She spent her time advising and lecturing, up until her death, at a relatively young age, in  December 1933.

Sadly, her work is not widely known of in the western world, despite notable figures like Drucker, Bennis and Sir Peter Parker praising her to the rafters. This is despite the fact that she anticipated a wide range of issues and thinking that is still today presented as modern and aspirational for our large organisations.

Follett’s Visionary Thinking

Let’s count the ways that Follett was ahead of her time in the field of management. I get to eight.

1. Humanistic Approach to Organisations

Growing up in the time of FW Taylor, and ahead of the work of Elton Mayo, Follett rejected the functional approach to industry in favour of her emphasis on what we now call humanistic principle. She was a progressive, rational humanist in the management field as well as in the political and social arenas, and puts me very much in mind of George Eastman, whom I also described as a visionary. She very much anticipated the work of Douglas McGregor.

2. Empowerment

Follett rejected the idea that managers and staff have fundamentally different roles and capabilities. Instead, she saw that an organisation’s success would come from recognising the part that each has to play in delivering its services or creating its products. She advocated giving power to where it matters.

3. Joined up Business (… and hence, Re-engineering and Lean?)

This created a need for a joined up organisation, where activities, departments, functions and people are properly co-ordinated – both across the organisation and from the bottom to the top (and vice versa). She referred to the relationships between staff and managers and among functions as ‘reciprocal relating’. A leader’s role is therefore to see the whole organisation and the ‘relation between all the different factors in a situation’. Is it too much of a stretch to see this as anticipating the mission of re-engineering and lean management to close gaps in process flow? I don’t think so.

4. Group Dynamics and Team Working – Participative Leadership

The equal balance of power between management and employees leads to the need for team co-operation and that, she suggested, develops a true sense of responsibility in workers. To me, it also demands a model of leadership that Robert Greenleaf was to call ‘Servant Leadership’. Follett did not herself go as far, but identified ‘Participative Leadership’ as the style that involves a whole team in creating products and delivering services.

5. Personal Responsibility

Tying together empowerment, co-ordination and group working is the sense of responsibility they inculcate in workers. Follett again anticipated McGregor’s Theory Y, by arguing that it is this which most develops people.

6.Management Training

If we are to delegate greater responsibility to our people, we must do so well. Follett was an early advocate of management training, believing when many did not that the leadership aspects can be taught.

7. Transformational Leadership

In a paper called ‘The social construction of leadership: From theory to praxis’, Edith Rusch notes the unacknowledged similarities between James McGregor Burns’ articulation of ‘Transformational Leadership’ and Follett’s writings. She presents a compelling argument that Follett not only anticipated the ideas of transformational leadership, but that she was the first to put them forward and even used the term.

8. Win-Win Negotiation and Conflict Management

One particular interest of Follett’s was conflict. She suggested three approaches of domination, compromise and integration, that  Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann would later refer to as competing, compromising, and collaborating. Her thinking on the benefits and mechanisms of creating integrated ‘win-win’ resolutions is rich and sophisticated. In her suggestion that we uncover the real conflict and get to each party’s deeper aims, and then seek to satisfy those, she anticipated a lot of the thinking in best-selling negotiation book, ‘Getting to Yes’.

My one Favourite concept…

from all of Follett’s writing is this: the idea of ‘circular response’. This is that our behaviour helps to create the situation to which we respond. It is the idea of a feedback loop of self reinforcing interpretations and behaviour. I don’t doubt that the essence of this very modern sounding idea goes back to the ancients and classical writings of many cultures. But her articulation of it (and of the compelling phrase ‘circular response’) is so clear, that it has got me thinking.

Thank you…

to Mary Parker Follett. Before I started researching this blog, I knew nothing of her (unlike almost all other management thinker subjects). I had hoped that, being less known, there would be little to read and writing this would be quick. Far from it. But I have gained a lot from learning about Follett, and I hope you will too.

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Joseph Juran: Quality Management

Joseph Juran is one of the leading thinkers on the route establishing a culture of quality throughout much of Japanese and then western business. He asserted that quality was nothing new or clever. Rather, it is elemental and elementary. That said, he watched as, for 25 years, his adopted homeland of the United States ignored the quality imperative. Then, in his late seventies, he lived to see American businesses wake up to quality. In his eighties and nineties, he was active and, indeed, energetic in consulting and advocating for quality.

Joseph Juran

Brief Biography

Joseph Juran began his long life in 1904, in Romania. His family emigrated to the United States, and from 1912, he grew up in Minnesota.  He gained his first degree in Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota (he later gained a Doctorate in Law at Loyola University) and went straight to working for Western Electric at its Chicago Hawthorn Plant (where Elton Mayo later conducted his famous studies).

In 1928, he wrote his first pamphlet on statistical approaches to manufacturing quality and rose up through the business. Along the way, he ‘invented’ the Pareto Principle (of which more later), but by 1945, he was ready for something else.

