I have seen businesses transition from results-based to task-based company structure and culture. I believe this is a growing trend and I am guessing, many of you are either dealing with this change, or will see it in the near future. If you are a senior manager considering transitioning your company based on this business theory, I respectfully ask you to consider this story and the theoretical example it sets.
COMMON CHALLENGES AND “THE PROMISE”
Worsening labor environment and the challenges associated:
- Insufficient qualified labor
- Popularity of job-hopping and the acceptance of 2-3 year job tenure as normal – making it difficult for companies to invest in training
- Modern generations unwilling to invest time in career growth and a “work-their-way-up-the-ladder” philosophy – acquiring incremental knowledge, skills and experience along the way
- Loss of respect for “knowledge as power” (driving successful outcomes)
- Trend to automate business processes to achieve efficiency gains
- The “everyone is a winner” popular culture
- The common belief that younger generations will only accept consensus-based management as a work culture
Any manager at any level in any business will recognize these issues. Senior and executive managers from large to medium sized companies around the country are struggling to find the answers. This situation has become so challenging in recent years that there has been near desperation to find any modern business theory that can successfully address the issues. Thus “The Promise”…
If a business is willing to separate itself from a focus on RESULTS, managers can supervise successful task completion instead and achieve the same, or better outcomes.
What Does Task Oriented Management Structure Look Like?
This business theory virtually requires specialty software to achieve its goals and has created demand for a completely new category of integrated business OPERATIONS software (activity, task, inventory, sales order, payables/receivables and finance package) that is unique to each industry/trade. Once the transition is started, the concept begins to feed on itself, drawing from the common belief that software automation alone can deliver improved efficiencies. “Six Sigma” certification becomes a must-have for senior operations managers (perverting the original idea). The training is needed to create extremely detailed industry/trade specific process maps. These process maps are incorporated into new software solutions that become the basis of a frontline daily task/activity structure and management process. The next obvious conclusion is: if the software monitors activities and task completion, why would you need as many supervisors?
I will not go into the details of a world with a long list of supervised To-Do items for every employee, but I will provide a glimpse into what comes with this task-oriented focus. As you might guess, this structure affects company culture, employee attitudes, business administration and goal-setting in unexpected ways.
Does the Medicine Cure the Disease, or Just Mask the Symptoms?
If employees and companies are no longer willing/able to spend 3-5 years to train an employee, doesn’t it make sense to implement a system where the only knowledge needed is to complete a few highly detailed repetitive tasks? With this change, you now have employees whose only performance metric is task completion. What happens when no one understands how their assigned tasks affect the success of the company? If this is the result, the company Mission Statement becomes meaningless. What happens to quality control (original idea behind “Six Sigma”)? The new software is not managing the quality of the work, only completion of task – and all those frontline supervisors were just let go. This is when the company begins to realize they need more problem resolution staff to make decisions regarding loss tolerance and then of course early risk management assessment becomes much more real and requires staffing too.
As this theory is implemented, business process becomes the software and vice-versa. The resulting task automated culture drives employees to focus internally. As completion of tasks is how employees are now measured, it becomes more important than commitments to clients, customer satisfaction… essentially everything else. There is no room for customization to individual customer requests, or even incorporating frontline internal ideas for improvement.
Even if employees are encouraged to move between roles and learn different tasks, the old expectation that experienced personnel will deliver improved business performance is lost. Think of what happens to the perception of trade and industry knowledge. It becomes viewed as a liability and an impediment to the process-based task structure. As success by remaining on-mission is no longer the focus, only senior management is left to incorporate broader business concepts. It becomes difficult for middle management and frontline personnel to translate task activities into achieving important outcomes, such as profitability, cost control and customer retention.
A focus away from results literally institutionalizes the acknowledgement that companies cannot find enough talented and/or career oriented individuals to deliver on established goals. This idea becomes a part of the company culture. Any effort by middle management to develop top-performing talent is not needed to train for task completion and is therefore a waste of time. This thinking fits well with our current popular culture famous for teaching our kids everyone gets a trophy for participating. This celebration of mediocrity has infiltrated business theory in the last decade and task-based business theory is strangely a perfect fit.
Coaching is Confrontation?
Social skills have been diminishing in the workforce and with it the ability to manage conflict constructively. Without the skills to communicate through it, conflict is now to be avoided. At one time, conflict was defined by interactions with an angry client, or upset supervisor. Generational changes have HR managers beginning to view decision-making and coaching as conflict, i.e. a supervisor explaining a resolution to a problem is now a co-worker imposing their will. I have worked for companies where HR has required consensus-based management style (explained as facilitating employee retention), sometimes requiring lengthy discussions and days to get anything done. Task based structure can help to mitigate these issues. In this environment, coaching is limited to proper completion of process and decision-making is more about capacity and deadlines. As task orientation now aligns with the latest hot HR issues, we find another reason to find it appealing.
I am sure it is clear on which side of this question I fall. Just because this business philosophy has numerous challenges, doesn’t mean a consultant, or management team might not be able to overcome them. One thing I do know, once employees are trained to believe that results are less important than task completion, any idea of quality control goes out the window. I do miss the days of the great business influencers of the 80s/90s Peter Drucker and Tom Peters. These consultants espoused philosophies that at their core were about results: (paraphrasing here) “business activities are useless if they can’t be measured” and “employees with entrepreneurial spirit are most likely to influence customer retention”. Business ideas lost in time…
There are respected business consultants who have a similar view: https://equalparts.co/blog/the-difference-between-a-task-based-and-results-based-company/ . This doesn’t mean they agree, or disagree with my analysis here, but it does provide another viewpoint that may be instructive.