What are you thinking about? What do you think the people in your organization are thinking about? What are they actually thinking about? These are some pretty important questions.
I read an article about a workshop a guy by the name of Doug Harper, the GM at Brommer Chocolate conducted, in which he made the point again and again that the 'doing part' of just about anything is pretty easy – it is the 'thinking part' that comes first that is hard. He clearly thinks thinking is important and, the more I think about it, the more I think he is right. Brommer, by the way, is a very lean, very successful company.
It seems to me that what the people in the organization are thinking about is pretty important - probably the key to the whole thing. Bagger Vance said it was important to learn how to stop thinking without falling asleep. I haven't figured that one out yet. I'm pretty much thinking about something all the time – not necessarily anything important or particularly insightful, but something. I believe that is true of just about everyone.
If people are thinking about negative or destructive things – how they wish they were working somewhere else, how they wish the boss would get run over by a bus, how to get away with stealing company property, or how to get away with not doing their work – that is clearly a problem. Of course, if they are thinking about positive things – how to do the job better, how to reduce costs or improve quality, or how to do something better for customers – that is a good thing.
More important, however, is what management thinks people are thinking about. The boss at Tata who declared that British workers are inherently lazy apparently believes his employees are thinking about how to get away with doing less work than they should. In fact, the assumption that people mostly think about how to get away with something seems to be at the heart of many of the company policies and rules that make people's work life demeaning and miserable.
Far too many managers seem to subsribe to the FW Taylor view of people – not overtly, of course – but deep down inside. Taylor said that pig iron, for instance, should be handled by a worker "so stupid and so phlegmatic that he more nearly resembles the mental make-up of the ox … so stupid that the word 'percentage' has no meaning to him …" Taylor apparently thought the average factory worker was incapable of thinking about much of anything important. Taylor's view that workers necessarily had to be directed by "more intelligent men" is at the root of the common managerial arrogance that leads to all decison making flowing from the top, and from highly educated staff, with mere lip service paid to shop floor input. In other words: 'whatever people are thinking, it is cannot be as profund as what I am thinking'.
Then there are those like Bob Chapman at Barry Wehmiller, who worries that people might be thinking about what they are going to do after work, and on the weekends. He thinks that, if such thinking is taking place, it is a failure of leadership to make work as interesting and fulfilling as home life. He believes people are capable and driven to think about things that are good for the company, customers and their jobs, and that the role of leadership is to provide an environment that enables and empowers them to do so; and if they are thinking about selfish or negative things, that is a failure of leadership.
It seems to me that what leadership thinks people are thinking about is a self-fulfilling prophecy. That Bob Chapman is right (as usual). When leadership assumes people are selfish and unmotivated, or incapable of thinking at a high enough level to be relevant, people soon enough get that message and spend a lot of time thinking accordingly. On the other hand, if you think people are capable and interested in thinking about very productive things, they will get that message too.
So the important question stands: What do you think the people in your organization are thinking about? And is your whole management schtick built around that assumption?