"Lead and inspire people. Don't try to manage and manipulate people. Inventories can be managed but people must be lead." ~Ross Perot

“Most people do not receive nearly enough appreciation. Appreciation is free, easy, and readily available? Go give some away now.” ~Rhoberta Shaler

While the assembly line created by Henry Ford was a milestone achievement of genius for manufacturing, very little is spoken about the enormous impact physically and mentally of the employees of the time, as well as the high levels of turnover in the plants. While robots have in many places replaced the human element in assembly lines, we still find “standardization” practices in many businesses that reduce the human to robot status. To put it succinctly, this is a mistake.

While Standard Operating Procedures and rigorous guidelines are essential tools for the proper management of the staff, it is too easy and too tempting to let these run amuck. After all, if you simply tell everyone exactly what to do, and expect them to do it, you can take the rest of the week off! But over time, you will begin to see your productivity decrease and turnover increase as your staff becomes increasingly bored and frustrated with their work.

Some things to consider:

  • People require different things to make them work – Robots run solely on fuel, and while money is a decent fuel to use for people, you need to tap into the emotional element to really have them perform. Instilling inspiration, passion and purpose are what separates great leaders from tolerable ones.
  • People need variety in their job – This was the failing of the assembly line. You could only screw on bumpers so long before you went mad (and probably why many assembly lines are at the forefront of robotic technology). Try to mix up their duties on a day to day basis or include them in the occasional project to mix things up. For more frivolous faire, you can throw in special days (pot-lucks, dress-up days, or celebrations) to give them something to look forward to at work and break up the day to day monotony.
  • People are susceptible to outside influence - They are often affected even by decisions that don’t directly affect them. What other employers pay their employees, or what their job duties are at that other organization. Even what is going on in other industries or departments. You must guard against the “grass is always greener” syndrome to maintain motivation amongst your team.

There is however one big area where robots and people are similar:

  • Both people and robots require maintenance – Your team need your attention, they need you to tell you when they do well, and above all, they need continual retraining on new techniques and refreshers on the old ones. So while we don’t want to treat our staff like robots, we do not want to neglect preventative and regular maintenance.

Never forget that each and every one of your employees is unique and while it may be easier to fit them all into a nice little mold, you will miss out on the benefit of each of their talents AND you will lead down a path to mediocrity and inferior performance if you do so. So keep working on your policies and procedures, but be careful that you also address the human element in your management.

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