From the Revolution to Transformation?

By Siegfried Lautenbacher By Jeffrey Backus Feb 20, 2015
From the Revolution to Transformation?

Translation of the Original Article by Siegfried Lautenbacher

The term transformation characterizes the Social Business Arena 2015. This is not surprising inasmuch as social business is a pioneer for the digital transformation. The concept of transformation succeeds the concept of the (digital) revolution, even if the mobile revolution of the digital workplace or the question of where the revolution would be stuck in this respect, still remains in the terminology used previously. The change of the terms does not take place by accident: While Revolution means a substantial and sustainable structural change, which happens in a relatively short time, Transformation assumes a phased transition, which can last much longer. Seen from a purely temporal aspect the term transformation of the (digital) change of organizations is a good choice. However, does that also apply to the content? The first and the second Revolution …

After all, it is true that a Social Collaboration has to overcome nothing less than an actual Revolution: The Revolution of industrial production by a "scientific management" à la Frederic Taylor. This intended a process management of workflows, based on Labor Studies and detailed specified work-preparatory measures. By breaking up the work into short and monotonous repetitive individual steps, but especially by the separation of "manual" and "mental labor", linked to a "knowledge expropriation" of its employees, this system promised a performance boost and became the benchmark for how industrial production must be organized. Today it extends far beyond the notion of work organization in the industry, as can currently be seen in the debate in the service sector (as Re-Taylorisation). 

With a phrase transformation, we went into the second revolution. At least in the Automotive Industry. Emphasizing on Lean Production or a trimmed corporate leadership, Womack, Jones & Roos rang in the further development in the sense of a process organization in 1991. Again, there should be incredible productivity gains with Just-In-Time production, continuous improvement (Kaizen) and early prevention of errors. At the same time, it became clear that the first revolution had led to a bureaucratization, inflexibility and growing costs through a huge bureaucracy. However, although for the first time the focus in the debate about the lean production was on a strong teamwork, it was essentially still at the technical and organizational conditions of work production. And this was also the original title from 1991: "The machine that changed the world".

… and their end.

The various, in this sense, indeed revolutionary, principles of organization of industrial work were repeatedly opposed to more or less far-reaching projects or work organization design principles in the sense of teamwork. In the simpler case of group work you leave the self-regulation of the internal allocation of tasks up to a group of workers, for a well-defined area of responsibilities. The most radical implementation of the concept of group work was carried out at Volvo "in the assembly plant Uddevalla, where the teams were responsible for the assembly of entire cars" (Wikipedia: group work). But despite this recurring effort to establish collaborative cooperation under the Tayloristic production paradigm, this often failed after a short time. Above all, they clung to the Tayloristic principle scheme.

The revolution of the revolution

Now what? How is it then with a Social (Business) Collaboration? Is this the new or third revolution? In our view, a true Social Collaboration clearly distinguishes itself from the previous attempts to establish group and teamwork within Taylorism. It breaks with it, being a disruptive technology. For if in the context of a social collaboration the relevant communities (teams and projects) obtain Genuine Autonomy as a co-determination on the nature of service provision and participation as a way to participate in fundamental corporate decisions, this means the end of the previous industrial work organization. Even greater success yields a Social Collaboration through the abolition of the separation of manual and mental labor. So, by a reunion of what actually always belonged together: The reunion of communication and the manner of service provision, i.e. the exchange of views on the work with the work performance itself. At the same time that makes the biggest problem with the introduction clear: It will only succeed, be accepted by the employees, if the organizational change also succeeds and leads to that the collaborative work becomes the (largely) non-hierarchical normal state.

After all – still Transformation

You could also call it the revolution of the revolution. However, not as a counter-revolution, i.e. a turning back of the wheel of history, but as a real new start. Which, however, must be preceded by an organizational change. Or at least that needs to be actively managed in parallel. The irony of history is that this is still a backwards. More in the sense of the Reset to conditio humana, however: This is in fact, that in the course of their evolution people have always worked - and learned communities and groups collaboratively. The revolutionary thing is that this fundamental condition of human Incarnation is brought back into the working processes through a social collaboration. Transformational it must be that the necessary organizational - and cognitive-intellectual history - change will take some time. Fortunately, you do not have to wait, until the end of cognitive change. You can start or begin with the implementation now. There will be tangible support at the Social Business Arena 2015 – and beyond, of course. (the text is a joint production within the Beck et al. Services employees)