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1 Apr 2013

Reducing Dependency on Talent through Rules

ProcessesRules are a form of logic especially when used in a series to form instructions. A step builds on the former step and sets up the next. All one has to do is follow the instructions. They can transform an ordinary worker into a good one.

For example, I am not a good pool player. I rarely play or practice. However, when I’m paired with a friend of mine who is very good, I become a much better when I just do what he tells me to do.

Relating this to business, in the article, “Making It in America” (The Atlantic, January/February 2012 edition) by Adam Davidson, I ran across this passage (p. 65):

The last time I visited the factory, Maddie was training a new worker. Teaching her to operate the machine took just under two minutes. Maddie then spent about 25 minutes showing her the various instructions Standard engineers have prepared to make certain that the machine operator doesn’t need to use her own judgment.

In effect, the instructions transfer the engineers’ talent (at a higher labor cost) to a production worker (at a much lower labor cost). Augmenting this, we can turn a collection of instructions into processes. If repeatable, we can automate and computerize these processes.

Here is the point: rules are the atoms of large enterprises. Since it’s harder to find 6,000 talented workers than to find 60, rules reduce the pressure to find talent. In effect, we cannot scale without rules.

Nevertheless, a cost to rules plants the seeds for large enterprises’ demise in the form of reduced adaptability. The deeper cost is the building of cultures more conditioned to following rules than to thinking about or, more importantly, challenging them.


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