The Human Factor

The underlying rationale of the programs fulfills the sacrosanct principle of capitalism: "Time is money." Accordingly, every spare minute and every elusive resource must be utilized to locate the dollars that are slipping through the cracks and getting lost.

A manager in the modern era resembles a circus manager in premodern times. He must be in control of employees, suppliers and thousands of items; he has to implement projects, coordinate things and meet schedules. It's not surprising that the technology of the modern age has rallied to the aid of the bewildered manager. In the past few years, thousands of programs have been written with one aim - to give the manager sophisticated tools with which to manage projects, teams and missions.

The underlying rationale of the programs fulfills the sacrosanct principle of capitalism: "Time is money." Accordingly, every spare minute and every elusive resource must be utilized to locate the dollars that are slipping through the cracks and getting lost. In recent years, a new wave of programs has washed over the world, and they view employees as a resource that has to be managed in the same way one manages the number of chairs that are needed for the business headquarters.

Not long ago, the Business Week publication ran an article describing one of these programs, called WorkLenz. The program is intended to manage large-scale projects and increase work efficiency. However, in contrast to other programs, which monitor the stock, receipts and assets of a company, WorkLenz monitors the employees and checks what they are doing, how they are doing it and how long it takes them to do it. The program can therefore tell the manager which employee is best suited for which assignment.

This, it turns out, is a hot item for which there is considerable demand. Metier, the company that manufactures it, recently reported getting contracts from Lockheed Martin, BMW, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and others.

Over and above the program's ability to check the schedules of all the employees and even set up meetings for them (an ability shared by many organizational programs), WorkLenz allows the manager to analyze an employee's level of efficiency by means of intrusively monitoring his daily routine and the intensity of his activity.

According to the CEO of the company that developed WorkLenz, the program successfully predicts when an employee will complete an assignment with 27 percent more accuracy (not 26 percent, heaven forbid) than the best assessment of the employee's direct superior.

This isn't the first time in history that workers have been engineered for the benefit of the manager. In his book, "Manufacturing Reality: The Engineering Foundations of the Managerial Revolution" (Oxford University Press, 1999), Prof. Yehouda Shenhav, from Tel Aviv University describes how sciences such as engineering and psychology provided the ideological underpinnings for the emergence of rational management. A classic example is Frederick Taylor's concept of "scientific management" from the early 20th century. Taylor explained that the rational organization of labor based on scientific principles will replace arbitrary management with processes that are based on true indices. He also maintained that it will be impossible to argue with "the objective scientific facts of social physics."

Taylor's scientific management has five principles. One of them is that "the workman who is best suited to actually doing the work is incapable of fully understanding this science" and that this prerogative rests with management. Another principle is that the workforce should be classified and suited to the tasks at hand, in order to increase efficiency.

According to Shenhav, Taylor's theory has not become extinct. Various incarnations of it can be found in contemporary management methods. The interesting thing is that in most of these methods, people are not mentioned as one of the elements because their traits are perceived as a "permanent, non-interruptiuve factor."

One of the most cogent criticisms of theories such as Taylor's was Charlie Chaplin's film, "Modern Times." In the film, Chaplin plays a factory worker who, in a moment of inattention, is sucked into the vast machine of the plant and swept along its pulleys and wheels until it is no longer clear which is the machine and which the person because, ultimately, the work performed by Chaplin's character itself resembled a machine - to turn a bolt.

The new programs of the WorkLenz type do not understand Chaplin's cynicism and seek to implement Taylorism in practice. The mechanical attitude toward people as one more cog in the system - whose ability to withstand pressures and whose performance every moment of the day must be subjected to constant analysis - justifies the manager's brutal penetration of his privacy and his transformation into a "resource," which can be be managed by means of advanced technology whose philosophical principles are those of 19th-century thought.

Efficiency is an important quality and a necessary condition for every organization. However, a manager who sees his employees exclusively through the prism of WorkLenz need not be surprised if they develop the behavior of an operating system: Sometimes they will work, sometimes not; and sometimes they will do things behind his back.