What we can learn from the 2nd Industrial Revolution to be successful in our Digital Transformation

What we can learn from the 2nd Industrial Revolution to be successful in our Digital Transformation
Iris Meinl

Author: Iris Meinl

Title: Keynote-Speaker & Business Coach for Digital Transformation, Industry 4.0 and Future Work

Sometimes I am shocked how extreme some companies focus only on technology during their Digital Transformation instead of implementing it in a holistic, responsible, and successful way.

The way how they only look on future technologies like AI or Robotics while ignoring the human side of Digital Transformation & Future Work remembers me to Taylorism. When we look back to the 1920s and 1930s as the first big companies like i.e. Ford adapted the “Scientific Management” concept of Frederick Winslow Taylor in his factory then we can see a lot of analogies. Work was only organized in a scientific and time calculated way. Taylorism focused on productivity, efficient division of labor and treated workers as an extension of machinery. The needs and well-being of workers didn´t play any role in Taylorism.

If you want to learn about how Taylorism re-shaped the manufacturing industry you can watch the video in one my previous posts: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6728198716487958528/

But when we look how we work now and how we also did in the 1980s, 1990s and in the early 2000 years then we can only see left traces from the Taylorism. Our working environment in the year 2021 is not based strictly on Taylorism even if it has still some influences from it. That´s because Taylorism was not the only concept which inspired the way how we organize and structure work today. Many companies realized soon that they will need more than Taylor´s Scientific Management to be successful. They realized that they would need a balanced way of working which is not only focused on these mechanical and technical ways of working inspired by Taylorism.

If we look at the past, we can see that there had been also other powerful and inspiring working theories like the “Human Relations Theory” or “Lean Management” which also influenced how we are working today.

 Especially the Human Relations Theory helped us to look on our work environment in a more holistic way. Because Human Relations can be considered as antithesis to the Taylorism. The founders of Human Relations thought that the needs of the human workers also need to be fulfilled to create a sustainable productive and effective work environment. The results of the well-known Hawthorne Experiments proofed that giving attention to employees resulted in improved performances. Since that factors like employee satisfaction, improved working conditions, healthy work environment, and supportive leadership become important for successful innovative companies. Because we learned from Human Relations Theory that a sustainable, effective, and successful productive work environment also needs to care about well-being of employees.

But when it comes to projects in the field of Digital Transformation, Digitalization, Artificial Intelligence, or Industry 4.0 these great lessons from the past seem to be forgotten. In too many companies there is too much focus on technology and not enough attention in other fields:

  • - Where are the strategies to integrate the human workers in these changes?
  • - Where are concepts for Future Work?
  • - Where is the adaption and optimization of work processes for the Digital Future?
  • - Where are plans how to integrate elder employees into Digital Transformation?
  • - Where are the studies how AI and humans can work hand in hand?

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