In 1945, he joined the faculty of New York University, to allow him time for lecturing, consulting and writing. In 1951, he published his first substantial book, the Quality Control Handbook. This is still in print, much updated, enlarged and revised, in its sixth edition, under the title Juran’s Quality Handbook: The Complete Guide to Performance Excellence. He was becoming well known, although initially, not so much in the US as in Japan. In 1954, he was invited to Japan for a series of lectures, and Japanese companies eagerly took up his ideas on how to increase their manufacturing quality.

In the US, the concept of quality was largely ignored. But in 1979, he founded the Juran Institute in the hope of increasing awareness of and engagement with his ideas. It was in the 1980s that quality started to rise up the agenda of US companies, and he became, in his 80s, a much in demand speaker and consultant. In 1988, he wrote the book that most marks his contribution, Planning for Quality – now out of print. The ideas, however, are all incorporated into later editions of other books.

Juran remained active, undertaking consultancy until the final years of his life. He died in 2008, survived, until the end of the year, by his wife of 81 years, Sadie, who was also born in 1904.

Juran and the Pareto Principle

Juran noticed early on that not all defects were equal. He found that some causes resulted in many defects and others in a few. A small number of causes accounted for a vast number of the defects. This, he recognised, was the same pattern as that which Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto found when looking at the distribution of wealth among Italian citizens. Juran recognised this as a general principle in the way some effects were distributed, and named it the Pareto Principle. It also became known as the 80/20 rule, because Juran found that around 80 per cent of defects were cause by 20 per cent of the underlying problems.

Juran and Deming

The other huge name in quality management was a contemporary of Juran’s, W Edwards Deming. However, where Deming put huge faith in the value of statistics, Juran saw another equally important effect, which his writings are at pains to stress. Possibly influenced by the work of Elton May at the Hawthorn plant, Juran placed huge emphasis on the human aspects of quality management. In so doing, he was an early exponent of employee empowerment.

Juran identified what has become known as his Quality Trilogy:

  1. Quality Planning
  2. Quality Management (or Control)
  3. Quality Implementation (or Improvement)

From these, he identified a nine-step roadmap to achieve the ideal of quality.

Quality Planning

1 Identify your customers
2 Determine their needs
3 Translate their needs into your own language

Quality Management

4 Develop a product that meets their needs
5 Optimise the product to your own needs too
6 Develop a process that can create the product

Quality Implementation

7 Optimise the process
8  Prove the process works under operational conditions
9 Operationalise the process

Company-Wide Quality Management

Perhaps Juran’s biggest contribution was to see quality as a cultural, rather than operational imperative. He argued that senior managers must not just be involved in, but must actively lead the quality processes. They must not delegate them: the impetus must come from the top and accountability and responsibility must remain there. However, he also saw empowerment of workers at all levels as a key to making quality work successfully.

You Might Also Like…

our articles on the leading modern quality methodology, Six Sigma:

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma

and also The Efficiency of Order: The 5S Methodology.

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Styles of Management

The Management Pocketbooks Pocket Correspondence Course

This is part of an extended management course. You can dip into it, or follow the course from the start. If you do that, you may want a course notebook, for the exercises and any notes you want to make.


In the ‘good old days’ – good old days for managers, that is – there was one style of management:

Tell them what to do – expect them to do it – punish them if they don’t

Life must have been easy then for managers: no need to motivate people (more on that in coming weeks), no back chat and alternative ideas from staff, no worry about giving offence, and high levels of compliance.

Scientific Management

On the other hand, how efficient were workers then? Frederick Winslow Taylor wanted to apply the principles of science to management and was the first person to try to analyse an organisation, test his ideas with experiments, and document the results.

‘Taylorism’ treated people as cogs in a machine. Optimise all aspects of the process, including people, to get the best results. So Taylor introduced time and motion studies to optimise how workers did things, and piece rates as incentives for workers. He said ‘do it this way and you will get your reward’. This was scientific management.

Humanistic Management

Scientific Management largely failed. Yes, it led to the hugely successful production line and arguably to just-in-time concepts too. Six Sigma, TQM and Lean can all draw their origins from scientific management too.

But it failed as regards people. Elton Mayo was a follower of Taylor and tried to apply Taylorist principle in the Hawthorne Lighting Plant. He discovered that changing light levels changed work rates. But it didn’t matter how you changed the light levels, as long as you engaged the workers in the process. What mattered was engaging people. It still does – that’s why staff engagement is such a big deal.

Theory X or Theory Y

The tension between task focus and people focus was crystallised by Douglas McGregor in his models of management style called Theory X (task, transaction, process, incentive focused) and Theory Y (people, consensus, motivation, satisfaction focused).

These are reflected in two contrasting styles of day-to-day management: Management by Objectives (MBO) and Management by Walking About (MWA).

