A future has been stolen from worker and owner
The job of manager in elementary is to assure that as much useful labour is obtained at minimal cost. The definition of “cost” (mental, physical, monetary), and “useful labour” may be differently defined under different political/economic regimes but the core job is fundamentally the same. For over a century this has been done almost exclusively in two ways (despite the development of many relevant technologies and academic fields such as econometrics, computing, behavioural modelling, telecommunications, and a plethora of smaller fields like queueing theory) as specified by Frederick Winslow Taylor in “Principles of Scientific Management”. (1911).
The first way is “Initiative and Incentive Management” whose trick is to bait workers into working harder in exchange for bonuses and then to raise the minimum workload required to not be fired or punished, as soon as there is certainty of this level of work being generally viable. This either results in workers deliberately underworking themselves (also known as “soldiering”) or workers being made to work so hard that the few workers who hold out have to be a natural industrial olympian. Notable extreme cases of this second scenario are “crunch”, extreme gig work and “karoshi”
The second is “Scientific Management”, where instead of simply telling people to work harder, one finds well fit workers (fit in the darwinian sense), teaches them how to work optimally and then demands/encourages they work at a rate research has found to be high but sustainably attainable for an appropriate and trained man. If applied appropriately this should ideally/logically end in workers working smartly on tasks they are suited to.
However Scientific Management has a terrible tendency to be deployed in addition to Initiative Management, resulting in a frankenstein’s monster where meditation cubicles, “Mind and Body moments” and robotic ergonomic workstations coexist with workers needing to pee in bottles and a turnover rate so high that they are running out of people to hire. The Scientific Manager has figured out how to remove every wasted movement while the Incentive Manager has seen the rate that the scientific manager deems “barely doable” and sets the quota to that. This forces workers to work at a killing pace while also removing any accidental moments of forced rest they may have had before.
Given this situation one may ask why there hasn’t been any major change in what management does. surely the revolution in what work is done and the tools at our disposal would encourage if not demand a new kind of management? I would argue that it does, where previous management has given an answer to the questions of “how?” and “how much?”, the expansions in computing power and mathematical theory opens the door to properly answer the question of “what work when?”. Of course the manager uses the computer but this is mostly in a manner that essentially boils down to doing things that used to be done physically on the computer, a spreadsheet used to be a piece of paper, now it’s in excel, computations used to be done by a lady with the job description “computer” now it’s just your processor running, etc.
These acts are all old management done on a computer, what I suggest is that we harness that one power computer has over man: quantity, size and speed of calculations. Where previously hiring, assignment and redundancy training was mostly done on instinct, rule of thumb and basic human brain sized models, what computers allow us to do is to build an appropriately sized model of the firm, verify its validity against real data and then simulate a large number of possible choices and their outcomes to allow management to come to an ideal decision. This may take many shapes, a cleaning company putting a mathematical value on how annoyed you are and trying to avoid putting you in an annoying position by familiarising more people with locations, an office determining an optimal ratio of specialists and generalists to hire to prevent data-bottlenecks and moving the generalists around before the inbox fills up too much, factories agreeing to measure (extremes) and pass around applicants and using models to make trades like they’re playing moneyball. These are some possibilities of Cybernetic Management on the individual level as expressed by Stafford Beer on a more general level.
Such management may be a productive nightmare or a liberation from annoyance and avoidable overtime, that is the choice of whoever wields it. However it is potentially so powerful a tool that it is baffling that the primary use of the quantity of stuff computers can do in management ends up being electronic men with stopwatches lurking over employees, encouraging Initiative Managers to give in to their worst urges. Why? Are capitalists suddenly above this? Allergic to profit?
What one must realise is that management, like most things worth thinking about, is not just an entity, but a system. Systems can be described as having a purpose, a thing that they do other things in service of. A dog may be a companion or a seeing aid, but that is not its purpose, its purpose is to either produce itself (keep itself alive) or to produce/sustain dogkind. If domesticated animals weren’t assisted in their continued existence they wouldn’t stay domesticated. One may think in a similar way of managers or the managerial class, they do not act consistently with their advertised purpose of productivity, therefore we must ask what they do consistently act in service of. Answer: self preservation.
Like every class in a firm they act to preserve themselves, workers strike, capitalists proganandise and management solidifies. Management has a quite advantageous position to self preserve, this is because they hire themselves and have the ear of those above them. Management has invented mystical goobly gook to shield themselves in a cloud of incomprehensibility to anyone below them and to impress anyone above them. To quell the worries of anyone above them they have hired an army of important looking wastes of labour (for more on this, read Bullshit Jobs). Moreover, to rid themselves of any responsibility to those below them, they destroyed the belief in a friendly and cooperative relationship between worker and management as once written by Taylor as an essential requirement of Scientific Management and replaced it with the destruction of labour power, pitiful pizza parties and anti-worker propaganda.
And so a terrible joke has been played on both worker and owner. We have wasted so much energy, missed so many ideas. All because a class in the middle managed to defend its class interest against everyone else’s, turned parasitic. A great failure in social management which should be inexcusable to anyone who believes that management can and should do good. Shame on them and shame on us.