Henry Gantt and Lean HR

Henry Gantt, 1916

I would like to share with you some important words of wisdom from Henry Gantt (1861-1919), an esteemed associate of Frederick Winslow Taylor, the father of Scientific Management and the predecessor to Lean management.

The following excerpts about leadership and human resources are taken from Mr. Gantt’s book, Industrial Leadership, published in 1916.

  • Page 3: “[The] natural tendency [of financiers and merchants], therefore, was to apply to the purchase of labor the same rules which they had applied to the purchase of materials, namely, to buy it as cheaply as possible.”

In context, Gantt makes the case that labor is vastly different from material and must be carefully acquired, developed, and rewarded.

  • Page 7: “Moreover, it is becoming recognized that the good man at high wages not only does more work per dollar of wages than the poor man at low wages, but better work… the policy of paying satisfactory wages has been more influential in low costs than any other item.”

Managers today still think that low wages equals low costs, and high wages equals high costs. What accounts for such ignorance?

  • Page 8: “If there is any one principle, which more than any other, is influential in promoting the success of an organization, it is the following: The authority to issue an order involves the responsibility to see that it is properly executed [italics original]. The system of management which we advocate is based on this principle, which eliminates ‘bluff’ as a feature in management, for a man can only assume the responsibility for doing a thing properly when he not only knows how to do it, but can also teach somebody else to do it. “

Today managers issue orders and walk away. They must instead know how to do the work.

  • Page 17: “…in all problems of administration the most important element is the human element, compels acceptance of the democratic idea… unless men are studied from a democratic standpoint, the student [manager] fails to get a proper appreciation of the human element.”

People living in a democratic society want to experience the same at work.

  • Page 19: “Under autocratic methods to render service is a sign of inferiority; the man of power compels the service of others. Under democratic methods the man of power uses that power to serve others.”

That should not be difficult for managers to understand, but it is.

  • Page 22: “The industrial leader of the future must practice methods which are approved by the people, and they must be such as not to take unfair advantage of anybody.”

Nobody wants to be the loser. Workers want non-zero-sum (win-win) outcomes.

  • Page 25: “The general policy of the past has been to drive, but the era of force must give way to that of knowledge, and the policy of the future will be to teach and to lead, to the advantage of all concerned.”

Managers need to understand that part of their job is to be a teacher – a good teacher.

  • Page 44: “This brings us again to the importance of wise direction, or proper leadership. Our ideals must be correct, or our whole scheme of efficiency falls to the ground. Striving efficiently for improper ends may involve all concerned in a catastrophe, the extent of which is measured only be the efficiency with which the end has been striven for.”

Managers’ concerned with short-term gains at the expense of others possess ideals that will create bigger problems in the long-term.

  • Page 59: “The attempt to substitute scientific knowledge for opinion in the administration of human affairs is what is known as ‘scientific management,’ which might better be called ‘the scientific method in management.”

It is remarkable how opinion continues to trump facts in the administration of human affairs in business.

  • Page 66: “The other fallacy, viz., that it is necessary to have low wages in order to have low costs, is equally detrimental to all concerned.”

The cause-and-effect associated with low wages has broad negative impacts, not narrow impacts as most see it.

So there you have a sample of Mr. Gantt’s views on leadership and human resources, based on his extensive experience with progressive management practice.

Gantt would no doubt be upset and disappointed with today’s human resource leaders. They failed to defend the value of human beings and adopted the narrow view that labor can be purchased just like anything else. They too are members of the long tradition of mistakenly thinking that low wages equals low costs, and high wages equals high costs. Gantt would rip managers today for not knowing how to do the work that they are responsible for, and therefore being unable to teach it, and other things, to workers.

Today’s human resource leaders have also failed to democratize. They serve their leaders, but not their followers. They support kaizen, but do not participate in kaizen.

Gantt would also rip today’s human resource leaders for forcing a seemingly never-ending series of zero-sum outcomes on employees, from flat wages to wage and benefits cuts, to help the CEO and CFO achieve short-term gains for shareholders. And the continuation of wasteful organizational politics, which allows opinions to trump facts,

Ultimately, Gantt would be upset that, 100 years later, the pinnacle of management practice remains zero-sum (win-lose). He would be disappointed in leaders for not evolving towards non-zero-sum (win-win) business practices, and in government and society for not holding them accountable.

Fortunately, a few men and women have followed in Mr. Gantt’s footsteps and made the kinds of improvements that Gantt would no doubt greatly admire.

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