MBO is all about setting clear objectives to staff and supporting them in achieving them – it is formal, transactional and has been seen as highly successful. For example, Bill Packard attributed the success of Hewlett Packard in its heyday to MBO.

But strangely, Bill Packard was well known for wandering around all areas of his business, chatting with people, building relationships, sharing ideas and offering inspiration.

Balance

There is no ‘right’ style of management. We each need to find the right balance, that works for us. We also need to adapt that balance to each individual and to changing circumstances.

Balance of Management Styles

Further Reading 

You may also like the Pockeblog articleIt’s time to get enabling

Three Six Sigma Articles

  1. Belt up and Reduce Errors
  2. The DMAIC Solution Process
  3. Six Tools from Six Sigma
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The Science of Leadership: Warren Bennis (Part 1)

Over the last year, Pocketblog has studied the work of many fine business thinkers.  It is time to turn our attention to Warren Bennis.

WarrenBennis

Bennis is not just an expert on leadership – which he undoubtedly is.  It was he who created the modern interest in the subject, with the book he co-wrote with Burt Nanus: ‘Leaders: The Strategies for Taking Charge’.

Bennis was greatly influenced by Douglas McGregor, who both taught and mentored him.  McGregor was influential, with his Theory X and Theory Y, in examining the ways we can manage colleagues at work, and influence their motivation.

The Story of Motivation in the Workplace

… is one of shifts towards and away from a prescriptive scientific perspective.  In a recent Pocketblog, I described how FW Taylor invoked ‘scientific management’ to create a repeatable process for optimising work-rates.  His follower, Elton Mayo then discovered that human factors can over-ride the simplistic approach to theoretically optimised efficiency levels.

It was Douglas McGregor who characterised these two approaches as Theory X (controlling, task-focused management) and Theory Y (more democratic, relationship-driven management).  McGregor argued powerfully in ‘The Human Side of the Enterprise’ and later books that Taylorism could not work sustainably in the modern world; Theory Y must dominate.

Enter Warren Bennis

Bennis followed McGregor in studying organisational development and looked to him as a mentor.  McGregor to a great extent shaped Bennis’s career and we will see more about that next week.

What Bennis contributed was a focus on the work of leaders, and what leadership means in an organisational context.  For all those of us who work in organisational development or leadership development, he has provided the foundations of modern thinking.

And for me, his principal contribution is the body of evidence he accumulated to show that leadership is open to everyone.  It is not a product of birth, of genes, or even of the type of school you went to.  It can be learned and developed like any other skill.

The Science of Leadership

There are two ways of doing science.  In my own discipline of physics, you can even study it formally in these two ways: experimental and theoretical.  Theoreticians dream up grand theories in response to limited experimental data, and then make predictions that experimentalists test.  It is only when the data prove the theorist wrong that science truly advances.  The smug feeling theoreticians get when the evidence supports their theory cannot mask the deeper knowledge that it can never constitute proof.  A theory is never more than one experiment away from falsification.

Experiments, on the other hand, are glorious.  They always yield knowledge.  Maybe it corroborates existing knowledge – which is comforting – or maybe it challenges it, from which progress arises – which is truly exciting.  Theorists know we are at the weak end of the process.

Bennis is a data gatherer.  He has not presented a grand theory of leadership.  Not for him: four leadership styles, six leadership roles or eight ways to lead.  Bennis and Nanus started their revolution in leadership thinking by surveying 90 leaders, from business, sports, the arts and exploration.

Some Ideas 

Bennis is perhaps best known for his tabulation of the differences between leaders and managers – which we mentioned a year ago.  The phrase ‘managers do things right: leaders do the right thing’ has become a commonplace – even turning up with very little adaptation, in a speech by Nick Clegg over the summer.

But many other ideas that we accept as commonplace were first articulated in their modern form by Warren Bennis:

Leaders learn from failure.
Adverse circumstances and a series of failures is a more valuable learning route than early and continued success.

Leaders create empathy
Leaders must bring people alongside their own views and they can only do this by empathising with their followers.

Leaders create great groups
Bennis and Nanus argued that great results emanate from great groups and it is the role of a leader to bring them together and and create the opportunities for them to thrive.

So here is the deal

Leadership can be learned and it was Warren Bennis who did more than any other thinker to put these ideas to us.

More in Part 2, next week.

Some Management Pocketbooks you might enjoy

The Leadership Pocketbook
As you would expect, a lot of Bennis’s ideas suffuse this volume.

The Management Models Pocketbook
Looks at models of leadership that are often informed by Bennis’s thinking.

The Emotional Intelligence Pocketbook
Bennis has often stressed emotional intelligence as a vital leadership skill.

The Empowerment Pocketbook
Empowerment is what a leader should be about.

The Self Managed Development Pocketbook, and
The Learner’s Pocketbook
Bennis argued that leaders need to be learners.

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