Don Boudreaux over at Cafe Hayek, one of my favorite blogs, had a post yesterday titled Creating Value. It is ostensibly an introduction to a new book by Charles Koch, CEO of Koch Industries, titled The Science of Success. That just-published book has received praise from a wide variety of big company CEO’s like Rob Walton of Wal-Mart, investors like T. Boone Pickens, and even a Nobel laureate in economics… so it’s no wonder it ranks slightly higher than my first book, Evolving Excellence. Even if I don’t exactly consider some of those companies and individuals models of excellence.
However it’s not Koch’s book that I’m interested in, but instead the first couple paragraphs of Boudreaux’s post on value.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Members of the first group think of jobs as being rather like boxes, each of which has a monetary figure on it as well as a set of levers inside. A job-holder occupies a box, yanks on the box’s levers, and in return receives pay in the amount of the prescribed monetary figure. Lucky workers are those who land in boxes paying big money and whose levers are easy to manipulate; unlucky workers are those who find themselves in boxes paying little money and whose levers are difficult to manipulate.
That’s an interesting way of describing what is unfortunately the majority of workers. I have a small problem with that description, but first let’s read what he says about the other kind of people.
The second group of people in the world understand that real jobs are a matter of creating value for buyers. The greater the amount of value I create for others, the better — or, at least, the higher-paying — is my job. In markets, your job isn’t a box that you get assigned to; your job is an opportunity to perform, to help improve the lives of others and, in return, to persuade these others to help you improve your life.
Those are obviously the people lucky enough to work in a lean environment… an environment focused on creating value from the perspective of the customer. The problem I have with the first statement, and indirectly with the second statement, is the concept that "the workers think of their jobs…" and that it is written from the perspective of the worker. I don’t buy that. The workers are to varying degrees intelligent and creative, but they still operate within a framework and structure created by their leadership. It is the job of the leadership to show that they are valued, that they can use their brains to help create customer value, and to provide the tools to help them accomplish those objectives. Boudreaux does end up with some similar thoughts.
And one of the most important of these performances is corporate management — the ability to coordinate large amounts of resources, time, and workers in ways that create large amounts of value for others and that makes it easier for those of us with less vision and administrative ability to find jobs that maximize the value that each of us, individually, creates for others.
True. However I think it is the most important factor, not a concluding "and." A Burger King can unleash more creative power than a large high tech factory if the right leaders are in place who understand how to get the juices flowing and leverage the value of knowledge and creativity.
This is why the success or failure of a lean manufacturing or lean enterprise transformation hinges on the commitment of top leadership. Without the patience for an often difficult journey and a vision of excellence that is shared continually with all employees, the transformation will probably fail.