Liz Ryan at Business Week asks the right question in her most recent column Face Time: The New Assembly Line:
Back in the day, Henry Ford put out some fine automobiles and, while he was at it, revolutionized the workplace: He perfected the assembly line, which required workers to arrive at a designated time and work together in a complex, multitask operation. Good going, Henry!
A century later, sophisticated information technologies have given rise to the “knowledge worker” — a person whose chief contribution to a company is intellectual. In Ford’s time, a great day on the assembly line occurred when employees worked sans mistakes and accidents. In 2005, a good day is when a brilliant idea comes to mind that will help an organization leap ahead.
It’s wonderful, slippery stuff, this knowledge work. Its tools are facile minds that think and brainstorm nonstop — morning, evening, and suppertime, on the job or off. So, why do we so often manage knowledge workers as though they were assembly line folk?
The reason, she goes on to explain is rather clear. Face time — as she puts it, the time we spend in the office visible to management — is easy to managers to see.
It is also easy to count. We can measure the number of hours put it (and the cost of those hours). In fact, that is how we measure productivity. But we have a hard time measuring creativity and innovation on a day-to-day basis. As the old saying goes, we manage to what we measure. So we manage the input of time (face time) in some hope that it translates into output. Someday, I’m sure we will all look back and say, “what a quaint and silly idea.”