We often hear of traditional businesses being segregated into binary classes… chiefs and indians, queens and drones, conductor and musicians… you get the picture. We then often deride management-heavy organizations by claiming they "have too many chiefs and not enough indians." The insinuation is that we need a multitude of "workers" and just a few "managers." Whatever that really means.
In the Washington Post last month Robert Bruner, dean of the Darden School of Business, takes another stab at organizational classification by comparing employees to painters and artists.
Business life is filled with lots of painters and fewer artists. The "painters" are the technicians, such as actuaries, time-and-motion efficiency experts, accountants who get the books to balance down to the last penny, logistics honchos who slim down your inventory, and derivatives analysts. Most entry-level jobs for MBA graduates are to be painters, or assistant painters, or just people who hold the paint pots.
Artists in business are visionaries, inventors, entrepreneurs and general managers, people who create something larger out of the assembly of resources. They are quick learners, they recognize problems and opportunities ahead of the crowd, they shape visions and enlist others in support, they communicate well and are socially aware. They serve with integrity, and, as leaders, they have a bias for action.
Bruner goes on to describe the need for more leaders that are artists, and shamelessly plugs Darden as a place where "high-potential artists and masterful painters" are miraculously created.
I have a problem with the fundamental premise: that the "leaders" are artists while workers are the painters. Do we really need painters?
Sure, there are basic business processes that must get done, and done well. But most of those processes are bureaucratic waste, which can be demolished by some value stream mapping. Core value-added activities are not onerous, are not rote, and really don’t take much time. Those of us in the lean manufacturing world have proven that again.
Instead the workers, as well as the leaders, need to be artists. Toyota is famous for leveraging the knowledge and creativity… artistry… of every employee. The janitors generate valuable ideas, probably even more than the factory manager. Every employee is expected to enlist the support of others, envision new processes, learn quickly, and recognize problems and opportunities. Toyota is a company of artists.
Don’t just segregate your operation into painters and artists, train your painters to be artists.